Focus on exporters

Sustainable & local: alternative energy from the sewer

“Wastewater is ecological, economical and available everywhere,” is how CEO Urs Studer describes the essence of his business idea. As the 500th member of the Cleantech CUBE, S-GE’s cleantech community platform, Zurich-based company Rabtherm is our focus here, as we discuss the success factors of internationalization with CEO Urs Studer.

Installation of a Rabtherm facility in Goes, Netherlands (photo: Rabtherm)
Installation of a Rabtherm facility in Goes, Netherlands (photo: Rabtherm)

There is an energy source under our feet that has nothing to do with oil and gas. We’re talking about wastewater. According to Rabtherm CEO Urs Studer, wastewater is “an energy source that never runs dry.” Zurich-based company Rabtherm specializes in recovering energy from wastewater using heat pumps. It’s an idea that can be applied worldwide, and the global market potential is estimated at 2 million units, hence the Zurich-based company is now not only offering its solution in Switzerland, but also in selected international markets. Internationalization at Rabtherm works through various distribution channels: On the one hand, the company works with sales representatives, and on the other, with licensees in the target markets. In individual cases, the patent rights have been sold too.

Internationalization thanks to licensees around the world

The licensees permitted to sell the Rabtherm systems in their markets are carefully checked. An in-depth vetting of the partners is indispensable, says Urs Studer, who visits each of his partners in person to ensure local quality. There, he talks to the partners’ existing customers, introduces them carefully to the processes and ensures that the partners receive ongoing support.

“The first three facilities are always overseen from Zurich, because they are decisive for market entry,” says the CEO.

In the initial phase, the partners are closely supervised to guarantee the transfer of knowledge, to minimize the initial risks and to ensure that further collaboration can function smoothly. At an advanced stage of collaboration Rabtherm takes on more of an advisory function, as the licensees can implement the projects themselves from that point onwards.

Launching exports to nearby countries

Rabtherm’s broad network of global partners is proof that its collaboration with the licensees works well. The company has 40 sales partners and licensees in 23 countries, and in neighboring countries in particular, such as Germany, Austria, France and the Netherlands, the company is well positioned. The linguistically and geographically close markets of Austria and Germany were very attractive for initial export entry. According to Urs Studer, this spared the company from having to overcome language barriers and major cultural and geographical hurdles right at the beginning. Now, more distant and strategically relevant countries such as the US, Canada, Mexico and China are being approached.

The importance of personal contacts on site

The US in particular is an especially exciting market for Urs Studer, since he lived there for several years, knows the culture well and has a broad network. Rabtherm’s CEO has developed his many contacts over years of local business activity and selected trade fair visits, such as the Swiss Pavilion. Urs Studer emphasizes the importance of local support and a local expert network for internationalization. For a successful market entry, it is important for a company to have someone on site who knows the market and can establish contact with relevant industrial partners and government agencies.

Overcome the pitfalls of internationalization with S-GE

Swiss companies that start exporting often face challenges. These range from a lack of human resources and poor market knowledge to a lack of business connections, but this is precisely where S-GE can act as an intermediary and help minimize risk and costs. Thanks to a large network of global experts and collaboration with the Swiss Business Hubs, S-GE can offer optimal support for companies entering new, unknown markets. Are you interested in exporting to a specific country? Register for a non-binding country consultation now! 

Cleantech-Cube – Die offizielle Datenbank für Schweizer Unternehmen

Registrieren Sie sich jetzt und profitieren Sie vom breiten Netzwerk und verknüpfen Sie sich mit Export-erfahrenen Unternehmen in der Branche! Ausserdem erhalten die registrierten Unternehmen Informationen über Zielmärkte, spannende und passende Geschäftsmöglichkeiten und werden zu regelmässigen Veranstaltungen eingeladen, wo der Austausch mit Experten und anderen Cleantech-Unternehmen gepflegt wird.

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