How To Build An International Network That Really Facilitates Your Expansion In A New Market

8th Sep 2020

At some point in your sports tech startup journey, the idea of expanding your business to other countries will probably pop up.

You might want to expand because your home market is too small, your current market is saturated, other markets seem ‘more ready’ for your product, there are other markets sharing the same language, ...

But whatever the reason, when your startup meets all the prerequisites to start expanding (go over our checklist here), the next step though isn't blindly opening up shop in any new country you deem fit.

Instead, you will first need to make a smart and considerate decision about which specific new market to enter and how to approach that market.

That’s because there’s no one-size-fits-all, and each and every market has its nuances. Nuances like how things are organized, what legal obligations come in play, processes and structures that are different or organizations that are defined differently. Even the ways of doing business could and will be slightly different.

All of these aspects are important for you to know and understand. Having specific knowledge of your target region is what sets you up for success, before breaking ground in that new market.

But the thing is, most of this knowledge doesn’t reveal itself just by doing some desk research... You will need to be able to reach out to local experts.

How? By cultivating an international network. In this article, we’ll provide you with some practical advice to build one.

What does having an international network entail, and how do you build yours?

Your aim is to establish relationships with (local) experts in the foreign market you’re targeting, in order to quickly get answers to your questions and to help you gain valuable insights. Those local experts might even turn into ambassadors promoting your startup, if they really believe in your vision and product.

These are 6 recommendations on how to start building useful connections and leveraging upon them:

1. Look for relevant international and local communities and their (thought) leaders

Every startup is linked to one or more communities. You might for example identify as 'sports tech', and at the same time as 'SAAS'. Both communities have local presences in most markets, so start being active in these circles by contributing to online meetings and talking to your colleagues. This not only sets you up to discover who’s who and find the right people; you will learn a lot from sharing with other startups too.

2. Use or become a member of Belgian organizations who have an international network and presence in the countries you aim to target

Think trade organizations (FIT, AWEX,, accelerators (e.g. imec.istart) and industry networks (Chambers of Commerce, Agoria, BHIC...) that are internationally connected and have local representatives/connections that they can introduce you to.

Whereas trade organizations are more government-based and have the goal to support growth of their region, an organization like Agoria is more centered around offering services to Belgian startups as well as big corporates. Being able to connect with big corporations with foreign offices, or even having them as a client, is a big advantage. It creates possibilities for you to get introduced to their local network here and abroad; people who are experienced in doing business in your target market.

3. Find an incubator or accelerator that offers support and access to its local network

Most business accelerators can rely on a wide range of national and international mentors and advisors within their own ranks. It’s even more interesting when the accelerators themselves are part of a larger network. An accelerator like our partner imec.istart for example, is a member of the Global Accelerator Network, as well as UBI Global (the University Business Incubators and accelerators network) which immediately opens up doors to a whole ecosystem for your startup.

4. Join international conferences and meetups to discover the network hubs

A hub is an effective centre of a region, network or domain of interest. Your job is to find the sports tech hubs; which can show up as people, communities, events or network organizations. One useful way to do that is to visit international conferences and meetups where you can meet the right people and learn about the sector. Also, have a look at the different reports of the sports tech startup data provider SportsTechX.

5. Look outside your bubble

It’s important to go deep in your domain, but avoid becoming too narrow-focused. Your product or idea could have 'sports' as its main target market, but the tech itself might also be potentially applied in other areas. A sports application created to enhance performance might show aspects that are interesting to transfer to educational purposes, apply it in other domains like health or offer solutions to other types of clients.

Get out of your bubble once in a while to get offered different perspectives and to keep getting challenged.

6. Don’t forget your peers

And last but not least; they say the best performance hack is to learn from other people’s mistakes and experiences. So our final recommendation is to not go at it alone. Create occasions where you can jam with your colleagues and entrepreneurs who have gone through the process of scaling their business abroad. There’s a huge upside to connecting with other startups and companies that share a similar situation as the one you’re in.

Through sharing experiences, you’ll find out which technologies are (becoming) relevant, what the best approaches are, and what works and what doesn’t. You might even find new ideas or discover opportunities and synergies you didn’t think of before.

Need a little help?

Using these recommendations, you'll soon have the right international network that'll speed up your growth efforts. But should you need some help, reach out to us. We're happy to help you on your way.

(PS: want to learn more about how to successfully expand your business? Check out this article that covers a strategy to hit the ground running in a new market, called 'Soft Landing'.)

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