International Festival of Business 2016: An Overview by Chris Heyes, Head of International, IFB2016

The International Festival for Business 2016 (IFB2016) will start on 13 June and will run to 1 July. IFB2016 will see significant improvements on IFB2014, following a consultation with 2,000 delegates and stakeholders.

There are three key weeks and themes:

• Week 1: manufacturing
• Week 2: energy and environment
• Week 3: creative and digital

There will be four themes within each week:

• Financial and professional services
• Logistics
• Education
• Science and innovation

The entire festival will take place at the brand new £25 million Exhibition Centre Liverpool, and we’re expecting 31,500 delegates to attend, of which we have an aspirational target of 40% which we hope will be overseas companies. Our real aim is to bring businesses together to network, and to encourage UK SMEs, in the main, to look at new export opportunities.  The government has a huge drive to find up to 100,000 new SMEs to export, and are looking at a target of £1 trillion worth of exports by 2020. IFB2016 will help it achieve this target.

Delivered by Liverpool Vision in partnership with UK Trade & Investment and the GREAT Britain Campaign, and with the support of the UK government, IFB2016 will feature the GREAT British Showcase – an exhibition of UK innovation, technology, design and creativity. It will also feature the Exporting is GREAT Export Hub and a changing, interactive display of UK industry sectors and inward-investment opportunities.

The Exporting is GREAT campaign launched in November 2015– you may have seen the television adverts, watched the videos online or noticed posters on buses and trains. The campaign targets non-exporting UK companies and showcases live export opportunities.

One in five of UK businesses currently exports. In Germany it’s one in three. Although we have a very advanced market in our own right, there are 70 million people in Great Britain, and we need to encourage our businesses to grow and export more. People may be nervous about growing, but if you compare Great Britain to Germany, we need to catch-up. But this is changing and there are new tools available to help. If you think in terms of eBay and e-commerce helping traders to export more it looks like it’s the education process that businesses need to know more about. Worries about payment, foreign exchanges, and goods delivered on time are still to be addressed.

This year IFB2016 will have a business-services area, which will be full of free advice from lawyers, banks, export-finance specialists and market advisers. These will be situated within the Future Deals Lounge. If businesses have agreed a great deal with a Chinese business, for example, and they walk out enthused, they can take the next steps straight away, and use the Future Deals Hub to speak to the bank about opening an RMB (Chinese finance) account. They will also be given information and contacts. There will also be logistics advisers ensuring that there is a good service to that particular market. All these services are free.

IFB2016 has tried to think of all the barriers to export, and it seems the main barrier is the business itself. This is the main message that we’re trying to get out within Liverpool City Region and the North West – IFB2016 is bringing foreign companies over to the UK which have the desire to work with businesses, and we’ve got the tools and contacts to make this happen.


The International Festival of Business aims to generate 10,000 new jobs.

Are you able to tell us what small businesses achieved from last year’s event? Are there any statistics available to encourage as many small businesses as possible to get involved in IFB2016?
£300 million worth of deals and investments were done at the IFB2014, with 2,000 businesses exporting for the first time, giving us an estimated figure of 10,000 new jobs generated.

How easy is it for small businesses to export these days? Is exporting affordable?
If a business wants to export, they can. If you look within Europe it’s a cheap and easy route. There are no trade tariffs, but you do need a bit of experience in terms of knowing about VAT and getting paid in euros, but apart from that is it very simple, especially with our free-trade agreement with so many countries within Europe.

The government also has a lot of schemes in place. Banks have credit schemes in relation to UK export finance. The Exporting is GREAT campaign is about educating businesses about what opportunities they are missing out on. The emphasis on this campaign is to take advantage of live opportunities. For example, there are projects relating to water purification in China or businesses looking for engineering experts for structural developments in the Middle East. If you go on Twitter you can find these opportunities. Follow UKTI (@UKTI) and use the hashtag #exportingisgreat to seek opportunities for your line of business. UKTI and the Foreign Office are constantly feeding back opportunities from within these regions.

Looking to encouraging small businesses to export, what is the first step they should take? Where can you signpost them?
We’re working with two partners who have information available for businesses wanting to export. Firstly, ‘Open to Export’ help businesses to go through a simplistic action planning process, helping them to understand the process a bit more. There is also GOV.UK’s Business Risk pages.  The most important element of any export is to ensure they research their market which is key to success. Businesses who want to export need to understand their market, the landscape, the political risk, and even corruption. I would say to ensure that you are armed with as much knowledge as possible. The Open to Export scheme helps businesses to get to the stage where they have a great action plan, and the help businesses to understand the risks involved in exporting.

Then, obviously, the next stage is to become part of IFB2016 itself. Register for the free Business Club, register for the one-to-one business meetings and then set up conversations to clarify the next steps needed for your business to export.  The one-to-one business meetings are very specific. You can say what you are looking for, and can talk about the market and opportunities that you require. For example, if a flooring company wants to export to Latin America, the festival will help you identify opportunities within that continent.

The Santander SME Summit seemed to attract a good number of SMEs last year. Is there a similar event planned for IFB2016?
This year HSBC is one of IFB2016’s festival partners. They will be running a number of significant high-profile events and will have a much larger platform within the festival venue.

In terms of the business brokerage opportunities, how should small businesses use the service to their advantage? Is there more information you can give in terms of the ‘Meet the Buyer’ events?  

Again, register for the Meet Your Future Deal. The more that businesses put in, the more they will get out. This year, we are pushing this service a lot more as we have a more sophisticated system, which will automatically match up businesses. The first festival was a very good first attempt, but we’ve made it better. The main focus of the one-to-one business brokerage is around exports.

There will be 80 world-class events for businesses at IFB 2016

Are there any fringe events taking place at this year’s festival?
We have been discussing a programme called ‘The Edge’. If you think back to the last festival there were 415 events, and the feedback from this was that there were far too many fringe events taking place. Feedback also suggested that the quality threshold should be increased, and we’ll be addressing this by reducing this number 80 world-class events.  The entire IFB2016 will be taking place at one venue, and not 124 venues! We’re trying to make sure all of our businesses have the opportunity to meet as many people as they want. Each day events will run from 8am to 10pm, with approximately 3-4,000 people attending per day.

The real opportunity for the event is that businesses can walk in for free. People can look at showcases, talk to advisers and listen to world-class speakers.  Businesses need to put the effort it, and if they do, they will get so much more from this year’s festival.

As one of our Big Business Influencers, who’s been your biggest influence in business?
Richard Branson is a key person who I admire, along with Duncan Ballantine and Sir Terry Lehy (Tesco), who started his career stacking shelves at Tesco which is now the fourth largest supermarket in the UK. Sir Lehy has a focus on taking it to number one. I also admire social entrepreneurs, and think people who can set up projects in this sector are to be admired.

Finally, what’s the best advice you could give to a small business looking to expand and reach new audiences?
Research your market. This is absolutely key, and as part of this, don’t be scared to ask questions. There are a lot of businesses that feel as though they might look silly or stupid, but there is so much more advice and guidance out there.

Chris Heyes, Head of International, IFB2016

Further reading:

Chris Heyes, Head of International IFB 2016
Liverpool Vision Interim Evaluation Report IFB 2014Liverpool Vision Interim Evaluation Report IFB 2014