From cattle to technology – 60 years of Irish entrepreneurship in Germany

Live cattle and sewing machines were Ireland’s main exports to Germany when Enterprise Ireland’s predecessor, Córas Tráchtála, first opened an office in Düsseldorf in 1962, with total exports of £5m in Irish punts (€6.34m).

As the office celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, the export landscape is very different from 1962.

Indigenous Irish companies exported almost €2 billion to the German-speaking markets of Germany, Austria and Switzerland last year, €1.4 billion of this to Germany.

This positive market result from 2021 represented a 17 percent increase over the previous year and was mainly driven by sales in the high-tech construction, ICT, life sciences and industrial products and services sectors.

This pleasing growth in the German market is largely due to the highly innovative products and services of Irish companies.

Enterprise Ireland’s office in Germany also covers the German-speaking area, which includes the neighboring countries of Austria and Switzerland

German customers value and appreciate innovations and are willing to pay for them. This approach, combined with the size of the German market, makes it a stable, resilient and reliable place to do business.

Irish companies thriving in Germany include medical device company Aerogen, leading provider of vehicle connectivity Cubic Telecom and grocery ordering software company Flipdish, as well as Ireland’s Eye knitwear and EI Electronics, which are market leaders here in smoke detectors.

There are also significant opportunities for Irish companies in Germany when it comes to high tech construction, particularly in projects such as pharmaceutical facilities, semiconductor fabs and data centres.

In fact, Irish companies employ 34,000 people in Germany, showing that Irish companies not only export to this market, but also create real partnerships and value here.

Of course, the success of Irish exporters in Germany in recent decades can also be attributed to the removal of trade barriers.

As early as 1962, ambitious Irish firms had to contend with import quotas and currency risks, while free trade and a common currency made cross-border sales easier.


A car with the technology from Cubic Telecom, which has written a success story in the German-speaking market

The EU is also opening up more opportunities across Europe with its €750 billion NextGenerationEU plan, which aims to build a more resilient Europe.

Germany is leveraging its share of this funding and has pledged €25.6 billion in grants for recovery and resilience projects, of which 42 percent is for climate initiatives and 52 percent for digital transformation projects.

Irish companies can access these funds directly and indirectly by applying directly for projects, working with German companies or supplying German companies that carry out funded projects.

However, Germany is not a market for opportunistic sales.

German customers like to work with suppliers who are committed to the market, and in some sectors this ultimately means employees with German language skills and cultural understanding who can visit the region regularly or, if possible, have a physical presence there.

Although sales cycles can be long, the process is worth it given the opportunity for long-term value offered to those selling to Germany. Remember that Germany is the world export champion, so exports to Germany mean worldwide exports.

Germany is the world export champion, so exports to Germany mean exports to the rest of the world.

Enterprise Ireland’s office in Germany also covers the German speaking area which includes the neighboring countries of Austria and Switzerland, both of which are markets with their own special and unique characteristics.

Many of them have found that Switzerland is an excellent export market, both for themselves and as a stepping stone to Germany.

Swiss customers are more likely to look externally for suppliers and Irish companies have built a solid reputation for quality, reliability and value there, particularly in the ICT, engineering and life sciences sectors.

Austria, on the other hand, offers Irish companies particular opportunities in certain industrial sectors and construction.

Overall, the region offers a range of options and routes for Irish companies to start or scale up their export journey. The office may be 60 years old, but the journey for Irish exporters has only just begun.

Manus Rooney is Country Manager Germany/Austria/Switzerland at Enterprise Ireland.

You can find more information about entering the German market at From cattle to technology – 60 years of Irish entrepreneurship in Germany

Fry Electronics Team

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