Overseas Expansion: How can you build relationships with businesses internationally without travel?

Travel was a no-go during the pandemic, this is how one business managed to build strong partnerships abroad with boots on the ground

Overseas Expansion: How can you build relationships with businesses internationally without travel?

Travel was a no-go during the pandemic – this is how one business managed to build strong partnerships abroad with boots on the ground 

Dr Grace Togun Olugbodi, author and creator of the multi-award winning ‘Race to Infinity@ Maths Board Game Series’, took to the stage on the first day of Elite Business on 10 March for the Overseas Expansion talk, speaking about how to take your business global while sharing her experiences on how she pivoted her business during Brexit and Covid, overcoming the adversities and challenges along the way. 

Dr Grace spoke about her business, ‘Race to Infinity@ Maths Board Game Series’, which aims to make math fun and exciting for children, helping to reduce ‘mathematical anxiety’ and allowing them to enjoy learning the subject in an interactive way. “I realised there was a big problem around children and mathematics, I realised that too many children hate maths, don’t believe they can get good at it… So, I set aside to try and sort out this problem. I started thinking about creating games and resources for children that make maths fun and help them learn without realising they’re learning.” 

However, in 2020, things to a turn for the worst – the pandemic happened. This wa a shock to many businesses around the world. But Dr Grace didn’t let it phase her, and instead, switched to an innovative business model. She spoke about how she and her team focused on research and development to deal with the changing scope of the world, and also sought funding for her new innovative projects. “Brexit, we expected, Covid we did not,” Dr Grace said. “Some of the things I learned in that time is one to do with funding. If it’s your intention to get funded whether through investment or a grant, start ASAP, it always takes longer than you think. Another thing I realised was that it was important to keep innovating, and this is where the research and development came in where we continued to create all the programmes that we were creating. If you’re manufacturing, if you’re into fiscal products, it’s always important to think about where you’re doing that manufacturing. In hindsight, it would have been better for us to manufacture in the USA, but of course, we didn’t know it at the time. And going forward it’s all about future-proofing. What happens then if you run a business when something like this happens in the future? How do you mitigate these kinds of things?” 

With mass uncertainty ahead, Dr Grace and her team created an action plan to digitise their services with an app to facilitate online learning. They also started doing ‘inter-school tournaments’ online to tie in with school e-learning, as children remained at home during the lockdown and attended classes at home on their computers. “We switched to non-physical activity and we started to build some of the programmes,” Dr Grace explained.  

“We put our programmes in place for inter-school tournaments, we started to work on our augmented reality app. It’s an app to digitise Race to Infinity, we were very fortunate to be funded by the European Regional Development Fund. This app is supposed to help ‘Race to Infinity’ in such a way that children can use it without realising that they’re learning maths, they will think they’re playing. It’s just a game, but they’re being assessed at the same time. They’re learning and practising their timetable, and teachers will be getting reports on exactly how the children are doing…” 

Dr Grace and her team took the time to strengthen relationships and partnerships with universities and other businesses internationally. With flights and international travel disrupted during the pandemic, the team needed to come up with a way to build ties externally without leaving the country. Despite the restrictions, Dr Grace was able to successfully strengthen relations with several businesses, including partnerships in the Middle East and India – and it was all done from the comfort of her home. “We set out to continue strengthening relationships from where we were, international relationships.  

“We couldn’t travel, so we ended up doing a lot of things with our partners in the Far East. Although, we ran into some problems to do with duty raises when some of the stock that we were trying to send to India got there as well. Duties were double what we originally planned for, and this was all due to Covid and several other things. We were also working with our license in the middle east and strengthening our relationship with them during this time.” 

Ending her speech, Dr Grace spoke about her motto in business, adding: “Always, always, always be ready to pivot.”

Latifa Yedroudj
Latifa Yedroudj

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