Boston Business Journal Keynote Address

Keynote address

Delivered by Therese Murray

Boston Business Journal

Build Your International Business Development

February 12, 2015

(As Prepared)



Thank you all for joining us this morning, and thank you Doug for asking me to be here today for this important conversation.


I am honored to be here with a panel with such an incredible depth of knowledge on international business development and which includes my friend Phil Budden former Counsel General for the UK who helped us make connections in the North of Ireland.  I look forward to listening to your discussion.


Opportunity becomes a “should have”, if you do not seize the moment.  


Massachusetts is in a unique place because of the business climate created by our innovation economy. As a result of that success, we are on the radar of countries around the world.  


Governments, entrepreneurs, and investors want to work here with our companies and be a part of this economy.  We have embraced the opportunity, and if you look anywhere in this city, you see the economic impact.  


No matter where you turn you see cranes. You see construction.  

You see the outcome of what is possible when we seize the moment and take advantage of this point in our economic history.


In 2013, there were 38,580 business establishment openings – the most in the last 20 years.   In the last 10 years, Massachusetts has been ahead of California in terms of total tech licenses and license options executed.   And with 14 groups of angel investors and $238 million of start-up or seed funding awarded in 2013, the Commonwealth has made great strides in business development.   


The expansion of our economy has been centered around the life sciences, biotech and IT sectors.  But, it is important to note the success in these sectors afford the chance for businesses in all areas of the economy to take advantage of the international spotlight.


In my tenure as an elected official, I quickly learned that in order for Massachusetts to thrive, we had to highlight the strengths of the Commonwealth and compete on a global scale.


After we fell of the economic cliff in 2008, many of the efforts to market what we have to offer internationally were curtailed in the wake of the Great Recession.  About the same time, I was asked to speak at a symposium in Northern Ireland on Massachusetts’ health care reform.  In the spring of 2009, I travelled to Belfast to give my address, and meet with businesses and government officials.


Those meetings underscored the fact that we are all facing similar problems and collaboration and finding ways to work together for mutual economic benefit would give us a better bang for our buck.


Over the next several years, I lead trade missions back to Ireland and Northern Ireland and Finland with a mix of academic researchers, large companies, start-ups and government agencies.   


Each time we went back or hosted delegations here in Boston, we were able to build upon that foundation and, as a resukt, we have seen many partnerships in business, research and innovation.


These relationships have also lead to connections in Finland, Catalonia, Dubai, the Wallonia region of Belgium, and now China.


Through this work, I realized it is about seizing the opportunities and finding a way to make them work.   


A perfect example of this is the EU-US ehealth Marketplace and Cooperation Assembly.   


This was originally a series of meetings to be held in Washington for the US and EU governments to work out the details of the MOU on interoperability.  When DC decided not to host the US leg of the meetings, we jumped in and said we would.  


Working with our European counterparts in government and the European Connected Health Alliance, we created a conference and marketplace allowing Massachusetts businesses and innovators to showcase themselves and bring European businesses and investors here and show what we have to offer.  


Over the three years we’ve hosted this conference we have had an average of 20 countries represented each year, and over 150 participants.  


Along with the University of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, and Massachusetts Life Science Center, we were able to take the conference and package that into Massachusetts Connected Health Week.


These kinds of events give us an opportunity on both a national and international stage to highlight our strengths, and we have all of the elements right here- an educated workforce, an entrepreneurial spirit, a fearless drive for excellence.  


We have direct flights to Asia, Europe, Dubai, Turkey and Israel.  We are just a 5 hour flight to Europe and our work days overlap. Additionally, we have a city and a culture that is very comfortable for Europeans.


Unfortunately, we have a gap in our economic development efforts here in Massachusetts that holds us back from further capitalizing on our strengths, and highlighting our economic sectors – your businesses – internationally.  


Deliberate, focused relationship building and diplomacy is missing from current economic and scientific development initiatives at an international level.


Seeing this gap and the potential positive impact that international partnerships provide for our economy, I wanted to build a bridge to achieve these goals.


So, after my term had concluded in the Senate, I announced my new organization, MassIgnite to promote Massachusetts’ emerging economic sectors internationally.  


MassIgnite will provide a local platform for international partnerships, research and development and market expansion for private companies, start-ups and entrepreneurs, universities, and incubators.  


Serving as a bridge, MassIgnite will accelerate innovation and increase exposure for partners through critical networking, access to international markets promoting opportunities through conferences and trade missions, and identifying opportunities for collaboration and grant funding.


MassIgnite will harness this unique opportunity to create unprecedented international alliances while reinforcing Massachusetts as the best gateway to the US market strengthening our economy.


The challenge has always been that once the doors to international partners have been opened, what do we need to do to make sure they stay open.  


We have to be able to create real partners and opportunities not just a photo-op and a ceremonial signing of a partnership that gets stuck into a drawer and forgotten about.


We have to embrace the mindset that opening ourselves to international opportunities and partnerships does not make us vulnerable, but in fact raises our profile and in turn create better business opportunities as well as a more diverse and stronger economic base.


That change in mindset is the first step in creating an environment that allows our businesses to expand their reach as well as tap into research and development and more importantly additional foreign funding sources.


With technology virtually erasing our borders, it is easier for business to take advantage of these opportunities, but doing so takes far more than a few clicks on the computer and a Skype conference.


No matter how connected we feel with technology, the key is developing personal, face-to-face relationships because it is those connections that make the difference.


There is no question that email is a quick form of communication and Skype or FaceTime are critical advances in communication.  But, nothing beats face-to-face meetings.    This allows you to build a relationship, a trust with your counterparts.


Think about your most productive relationships, their strength is built on a handshake and conversations, not over an email or a text.


I have also found that having those face to face conversations bring out concentric circles of opportunities — more thoughts, ideas and additional contacts for collaboration.


Many of the successes I have seen are not only with the principals in the meeting, but who those people connect you with and what possibility those connections bring.


That is why trade missions are so critical.   


Having the right people with you and creating a schedule that allows participants to maximize exposure and connections is a key factor in finding avenues for expansion.   


I believe that it is important to have a good mix of government, industry and academic representatives.   This allows a variety of perspectives and provides a greater exposure for the entire delegation to a wide variety of potential partners.


While I have seen great success with Massachusetts entities finding avenues for collaboration such as a start up medical device company finding a place to do European clinical trials, or connecting researchers on regenerative medicine, one of the most surprising connections made was within our own delegation between a company and University.   


More than once I have heard that the foreign connections have been important but equally important were the connections made within the delegation.


Both participating in trade missions abroad and opening your doors to business and investors who have travelled to the Commonwealth is critical to making these opportunities come to fruition.


With those opportunities also comes an obligation to know your audience.


Business cultures and customs are different in other countries.  


While Ireland may be a more relaxed business style, the Fins have a much more formal and direct business style.  And while you may ask for a fork at your local Asian restaurant, asking for a fork instead of eating with chopsticks during an official dinner in China may be a huge insult.  


So make sure you do your research and not assume that the way business is done here is the same as everywhere else in the world.  


Something that you believe may not be a big deal, could adversely affect any gains your efforts have made.  


Also, don’t get frustrated by the process.  


We all expect instant action, and we all need to remind ourselves that some regions of the world move at a slower, more deliberative pace.   You have to be flexible. What may work here, may not work in Dubai, or may have to be adjusted to fit both parties’ needs.  


I know some of you may be thinking that your business already is operating on a thin budget as it is and spending the money for travel just isn’t there.  But, the relatively small cost of travel can in fact result in big gains.  


The relationships you make can open new market opportunities and create exposure to funding streams you were unaware of.  


For example, the European Union has invested 80 billion Euros- approximately 90 billion dollars -in grant funding through their Horizon 2020 program for innovation.  By partnering with two other EU entities, US-based entities can apply for funding calls and tap into that resource.


Another example is the trans-Atlantic, cross border partnership that was created between UMass Lowell’s medical device incubator –M2D2, Letterkenny Institute of Technology in the Republic of Ireland and C-TRIC in Northern Ireland.  As a result of this partnership, companies that are a part of the incubator have soft landing spaces in Europe.  


This is critical as these entrepreneurs look to get their CE mark and FDA approval.


Now instead of trying to find cost effective space to continue their development, they have access to space and resources they would have been otherwise on their own finding.   


Additionally, UMass Lowell has further expanded their brand and exposure into Europe and the Middle East.


These are the kinds of resources and opportunities that develop from trade missions and relationship building and the kinds of results that allow our businesses and our economy to make their mark around the world.


And while Western Europe is a natural place for us to look for economic development opportunities, they are just the tip of the iceberg.  


There is a vacuum in Eastern Europe for economic development opportunities and collaboration.  Companies in Eastern Europe are looking for a bridge to break into to the U.S. to license their product.  


The Scandinavian countries along with Estonia have put significant funding into bolstering health care technology.   Additionally, wealthy nations like United Arab Emirates and China are also becoming more open to collaboration outside of their borders.


Really anywhere you turn there is an opportunity to expand your reach.  Also part of increasing our reach in the global economy is strengthening of our business climate here at home.  


Breaking business, government and academia out of their silos and recognizing that everyone has a part to play in our economic health is the cornerstone to our future economic growth.  


Without collaboration and a willingness from all the players at the table, our ability to expand our economic reach is impeded.


We have seen the success of sectors like the life science industry when all of the players are on the same page.  We need to replicate that success on some scale in the IT sector and the innovation economy.   


By making investments in those industries, as well as finding other sectors that are poised to skyrocket, our economic strength and our ability to compete in the global economy will rise exponentially.


By investing in these sectors, we increase the opportunity for all of our businesses to thrive.


Additionally, we have to make people aware, both within our Commonwealth and around the world what our businesses and innovators have to offer.   If people don’t know what you are doing, they can’t invest in it – and you never know what the next “it” sector could be.  


There is amazing innovation going on in every corner of the Commonwealth.   


A perfect example is research going on at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.  


While most people believe that all WHOI does is ocean exploration, the ideas and innovation happening down on Cape Cod can affect every aspect of our lives and economy.  


From better prediction of weather trends to an algae that can be grown right here and can be used to create biodiesel, jet fuel, lubricants and have pharma applications. –these are the kinds of discoveries that can create a new economic sector.  


With just a $75,000 investment, the work on the algae can continue to see if it is commercially viable.  Under $100,000 could provide an economic engine for the Commonwealth.   


This is just one example of what can happen when a small investment could have a major impact.   


Think about your business… Would a small investment make a major impact on what you are doing?  How do you let people know about that opportunity?  


Expanding your exposure not only here but internationally may be the key, and that small investment you make could make a major difference.


Thank you for your time.  


I look forward to answering any questions you may have after the panel discussion.