Interview with Gerry Gordon of the Touchdown programme, helping UK firms expand into the US

Gerry Gordon is president of the Economic Development Authority in Fairfax County. It works together with UK Trade and Investment on the Touchdown programme, which helps UK firms to expand into the US.

What are the main criteria to qualify for Touchdown?

We talk to British companies that are interested in looking for an expansion role into the US, and which have a basis in biotechnology or science. Some have a considerable track record and some are still in the early stages, but we need to see that the product or service has a demand in the US. The companies that have won in the past have had a solid business plan and been at the forefront of new technologies.

What does a UK company get out of it?

Fairfax County is home to more than 4,800 technology companies, including 36 UK firms that have chosen it as their North American base. The competition winner receives business development services to help it expand into the US market – a package that is worth around £40,000. We also introduce companies to contacts over the course of the year, in particular venture capitalists. In the past we have helped six companies get VC funding, ranging from as little as §1million to as much as §100 million.

What are the challenges facing companies expanding in the US?

There’s a different dynamic to sales in the US – we tend to be much more aggressive than the UK. We help the UK companies to partner with a US firm to learn about sales. Companies generally need help in professional service areas, whether it’s accountancy, legal or insurance. We can also assist with the patenting process.

And what happens when it goes wrong?

For one or two companies, the products didn’t work out. Companies tell us they are wary of entering the US market, despite the consistency in language. But there are many opportunities for biotechnology companies to succeed in the US.

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