Jaanus Tamm, founder of DefSecIntel Solutions: Companies should make use of the state’s support to open doors on foreign markets

What does DefSecIntel Solutions do?

We sell and develop modern border security systems in Estonia and abroad. Our unique value proposition lies in fully automated surveillance. To that end, we use artificial intelligence and high-quality remote-sensing cameras. Our solution offers mobile and moveable surveillance platforms and systems. That means that countries don’t have to build any physical infrastructure. Most countries have very long borders, and we supply them with mobile monitoring stations and platforms that help cover their surveillance needs. As a result, they don’t need many patrols along the border. Thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, the computer does most of the work.

How fierce is international competition in your field of activity?

Extremely fierce! Since we only have one client in Estonia, it’s very important for us to go abroad to meet potential partners.

Which countries has your company visited?

We’ve been on international visits to Africa and Japan organised by Enterprise Estonia and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and to a variety of trade fairs in the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

What has motivated you to go on visits?

Since our company operates in the government-to-government (G2G) sector, state support is particularly important to us. If a small Estonian company approaches a potential client or partner, it’s extremely difficult to compete against large French, American, Russian or Turkish companies. The moral support of the Estonian state and having doors opened to you are essential if you want to reach a level that’s at least comparable. If an Estonian minister says to a foreign colleague that they’d like to meet and talk about how the smart technologies being developed in Estonia could help their country guard their borders has a different sort of impact altogether. It could open some very important doors.

You mentioned you’ve attended a number of trade fairs. What’s their greatest attraction for you?

An Estonian government minister usually takes part in trade fairs, helping to open our booth and inviting ministers from the target country to visit us. At trade fairs, there’s generally a joint booth set up for Estonian companies, with several of them together. Enterprise Estonia always does amazing work organising that sort of thing. We stand out, people remember us and therefore come and talk to us more. What’s also valuable where trade fairs are concerned is that thanks to the event itself and the presence of a minister, you can arrange influential meetings, which otherwise tend to be difficult to make happen. Speaking from personal experience, our company developed great partnerships with large US suppliers and associates thanks to one of those visits. If the prime minister tells a foreign colleague that they should work together, it has a different impact. We also received a lot of help from a minister in the United Arab Emirates. Thanks to their meeting with the leaders in our field in the UAE, we basically got a contract just a few months later. It helped open doors, even though we’d made thorough preparations ourselves. The state just helped us take that last step. The effect the state has is mainly in boosting your credibility.

You’ve used the expression ‘to open doors’ several times now. What’s been the most memorable example of opening doors that you’ve experienced in relation to international visits?

In many countries, the situation is that not much happens unless orders come from higher up. It’s very much the norm in our sector that if you want to talk to a general or a minister and showcase your product for them, recommendations play a major role. That means, for example, that if you get the chance on a visit to sit in a room where prime ministers are talking and topics that are important to Estonian companies are being mentioned, it’s priceless. The way I see it, in the case of our company, the UAE contract I mentioned has been the most linear. A minister from the Estonian government met with a general and we were there along with the general’s entourage. The ball started rolling after the conversation and an order was placed a few months later. It’s true though that the impact of visits is usually seen after a much longer period, especially in our company’s sector, where arriving at a deal can take five years. That’s why it’s so important that we have the opportunity to use the support of the Estonian state to open doors.

What motivates a company to go on a visit, knowing that striking a deal might take five years?

It’s very sector-specific, of course, but if every deal takes 2-5 years on average, then everyone’s on an even playing field. People generally take part in visits because they want to achieve their business goals. They usually want to sell their products to the chosen destination because there’s a high demand for a specific product in that country or because it has resources they want to invest in the field your company operates in. We’ve been on several ‘scouting’ visits to assess whether we could do business in a country. Even if it seems to hold a lot of potential, you can get to meet important people or partners a lot more quickly by way of visits. And as a result of the visit, you get a much more complete overview of the country and its business opportunities. With the help of important information like that, it’s much better to decide whether or not to keep investing. Going on a visit helps you make those decisions having weighed everything up.

Can a visit that results in you knowing there’s no point going forward on that market be considered a success?

Definitely, since it saves you a lot of money on investments you would otherwise have frittered away on that market. As an entrepreneur, it’s important to me to make a balanced choice on what’s worthwhile investing in. It makes no sense at all going and spending money abroad if you don’t have access to the right people to showcase your products or technology to. Nor does it make any sense to invest time and resources in a country that isn’t prepared to sink money into the field your company operates in.

So a visit is a great opportunity to test the market?

Exactly! It’s also an efficient and cost-effective way of answering the question of whether it’s possible to do business profitably in the target country.

How important is going on international visits for Estonia’s entrepreneurs and economy?

Estonia’s dependent on exports because our domestic market’s so small. As such, to my mind it’s crucial to participate in international visits and expand to foreign markets. As for the importance of such visits to the Estonian economy, they help attract foreign investments to the country, which diversifies and stimulates local entrepreneurship. In that sense, high-level state officials helping to introduce Estonia and Estonian entrepreneurs is priceless. Their contribution really does help open doors. Of course, the ministers themselves don’t have to sell anything, but they can introduce things that are being developed in Estonia and invite people to see how high the level is that things are done at here. That’s very important for a small country. But you could also look at the impact the visits have on Estonia’s economy in terms of reputation-building, which has long-term effects. Estonia having a good reputation will attract more tourists, for example.

What would you have missed out on as an entrepreneur if you hadn’t gone on the visits?

I’m convinced that most of our international contracts would have been much harder for us to sign and that we would’ve had to invest a lot more of our resources in them. I guess also that several deals wouldn’t have been struck at all. The moral support of the state is crucial, it really is. If an Estonian minister or the president tells a foreign colleague that there’s technology in Estonia that could satisfy the needs of their country, then it has way more impact than my daily calls and enquiries as to how far someone’s gotten in going over some document or other. High-level state officials intervening in a good way helps you overcome bureaucratic obstacles. The visits also help open doors, allowing Estonian entrepreneurs to reach foreign markets.

Would you recommend going on visits to other Estonian entrepreneurs?

Yes, definitely! Particularly companies that the state’s moral support helps strike deals or find partners for. The visits don’t always have to be in the G2G sector. Here’s a simple example: if you’re making a choice about whose product you’re going to sell or represent in your country, there are hundreds of companies around the world to choose from. Participating in negotiations as a member of a business delegation could influence that decision. But it’s worth keeping in mind that companies are pragmatic abroad, too. It’s naive to hope that if, say, the Estonian prime minister recommends an Estonian company, then everyone will rush to your door and sign a contract with you. The world doesn’t work like that, sadly. It’s the company that has to take the initiative first and foremost. A minister or another high-level representative of the state can only help you get over barriers more quickly. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that the entrepreneur really wants it and makes an effort themselves.

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