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Program Helps Pave the Way for Cos. Looking to Export

Coronado Brewing Co. aims to have its beer in Italian hands next year.

Guru, the startup that works with cultural institutions to provide visitors with a digital experience, is eying museums in Singapore.

And Urban Translations, which boosts the revenue potential of hospitality companies’ menus by digitizing and translating them into other languages, wants to get its software platform into resorts, restaurants and other tourist destinations in Mexico.

The three companies are among 15 that were recently selected to participate in the MetroConnect program, an accelerator of sorts for local companies looking to begin or develop their international business.

The export assistance program, which started in 2015, is run by World Trade Center San Diego, an affiliate of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.

So far, two cohorts of 15 companies — a total of 30 local companies — have gone through the program. Together, according to the EDC, the companies have signed more than 70 contracts, added 50 jobs to the region, set up nine overseas facilities and seen three successful company exits.

A third cohort was announced this month.

Being selected for the program comes with a $10,000 grant toward expenses associated with exporting, and financial and programmatic resources from WTC San Diego and the EDC.

Navigating the Regulations

◆ Coronado Brewing Co.

◆ CP Global Manufacturing

◆ CureMatch

◆ Del Mar

Oceanographic

◆ Dermala

◆ Envision Solar International

◆ FoxFury

◆ Guru

◆ Julian Hard Cider

◆ Optimized Fuel Technologies

◆ Performa Learning

◆ Planck Aerosystems

◆ Tioga Research

◆ Tunnel Vision

◆ Urban Translations

Already 5 percent of Coronado Brewing’s business is exports. The brewing company exports to 13 countries, but entering international markets can be challenging and costly.

“We don’t invest much in our export business, so to be able to have some dedicated dollars toward these markets could help them grow,” said Brandon Richards, Coronado Brewing’s chief operating officer.

With MetroConnect’s assistance, it aims to expand its business in Stockholm, Sweden, and Tokyo, Japan, and begin exporting to Bruino, Italy.

“In all of those markets, American craft beer is popular and has been either successful in the past or is currently growing,” Richards said.

He said the brewing company hopes the MetroConnect program will also introduce it to potential markets, as well as assist with navigating the logistics of exporting, which can vary widely country to country.

“Every single country has different regulations and being able to have a resource that can help us with those regulations will be nice,” Richards said. “This just helps us focus in a little bit more and really just gives us the opportunity to spend a little bit more time on our export business.”

The company aims to increase its exports by 25 percent in 2018, he said.

Expanding the Exports

Exporting can be primarily difficult for companies like Coronado Brewing because of the challenges of getting a perishable product to customers in good condition.

Guru and Urban Translations, which both sell software, may not have to worry about that, but the concerns over how and when to approach other countries to develop their international sales are similar.

Nikia Clarke, executive director of WTC San Diego, said MetroConnect works to educate the San Diego business community of the market opportunities available to companies that may not consider themselves potential exporters.

“Part of our goal with MetroConnect was to kind of reframe the conversation around exports to include our really robust service economy and all of these high-growth, knowledge-intensive industries that really propel the economy here, but weren’t connected to all the services in the region for small and midsize companies looking to go global,” she said.

Experienced Guides

Samantha Urban founded Urban Translations after a trip to Rio de Janeiro where 11 of the restaurants she visited in six days had only paper menus in Portuguese, making it tricky for her, a picky eater, and her travel companion, a vegetarian, to choose what to order.

Her firm makes digital menus for the hospitality industry that allow guests to order food, drinks and other amenities from a tablet; the platform translates the content of the menus into any language.

Urban said the company had planned to launch first in Japan, but that she had to alter that in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami, which compounded the country’s economic challenges. She also traveled to Brazil to feel out that market, but found it unready.

Today, the platform is being used primarily in Las Vegas. The company, which is relocating soon from its office in Barrio Logan to Point Loma, has about a dozen full-time and part-time employees.

Now the company will have additional resources as it looks again to expand out of the United States.

“This is going to be something where we’re going to have experienced individuals really guiding us through the process of exporting again and testing out international waters,” she said. “It’s going to really help us excel in the market place a lot faster.”

Urban said the company plans to expand first in North America.

“We’re going to be very smart about this,” she said. “One of the first things that you have to always keep in mind is bandwidth, and for us we really want to leverage the fact we’re close to Mexico. The Baja region is booming.”

Canada’s many casinos are next on the list.

Urban said MetroConnect’s resources will help them determine how to price their services and how to sell in various cultures.

“We need to make sure we understand how they buy and how they purchase,” she said. “We don’t want to approach someone and blow that connection just because we didn’t know how they buy.”

For Paul Burke, founder and CEO of Guru, being part of MetroConnect will ease some of the risk of pursuing new markets.

“As a startup, every dollar counts,” he said. Guru, which is housed in the downtown EvoNexus tech incubator, has nine local employees.

“We do want to go out to these markets but we’ve held back because it’s expensive to travel and exhibit, so this will allow me to go over and meet with some museums abroad,” Burke said of MetroConnect.

At the moment, the company is working with cultural attractions throughout the United States, such as the Space Needle in Seattle. It is in talks with institutions in Singapore and is also eying China, where dozens of new museums are opening yearly.

Expanding internationally is “a big piece of the puzzle for us, but we made a decision earlier this year to postpone it even though we’ve had interest,” Burke said. “It’s something we’ve always wanted to do. This is now allowing us to go after it.”

Including the Service Economy

Clarke said the organization has beefed up its offerings to the companies it selects to participate in MetroConnect each year.

Last year, it hired a full-time trade and investment manager to consult one-on-one with the MetroConnect companies, she said.

As it’s done so, the application process has gotten more competitive, she said.

“Part of our goal with MetroConnect was to kind of reframe the conversation around exports to include our really robust service economy and all of these high-growth, knowledge-intensive industries that really propel the economy here, but weren’t connected to all the services in the region for small and mid-size companies looking to go global,” she said.

The program is sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The length of the first cohort’s program was about six months. Since then, it has been expanded to one year after feedback from participants about the amount of time needed to coordinate exporting activities. But that doesn’t mean the connection is severed once that period ends, Clarke said. Companies in previous cohorts are invited to meet the newest set of companies and to participate in events even after their time in the program is up.

“The goal of the program is to build a pipeline of export-ready companies and to make sure that we keep former cohorts engaged so they become resources for the ones coming up through the program each year,” she said. “It’s not about 15 companies each year; it’s about building this sustainable and robust pipeline of capacity for the region.”

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