Catherine Truel runs a platform helping with customs compliance, Alegrant, and the Scottish Institute for Enterprise (SIE) are supporting her as one of their ones to watch.
SIE is the national organisation for the promotion of enterprise and entrepreneurship in Scotland’s universities and colleges. Since 2000, SIE has helped identify and support some of Scotland's most promising entrepreneurial talent at an early stage in their journey who have gone on to become some of Scotland's brightest young stars. These include Rebecca Pick (Pick Protection), Victoria Hamilton (VH Innovation) and many more!
Nearly 400 students entered SIE's enterprise competition in 2016-17, representing an excellent pool of potential new talent. BQ & SIE have come together to present a series of interviews showcasing some of the best students and graduates who were recognised during the process; entrepreneurs who are starting out and have the potential to make it big - the Ones to Watch!
Describe your idea in no more than 100 words
A global platform connecting importers and exporters with vetted experts in global trade and customs compliance worldwide.
How would you describe your innovative idea to an elderly relative?
If an exporter or importer has a container stuck in customs somewhere and an unhappy customer complaining about the delivery delay, what do they do? They come to us, Alegrant platform will put them in touch with a vetted expert, in-country, for fast and affordable advice so the container can clear customs and be on its way to the customer.
What led you to come up with this idea, and how does it differ from others?
SME’s are increasingly trading internationally but when a problem arises at a border, they often don’t have the resources to access international law or accounting firms to buy the expertise in this niche area. They’ll soon be able to come to us. Alegrant is safe because experts are vetted for competencies, honesty, confidentiality and anti-bribery. It is more affordable than current alternatives because experts are independent and it is faster because they are just one click away.
What inspired you to start developing your idea?
The inspiration to start developing this idea is grounded in frustration. Communication methods make selling and buying anywhere increasingly easier. We see SME’s selling their products online and gaining customers across the world, others sourcing raw material from international suppliers. And yet moving goods across international borders is increasingly difficult, confusing and risky.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
As a new start-up we couldn’t have grown that fast without the outstanding support system around us. Being a Glasgow Caledonian University student, Alegrant is at home in UHatch, the university incubator where we get constant nurturing and advice. We are supported by Enterprise Campus West and Scottish Institute for Enterprise where our advisers are guiding us through strategic decisions. The Converge Challenge team is of huge support and they have even send us a client. We also have technical support from Glasgow Business Gateway and Scottish Enterprise.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
We had so many in just one year! We won Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Award 2016; we were finalists in the Converge Challenge KickStart 2016; winner of Investing Women AccelerateHer Ambition category 2017; and winner of the SIE Fresh Idea 2017.
Personally, getting the prototype of the platform ready for testing has been a glorious victory. My PhD is in law so encountering the world of computer science has been a culture shock. For Alegrant, the biggest success has been to sign our first international blue chip customer. In fact, all our customers are international, we are a 100% export business.
What are the biggest challenges you face when trying to develop your idea?
The biggest challenges came from areas where I had little knowledge, or just enough to be dangerous. Initially building the specs for the prototype has been very painful. Now, we have to learn about the subtleties of marketing as we are preparing to take the service to market. We are very lucky that we are generating sales although we are not officially trading so we haven’t had to work with investors yet, this is another challenge for future growth.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
In five years, I’ll still be at Alegrant and I’ll have completed my PhD. Alegrant will hopefully be at the core of our customers’ international operations and our customers will have referred us to their customers and suppliers who will hopefully place Alegrant at the core of their own operations.
SIE says: Alegrant helps businesses operate more simply within an increasing complex and globalising world. Catherine has made excellent progress with Alegrant in a comparatively short period of time. Even with the early success she has had, she is still willing to learn and that stands her in good stead going forward.
For more on SIE, including detailed case studies and more on its educational programme go to the SIE website: www.sie.ac.uk