America open for business says US Department of Defense

DPRTE 2018 broke new ground with the introduction of a brand new Knowledge Transfer Zone, christened ‘Doing Business with the US Department of Defense’. As the name suggests, the new addition – which co-opted the Keynote Arena for the afternoon of the event – paid tribute to the UK’s innumerable contributions to defence and security in the United States and made available much-needed advice to British businesses looking to break into a lucrative foreign marketplace. 

For the many UK SMEs in attendance, delegates representing the US Department of Defense (DoD) journeyed from across the Atlantic to make plain a simple but essential point: that America is open for business. It’s no secret that the US defence marketplace is the largest in the world today, with a procurement budget upwards of $686 billion anticipated for the 2018/19 financial year. 

But while the opportunity is clear, the route to market remains far less so. Cracking the United States is no small feat, and the American opportunity might seem a world away to the defence sector SME operating in parochial England. In response, ‘Doing Business with the US Department of Defense’ presented first-hand testimony from successful exporters alongside informed opinion from American equivalents to demonstrate how defence sector exports can benefit organisations and individuals alike. 

Among the core contingent of keynote speakers was Andrew Wilson – President of the Washington-based aerospace and defence specialist JGW Group. Speaking ahead of his address at Cardiff’s bustling Motorpoint Arena, Wilson was quick to highlight the business potential for UK defence exports. 

“For British technology, it’s open season in the United States – despite what the current administration may say about trade wars,” said Wilson. “We think British innovation can do really well in the US; we’ve seen it countless times before. I’ve been doing this for about 35 years and over that period we’ve put great UK technology in the hands of American soldiers. 

“A good example of this would be the Hemel Hampstead-based Smiths Detection who developed a chemical detector here in the UK and brought it over to the US. Today, American soldiers are protected by an efficient and very capable chemical detector built by Smiths, which is now manufactured in the United States. It’s a definite win-win for both parties.” 

The challenges are many, of course. Aside from having an innovative and engaging product, companies looking to establish a foothold in the American marketplace must first negotiate a flurry of red tape and procedure. 

“I think the major problem is understanding the US procurement process,” confirmed Wilson. “It can be long and laborious and it can take up a lot of your energy. Another issue, not just for British businesses but any organisation entering from the outside, is losing focus. Rather than keeping their eye on the prize, a lot of companies tend to try too many things at once. If businesses stay focused on what it is they’re trying to achieve, they’re much more likely to be successful.” 

Here, events like DPRTE have a role to play in fostering overseas opportunities for home-grown talent. They provide a platform to showcase the very best in British defence and security innovation, making them the first port of call for the US DoD’s network of talent spotters. 

“We see these kinds of engagements as a way to meet companies with new technologies,” added Wilson. “For me personally, that’s the only way I’m going to be able to see them. We can then bring those opportunities back to the US DoD. It’s all about giving suppliers here in the UK more of an opportunity to benefit from that exchange of information.” 

Collaboration between the UK supply chain and the US defence sector is nothing new. The difference today is that the potential is even greater and, thanks to the efforts of the US DoD, the routes to market are better defined than ever before. Ultimately, the big takeaway is that America is open for business to all UK organisations regardless of size. But while the opportunity remains in reach, it now falls to the companies themselves to take hold of it. 

Wilson concluded: “SMEs in the UK obviously see the United States as a big opportunity. It’s a $700 billion marketplace for the military, but it’s so big sometimes that it’s very easy to lose focus. In collaboration with the British Embassy, the US DoD will continue to help the folks who attend DPRTE to understand what’s important when going forward with an opportunity.” 

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