The inaugural fDi Forum took place in London on September 22 and 23, bringing together CEOs, CFOs, managing directors and other decision-makers from the corporate sector, along with select representatives from the public sector and other experts in the field of crossborder investment. This was the first ever fDi Forum organised by fDi Magazine and Financial Times Live, the events arm of the Financial Times, but it is set to become an annual event.
It also a new type of event for the FDI world: rather than talking about economic development from the perspective of investment promotion entities, this was a purely corporate-centric event, with the focus on companies' crossborder expansion strategies and needs. We talked about how companies see the world – its opportunities as well as risks and challenges – and how they set about moving into new markets. Companies represented on stage ranged from some of the world's best-known multinationals – such as Google, Dell, GE and Johnson and Johnson – to SMEs and start-ups.
One of the most interesting outcomes of the discussions was the realisation of how similar the challenges of crossborder expansion are, regardless of company size or even sector. Finding the right talent, mitigating risk, tapping into growth areas and staying on the right side of regulation are crucial for a new investment of any size. Many of our speakers and delegates – especially among SMEs – said there is reassurance in the fact that these issues are universal.
But one major difference is how well equipped, and staffed, the companies are to deal with these issues, and this is where the wedge between SMEs and multinational corporations begins. And the single biggest constraint that SMEs and start-ups face – more so than their larger counterparts – is access to finance. This came up time and time again in our discussions. Bankers and financiers on the panels were keen to stress that while lenders do indeed need to be conscious of the unique financing needs of smaller and mid-sized firms, the main gap is in knowledge: that there is often a lack of awareness of various financial options available to these firms.
Another revelation of the conference was the interest, which seems to be growing by the day, in investment opportunities in Africa. Investors do not want to miss out on commercial opportunities in what looks to be the world's next big growth region, while at the same time many admit to difficulty in distinguishing properly among the very disparate countries in the region and in approaching the continent in the most productive way. Here, too, it seems knowledge, and awareness, is key. Let’s keep the conversation going.
Courtney Fingar the the editor-in-chief of fDi Magazine. E-mail: email@example.com