Starting a business in your own country, where you’re familiar with the language culture and business protocol is testing enough. But when some entrepreneurs start looking across international borders, they spy business opportunities that far outweigh the challenges of starting up in a foreign country.
In the case of Miguel Amaro and Ben Grech the idea for their Portugal-based business Uniplaces came from their shared experiences as students at Nottingham University in the UK.
Both had experienced difficulties finding good student accommodation and knew from other students’ own accounts that it was a universal problem. So they came up with a solution, Uniplaces, an online student accommodation booking platform. But why Lisbon?
“It was a question of developing a business model that worked with a small market and then scaling it out. Lisbon was that lab-market,” says Grech.
“Lisbon is a perfect city to make money stretch. Its start-up scene had a practically virgin territory, and the first incubators were being formed and looking for ambitious people and good ideas to invest in.”
This was in 2012. At the same time business incubator Startup Lisboa was offering modern office-space with great conditions in the heart of the city. While they are still bootstrapping, entrepreneurs have to make the most of what resources they have.
“Lisbon’s low rents, services, and wages were critical in the early days,” says Grech.
For a long time, the team comprised just five people, so the founders, which by now also included Mariano Kostelec, had to do everything, from sales to photography.
“It was exciting, but extremely demanding,” recalls Grech. “There was only one way to get through it: work hard, learn quickly and keep moving. Today, we have a team of 130, and we know exactly what challenges each person has to go through day-to-day. That has completely shaped our leadership style.”
The best things about being an entrepreneur in Portugal:
- Plenty of talent for hire and the fact that the Portuguese speak excellent English.
- A tight-knit ecosystem. The first batch of Portuguese startups, of which Uniplaces was one, grew together, creating a great business community vibe.
Michael Hobbs, former CEO of Adams Childrenswear and his wife Dawn, a successful interior designer, chose Italy as the place to launch their fractional ownership business Appassionata In 2004 they had visited the remote Le Marche region, which borders the Adriatic Sea in central Italy, and decided it was a great place for a holiday home.
Michael says: “We purchased a tumbledown farm to renovate, in a country where we had no support network and didn’t speak the language, but we attacked the project with our usual enthusiasm and it quickly began to take shape.”
Like most good business ideas, fractional ownership, which is essentially part ownership of a property, naturally evolved from something else they were planning to do.
Hobbs says: “Between 2004 and 2007 we’d bought a number of properties in Le Marche with the intention of renovating them and selling them outright. When we started meeting local holiday homeowners, however, we discovered a common theme; many were unhappy with owning a property they only used for only five or six weeks each year. The costs, the upkeep, maintenance, security, gardening and continual interruptions to precious holidays was taking its toll, and many were actually trying to sell.”
So the business idea was born and the couple spent the next year researching, investigating and visiting fractional ownership developments around the world.
Italian business bureaucracy is not the easiest to navigate, and also has a habit of changing, so the Hobbs took the decision to add the fractional ownership business to an existing UK company of theirs and developed a legal structure that enabled them to run the fractional business from the UK, with the capability of operating the model throughout Europe and beyond.
The best things about being an entrepreneur in Italy:
- Italian creativity. Sourcing from local artisans we’ve found a rich source of lighting, ironwork, flooring, building materials and interior furnishings.
- The right customer base. Italy is a magnet for a certain type of purchaser, often entrepreneurs themselves, who relate to the ethos of our business.
Gwyneth Letherbarrow left the UK for Austria to launch her coaching and consultancy business Feelgood Coaching and Consulting With an Austrian grandmother who had lived in England for many years before returning to her native country, Letherbarrow already had strong connections with Austria, a place she visited regularly.
She said: “Growing up I wanted to save the world, and given that Vienna houses a large number of international organisations, including the UN, it was a natural for me to want to work there.”
Having completed a coaching diploma with The Coaching Academy in the UK she began the task of establishing her business in Vienna, a metropolis in the middle of Europe, home to a diversity of nationalities, cultures and successful businesses, and a strong economy.
One of her biggest challenges was securing her licence to work as a management consultant or coach. Austria’s complex system of validation requirements ensures that only certified individuals are doing jobs for which they are qualified. Another was the fact that Austria is not as ‘digitally’ developed as the UK.
“At the beginning of 2013 while I was starting the business there was a lot of driving involved, having to provide original signatures etc., and a lack of willingness to accept email correspondence. It is getting better now, but in comparison to the UK there is still room for improvement,” she says.
The best thing about being an entrepreneur in Austria:
- The Austrian Chamber of Commerce now has a solid support infrastructure and a team of people dedicated to helping entrepreneurs or ‘Junge Wirtschaft’.
- Austria’s geographic location and history makes it the doorway to South-East Europe, and depending on your long-term business vision, the opportunities are endless.
This article was written by Alison Coleman from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.