Friday, 4 February 2011

Expat Excellence featuring Loïc Dumas

This week, we have Loïc Dumas, talk about his involvement with Apéro Entrepreneurs and offer his advice for expats seeking to start a business overseas.

1. What is Apéro Entrepreneurs?

The Apéro Entrepreneurs are informal meetups for entrepreneurs only (no consultants, bankers, etc.) taking place on the first thursday of each month. In March, it will be the 6th Apéro Entrepreneurs gathering. As the name suggests, the atmosphere is relaxed but it is also a good opportunity to network and to share ideas and get advice for your venture.
Started in Paris at the beginning of 2010 by Guilhem Bertholet (Manager of the incubator at HEC business school) and Gilles Poupardin (Sencities), the concept is rapidly expanding to other cities in France (currently 18 but more to come). London was the first international city to have its Apéro Entrepreneurs with Brussels and Casablanca.

2. Who is this group aimed at?
The group tries to focus on entrepreneurs only and not to have consultants, bankers or politicians but it is difficult to stick to this rule. I don’t see myself asking someone to leave the “Apéro” because he/she is not an entrepreneur.
The aim is to network and have a good time between like-minded people. This does not mean that business is not executed at these meetups. For example, at the previous Apéro Entrepreneurs, a web developer recently arrived in London and got a contract to update the website of a business. It represents one month of work and for the new expat an opportunity to improve their credibility and CV. At the first Apéro Entrepreneurs, an expat who arrived in London a week before got his first job for a start-up in the renewable energy sector.

3. What was your inspiration for setting up the group?

In June 2010, I launched the blog Frog Valley, in which I write articles on French start-ups and entrepreneurs in the UK in addition to helping French businesses expand their business in the UK. Most of the articles I write are in French but I try to translate some of them to English. I also started interviewing some promising entrepreneurs of fast growing start-ups (ex: My last project has been a series of interviews with a panel of entrepreneurs who are at different stages of their business to share their advice with the audience. All the interviews are in English, that’s one of the rules.

As I started to build up more and more contacts with French entrepreneurs in the UK, I thought it was time to set up informal meetups for entrepreneurs. In September 2010, I heard about the Apéro Entrepreneurs and that it was growing fast in France. I contacted the organisers in Paris and asked if I could do the same in London. They agreed to the idea and in October, I organised the first Apéro Entrepreneurs. It made my life easier as they were providing the tools I needed (website, newsletter, etc.) and so far it is going very well. One of my friends proposed to help me to expand the concept here in London. I am also happy with the turnover of people, with a majority of new faces every month.

4. What kind of difficulties/challenges did you encounter while setting up the group?

Using an existing concept, it was easier to set up that group than starting from scratch. But I have identified three main challenges:
- Bringing more English people to the Apéro Entrepreneurs. One reason is that the word Apéro (short for aperitif) doesn’t mean anything in English and that they believe that it is for French people only. I try to pass on the message that it is open to all nationalities but it is not easy tpo convince non French speaking audiences.
- Quality over quantity of attendees. The Apéro Entrepreneurs is still a young concept in London but over time I want to have more quality atendees and to have as many entrepreneurs as possible.
- Communication. We use the usual methods to communicate for the event like Facebook and LinkedIn but there are other ways that we still need to explore. Obviously word of mouth is the best method.

One of the highlights last month was that the last Apéro Entrepreneurs was sponsored by a French company which wanted to reach our audience. I hope to do more of that but I will try to find the best sponsors as the objective is still to have quality over quantity.

5. What kind of people attend the meet ups?

Half to two thirds of the attendees are entrepreneurs, one third are consultants and the rest are contacts/friends of attendees. On average 25 people attend the Apéro Entrepreneurs, which is encouraging as we have just done the fifth one in February. Our objective is to organise something that people enjoy coming to and recommend to their friends who are also entrepreneurs.

6. From your discussions at these meet ups, what kind of challenges expats face when setting up their own business?
Every expat goes through a period of adaptation when they move to a different country. Even if France is an hour away from Ashford, it is still a different country and you need to adapt to the business practice. Regarding the UK, I believe it is probably one of the easiest countries to set up a business. For instance in France, there is a lot more bureaucracy than here even if the situation is improving through different measures put in place within the last three years. I think that the easiest way to adapt is to attend events and in London there are lots of them. By talking to people, you can learn and also get some useful contacts for the future.

7. What advice do you have for expats who are interested in setting up their own business?

I think that the most important is to get in contact with people who have been working in their industry / sector in the country they will be setting up their business. I also encourage them to do it before they come and set up some meetings beforehand as it will help to adapt quicker to the country code of conduct for business. I would also advise to do some research on the sector / industry in the country but it is the basics.

If they have already created a business in their original country, I would advise them to get in touch with professionals who can help them to “explore” the opportunities in that country. They are the best positioned to advise an entrepreneur on the best practice in that country and put them in contact with the right people.

My intention when I set up my blog was to show to French entrepreneurs in France that London and the UK as a whole is a very dynamic place to do business and that some of our compatriots have done very well here. I strongly believe that French (and expats from all over the world) have great ideas and that the UK is a great country to test a concept at the global level. Sometimes business people want to reach the US too rapidly and don’t think of the UK as an intermediate location before expanding to the US.

My services as a business development consultant at Frogvalley is there to help the French entrepreneurs to make their first move in setting up their business in the UK.

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