Exporting Excellence
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Exporting Excellence

Minnesota businesses can grow and prosper by getting engaged with global trade

The engineers who started Catheter & Medical Design, Inc., (CMD) sought the American Dream, aiming to design, develop, and manufacture medical devices for clients. It didn’t take long after its 2005 start-up that customers around the world came calling.
The Roseville company jumped at these chances and built on them, revving growth and expanding into new specialties. Making catheters, braided and coiled reinforced tubing, and guiding and implement delivery systems for the cardiovascular, neurological, and other minimally invasive surgery markets, CMD exports its products to customers in eight countries in Europe, Asia, and South America. 
Today CMD has nearly 100 employees and a strong roster of clients from start-ups to well-established medical device companies. It partners with clients around the world to develop custom catheters that they, in turn, sell to their customers. Exports make up about 37 percent of CMD’s revenue, fueling significant creative design work and product innovation. 
Company president Steven Burdorf is proud of these results, and notes that any other Minnesota business could grow steadily through global sales, too. He offers this advice to business leaders who are considering launching international sales. 
1) Take Advantage of Resources
Minnesota offers businesses a wealth of advice, resources, and assistance to help them be smart and successful with exporting. Organizations at the regional, state or federal level, guide companies through the challenges and opportunities of global trade. Burdorf, who has worked in other states, notes that agencies in Minnesota are especially enthusiastic and helpful with global trade matters. 
“Trade organizations in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area function as a collaborative team with the services made available to companies like CMD. I’ve worked in Colorado and Tennessee and I’ve never experienced anything like this before,” says Burdorf. “If a business in Minnesota isn’t getting exposed to or taking advantage of the services available, they are really missing out.” 
Assistance includes helping companies identify potential customers, making introductions, paving the way to participate at international trade shows, or providing financial assistance. Burdorf was introduced to all of these through GREATER MSP, a public-private partnership serving a 16-county region. 
For example, it’s often difficult to vet start-ups in other countries to make sure they will make good on their promises. The Export-Import Bank helped CMD with due diligence, and it also offers risk insurance or loan guarantees to provide confidence in selling abroad. Recently CMD participated in a shared trade show booth in China, coordinated by the U.S. Commercial Service, whose representatives also helped set up meetings. Small businesses often have trouble footing the full cost of participating in an international trade show, but group booths make it tenable, and the Minnesota Trade Office even has a grant program to help small businesses offset export development costs. 
2) Make a Plan
It’s important to be strategic when it comes to laddering into global business. Going after exporting without a plan often leads to wasted effort. Burdorf suggests developing a strategy for exporting, essentially writing a business plan for approaching international sales. Do market research to determine what countries would be receptive to the company’s products, identify competitors, detail pricing, then staff up with people who can execute this plan.
Often, exporting happens organically, like it did for CMD. Former co-workers and clients reached out to company founders to see if CMD could meet their medical device design or prototyping needs. This type of entrée to exporting can be effective, but vetting is still important to make sure the business serves the company’s overall goals and objectives for export growth. 
3) Build a Culture and a Team
A strong and engaged team is vital to foster and maintain relationships with international customers. That can mean adjusting their schedules so they can consult with clients during European or Asian working hours, Burdorf says. 
“To work internationally, it’s got be in your company’s DNA to be focused on these customers and working with their ideas,” he adds.  “I’ve learned that having a culture of focus on service, diverse experiences, and team alignment on vision is paramount. It goes a long way toward creating comfort with people in other countries.”
CMD has benefitted enormously from exporting. Sales grew faster than anticipated, it branched into new lines of business, and was exposed to creative thinking and ideas from engineers and medical device manufacturers around the world. 
Companies in many other industries—from machinery to technology to food—also can thrive by selling their goods and services abroad. Achieving export success will be easier if they make use of the many resources available to assist them. 
Contact GREATER MSP for a free export assessment and information on resources available to help you grow international sales.
Jennifer Erickson, Export Development Manager
This initiative is supported by: