Connected Places Mission to China: How our Global Programme benefits UK SMEs

The Catapult’s Connected Places Mission to China was a four-and-a-half day business trip full of learning and exploration for five British SMEs that have the potential to improve physical and digital connectivity in areas such as mobility, communications, and the built environment. The mission was supported by the Science and Innovation Network and helped SMEs to expand their market reach. Connected Places Catapult and HMG partners helped the SMEs broker connections for pursing investment, exporting. In our latest blog, SME Development Manager Cera Wong discusses the outcomes and successes of one of our most ambitious missions yet.

China is changing rapidly with its population growing at 0.6% annually. Particularly in urban regions, there is a huge demand for products and services that can help improve connectivity between places, as well as the quality of citizens’ lives. For this reason, Chinese privately owned businesses continue to invest in overseas businesses with brands and products that give them a competitive advantage in their home market.

The evolution in the Chinese economy is creating win-win opportunities for UK and European businesses looking to access new sources of investment and new markets. At the same time, British exports are on the rise. In 2010, worldwide exports of British goods to China hit £12 billion for the first time ever. Fast-forward to 2018, this figure shot up to £22.6 billion. This is why the UK Government is taking a proactive approach to support UK companies, especially small-medium enterprises (SMEs), that are willing to move to the export market. Business missions to international markets, such as our Connected Places Mission to China, are therefore vital to help SMEs through the journey in exporting into new and existing markets in China and thereby creating opportunities for long-term sustainable partnerships abroad.

The Connected Places Mission to China involved engagement with the cities of Chongqing, Chengdu and Shanghai, and was led by our CEO Nicola Yates and Connected Places Catapult Senior Advisor Sir Michael Bear, along with representatives from Satellite Applications Catapult. The seniority of the UK mission leaders allowed the delegation to secure meetings with influential counterparts from the Chinese government and business.

What SMEs say about the Mission to China

At the start of the mission, we used an online call to source company applications. These were then assessed by an expert panel of representatives from the Department for International Trade, the Science and Innovation Network and ourselves. The five selected SME participants were:

  • Alexei Poliakov, CEO of Locomizer, a software company whose algorithms enable developers to make decisions about where to locate premises and facilities.
  • David Crellin, CEO of ScienceScope whose educational programme helps to improve digital and IT literacy.
  • Jamie Wallace, Director of WallaceLiu whose urban design firm specialises in adaptive reuse; the repurposing of buildings using cutting edge technology.
  • Dale McCook, CEO of ELAD Network, a PropTech company specialising in the ownership of assets in the built environment.
  • George Ye, Managing Director of UbiPOS which helps monitor infrastructure through the latest digital sensing technologies.

Our team asked the selected SMEs to give their testimonials on what attracted them to apply to take part of the mission, their experience throughout the mission, and their recommendations for those considering applying for missions in the future.

“It’s really hard to make new connections out there, so what attracted me most to the Connected Places Mission to China was the ability to have the access to new people, businesses and companies,” Jamie Wallace from WallaceLiu explains. “I am grateful to Connected Places Catapult for opening their contact book and introducing us to a range of quality partners.”

ScienceScope’s David Crellin also adds: “China’s a really difficult place to get into, so getting contacts and knowing where within the country to go is a challenge. This mission represented a great opportunity to have the support from Connected Places Catapult, allowing us to get there and engage with suitable people who would be interested in what we do.”

Alexei Poliokov of Locomizer shares his feedback on his experience, “People I met were really friendly and open to exploring new ways of working with companies abroad. I’m looking forward to capitalising on the leads generated during the programme.”

On future recommendations for SMEs, Dale McCook from ELAD Network gives his views. “My biggest recommendation for SMEs participating in an international mission is make sure you understand their way of doing things, their culture, and have a backup or right methods to interact with the people you meet.”

On the same subject, Ubipos’ George Ye said: “SMEs looking to succeed in China need to know the market very well. I recommend staying in touch with organisations like Connected Places Catapult who can help you know which upcoming Chinese opportunities might be relevant to your company”.

You can learn more about our Mission to China and find out what the SMEs made of it by watching the video below: