Supporting The internationalisation of SMEs. Interview with Pierre-Jean Baillot, Deputy CEO of ERAI in Lyon.

Mr Baillot, Deputy CEO of ERAI, elaborates on how, through the internationalization of SMEs, the development of the French Rhône Alpes region can be reinforced.

In particular, he presents the ERAI Implantis ® incubators initiative, which is the only French project selected to participate in the European Award for Entrepreneurship – Category Support for Internationalization. It has also received the Innovation Award presented by Regions Magazine and the Shanghai Magnolia Award awarded to ERAI China’s director for its contribution to the economic development of Shanghai and France.

What is Entreprise Rhône-Alpes International? In how many countries does ERAI operate and which are its current key partner countries?

Created in 1987 at the initiative of the Rhône-Alpes Regional Council, ERAI is the region’s spearhead for international economic development and the reinforcement of the attractiveness of Rhône-Alpes. 150 people are mobilized in Rhône-Alpes and in 21 countries (through 27 ERAI’s business incubators Implantis®).

Our key partner countries are mostly Europeans countries such as Germany, Italy and Poland but also Turkey, China, USA, Morocco…

In 2012, 450 companies were supported to target markets in the framework of Clusters and Competitiveness Clusters, 420 companies were advised in international financing, more than 820 companies were supported individually in their export business through our offices abroad and more than 3,000 meetings with foreign decision-makers

You mentioned above Turkey as a key partner. Could you tell more on your actions in Turkey?

For a long time, we have been aware of the potential development of Turkey. We have opened an office in 2006 and created a subsidiary in 2010. Among the 27 ERAI’s establishments in the world, Istanbul‘s office ranks in tenth position, this should change very quickly. Since 2006, we have helped more than 100 companies to develop their business in this market, among them 11 were hosted in our incubator “Implantis®”.

Which are the most challenging barriers for entrepreneurs working in collaboration with ERAI, when internationalising?  How are the European institutions helping SMEs to break into new markets, in the EU but also on the external market?

Language is a significant barrier for entrepreneurs, but also the lack of knowledge about good practices abroad, the need of overshooting cultural barriers or the definition of a mid-long term strategy (not only for punctual opportunities, which is very important when internationalising).

The European Commission, through the DG Enterprise & Industry, wants to promote growth in Europe and has 6 objectives. Two of them are directly related to the internationalisation of SMEs and entrepreneurial spirit: encouraging the growth of SMEs and promote an entrepreneurial culture and support the internationalisation of EU businesses.

In particular, the EU leads several programmes that aim at supporting the internationalisation of such as the COSME programme  for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). This programme will run from 2014 to 2020 with a planned budget of €2.3bn. Improving the access to EU and foreign market is one of the axes of COSME, as well as supporting the Enterprise Europe Network initiative, which aims at helping small companies to make the most of the business opportunities in the European Union.

ERAI has been mandated by the European Commission to write some intercultural guides within the EUROMED@CHANGE project, which aims at promoting business opportunities between the European Commission and Mediterranean countries (Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia).

ERAI also participated in the International GROW project with the objective to support SME managers, new technology-based firms, students and young skilled unemployed. This will develop their skills in order to assist in the development of an internationalization strategy that will contribute to the success and growth of businesses in the European and global markets. Finally, International GROW project will create new job opportunities in Europe.

How can ERAI help SMEs in their international development?   

To support international business, ERAI proposes a range of custom made services to gain market share in the export business: setting up a sustainable structure, identifying the best financing solutions and supporting salespeople abroad. For example, for over 15 years, ERAI has been developing Implantis® incubators around the world, allowing companies to establish themselves in a foreign territory with their own local selling power and, eventually, having a sustainable foothold in the country. More than 1,500 businesses are established today in foreign countries via ERAI Implantis ® incubators.

Thanks to its international network, ERAI contributes to the attractiveness and reputation of Rhône-Alpes by offering customized solutions to foreign investors willing to invest within the French Market.

ERAI also supports the development of competitive clusters through several calls and initiatives as they are regarded as the key stakeholders for reaching SMEs and helping them in their internationalisation process. For example, ERAI is the leader of the bioXclusters project: we work with four European clusters from Rhône-Alpes, Germany, Spain and Italy, are all specialised in the biotech and health care sector. The project aims at developing a common internationalisation strategy which has been tested and validated on 3 different markets (US, China, Brazil).

Finally, ERAI has the very important mission to enhance the international economic influence of the Rhône-Alpes region in the world through cooperation and international relations, in particular via incubators.


Pierre-Jean Baillot is the Deputy CEO of Enterprise Rhône-Alpes International (ERAI) in Lyon, France. Mr Baillot graduated in Political Sciences and European Studies (College of Europe– Bruges, Belgium), and published various studies on cross-border cooperation in Europe and economic development of clusters.

After working at Banque Française du Commerce Extérieur and holding various posts in trade and international divisions, he started his career at ERAI in 1999 by managing the international fundings department, and specialised then in SMEs’ international development. From 2008, Mr Baillot became director of partnerships and clusters department, where he managed the internationalisation of regional industry clusters. 


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