EEN: a support network for SMEs seeking partnerships throughout Europe and beyond

Interview with Mélusine Perrier, Enterprise Europe Network Consultant at Switzerland Global Enterprise

With negotiations on the future of Swiss-EU relations at a standstill, Swiss SMEs need – now more than ever – to find partnerships to help grow their business in the European area. The services of the little-known Enterprise Europe Network (EEN)* are available to SMEs free of charge. Mélusine Perrier, EEN Consultant at Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE), is responsible for the commercial side of the EEN network. Interview.    

Mélusine Perrier, EEN

Mélusine Perrier has been with Switzerland Global Enterprise since September 2020, first as Project Manager for the Enterprise Europe Network, and since February 2022 as Export Consultant for Central Europe, Scandinavia, Turkey and Central Asia. She holds a Master’s degree in Management from the University of St.Gallen and has extensive international experience, having studied in South Korea and Germany and having lived for several years in Japan and the United States. 

Can you briefly explain what the Enterprise Europe Network is about? 

The Enterprise Europe Network is a support network set up by the European Union to help small and medium-sized enterprises find international partnerships. The network has been around for more than 20 years, and it quickly sought to include non-EU countries like Switzerland. Switzerland Global Enterprise is one of two member organizations from the Swiss consortium. The other is Innosuisse. A total of more than 3,000 organizations in nearly 70 countries provide support to companies.  

Has the Swiss-EU deadlock affected the participation of Swiss SMEs in the network? 

Not at all, we have just renewed our contract with the Enterprise Europe Network. Contracts are renewed every four years and, unlike European research programs or Erasmus, the EEN is not affected by the vagaries of Swiss European policy. 

So Swiss companies can continue to benefit from the network! But how exactly can they benefit? 

The EEN was designed to support companies on different levels. My role is to support Swiss companies throughout the country in all linguistic regions that are seeking a business partner abroad – a supplier or distributor, for example. This support can take many forms: I can share the company’s profile with the network along with details of the type of business partner they are looking for. Companies can also publish an advertisement anonymously describing their ideal business partner in a specific marketplace. Finally, I can provide companies with information on a range of matchmaking events where they are likely to meet potential partners. My colleagues at Innosuisse offer similar services for businesses seeking technology partners.      

So how much do these services cost? 

Absolutely nothing! Companies just need to invest a little of their time. These services are promoted by the European Union and Switzerland to support small and medium-sized enterprises.  

So why don’t all companies use this network? 

The fact is that many more companies could benefit from the services that the EEN provides if the network were better known! However, it does not provide a catch-all solution to their problems. For example, requests to connect with specific companies, large groups or government stakeholders have a relatively low success rate. The network was created to support SMEs, so contact is mainly between these types of companies. It is also difficult to use the network to reach very small enterprises, freelancers or entrepreneurs, because they are not clients of member organizations, such as chambers of commerce. That’s why I always start by talking to interested companies to identify the most appropriate approach for them.     

You are not only in charge of the Enterprise Europe Network, but you are also a consultant for several countries at S-GE. How do you combine these two activities? 

Actually, some of the countries are not covered by both networks. One third of the countries I support are not part of the EEN network, so I only use the S-GE partner network for them. For countries that can avail of both networks, the EEN network allows us to obtain valuable market information, which helps to better target the services offered by our experts on the ground. For example, if S-GE engages an expert to draw up a list of potential distributors, my colleagues in the EEN network can often complete the list with one or two suggestions or facilitate introductions if they know certain companies.   

S-GE’s clients often participate in trade fairs or organize prospecting trips abroad. What is your role as consultant in this regard? 

For trade shows, I work closely with our dedicated team at S-GE. For travel, we work with our foreign offices (Swiss business hubs), Swiss diplomatic representations abroad and local experts to identify the best local players for our clients. Here again, I can involve the EEN network to identify European companies that will be at the same trade fair and are interested in networking. For trips, the EEN can act as a local office to inform local companies of our clients’ visit and, if there is interest, to add B2B meetings to the agenda.   

This creates great added value for our clients! Thank you, Mélusine, for your valuable answers. Do you have a final word for our readers?  

Between the services offered by Switzerland Global Enterprise and the EEN network, companies can benefit from our support at all stages of their international development, and the first meetings are free of charge. So don’t hesitate to contact us! 

* The EEN network includes the 27 EU Member States, as well as other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Turkey, Israel and many others.  

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