Since 1977, Indianapolis-based Word Systems Inc. has worked to eliminate uncertainty for their customers – by providing reliable, high-definition recording solutions, the company helps law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies (along with private sector clients) easily capture and use irrefutably-clear audio and video of interviews, interrogations, testimony and other interactions.
“Especially in law enforcement, every word – every inflection, pause and nuance – matters,” said Ryan Vogt, Director of Partner Channel Sales for Word Systems. “The technology has to be easy to use and share, with the ability to upload, export and play back on a variety of systems while adding notes and documenting the chain of evidence. Our iRecord systems offer that solution.”
The Word is ‘Global’
But while Word Systems’ products and services are all about ease and clarity, the company itself grappled with uncertainties around how to market and sell in new foreign markets. The executive team recognized the need to tap into the vast potential of customers and capital around the world, and a recent partnership provided a glimpse of future possibilities.
“We’ve achieved some international profile through one of our partners, Planson International,” Vogt said. “Planson is working with the United Nations Development Project in Zambia. The UN has identified reliable recording of suspect interviews as a key issue in avoiding false confessions and wrongful convictions in their justice system, among others.”
But Vogt added that this success also showed the complexities that come with entering foreign markets, whether selling through distributors or partners like Planson or directly to customers. Issues like regulatory compliance, relevant taxes and fees, even basic currency exchange and payment added up – let alone addressing broader business strategy questions.
“We believe that iRecord and our other products have utility outside the U.S., but international sales will only account for two to three percent of our total revenues this year,” noted Vogt. “We need a better understanding of the business opportunity and resource commitments that come with growing our footprint – we know we can be a global company, but we needed technical and strategic support to get started.”
Word Systems successfully applied for an Indy Chamber GoGlobal Export Acceleration Grant to help plan its next steps into the global economy; it’s using the funds to engage expert help from the Indiana Small Business Development Center and Purdue to develop a strategy as clear as an iRecord playback.
Mid-Market, Major Impact
GoGlobal Export Grants are part of a broader blueprint for trade: The Indy Chamber has led the region’s participation in the Global Cities Initiative (GCI) Exchange, a joint project of JPMorgan Chase and the Brookings Institution aimed at improving metro competitiveness in the international marketplace through exports and foreign investment.
A key priority of the strategy – released in 2016, in tandem with the Accelerate Indy economic development plan – is increasing middle-market business exports. The Chamber launched the GoGlobal grant program (supported by JPMorgan Chase) to target these mid-sized companies with matching funds up to $5,000 to support export growth activities.
“Brookings helped us identify thousands of homegrown businesses that could be exporting – or exporting more,” explained Maureen Krauss, the Indy Chamber’s Chief Economic Development Officer. “Many employers have significant export potential, and modest financial support and technical assistance can propel them forward.
“We believe Word Systems can certainly be a more globally-focused company,” she continued. “But as a tech services firm that sells to both public and private sector clients, they have some unique issues to making the most of their opportunities abroad.”
Globalizing Indy’s Service Economy
As a leading advanced manufacturing region, it’s no surprise that Indianapolis is significantly more goods-oriented in both exports and foreign investment than other major metros. According to a Brookings’ analysis, nearly three quarters of Indy’s export value is generated by goods-producing industries, compared to 58% for the top 100 metro areas.
The Indy region’s success exporting its manufactured goods – from automotive components and jet engines to life-saving medicines and medical devices – is a positive for the metropolitan economy. But capitalizing on positive trends in technology and services exports is also a priority.
“The growth of Indy’s high-tech economy has been one of the remarkable stories of the last few years,” noted Krauss. “Word Systems has been here for forty years, but they represent the kind of digital services company that could be representing our tech sector in the global market.
“Our business has evolved and innovated as technology has changed,” agreed Vogt. “We’ve created a mobile solution – iRecord Anywhere – and developed storage options for the cloud, USB adaptability, and other features as we listen to our customers. But our corporate strategy needs to change as well, as we see more opportunities for growth in other countries. That’s why we pursued the GoGlobal grant from the Indy Chamber and JPMorgan Chase.”
Hands-on Expertise for International Growth
Word Systems is leveraging its GoGlobal grant to access expertise and technical assistance through the Export Indiana Fellowship program. The Export Fellowship is a joint efforts of the Indiana Small Business Development Center (ISBDC) and Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. A 3-month long process, the students are hired as Fellows by the company to create a proactive export development strategy under the guidance of the ISBDC Export Advisor using a structured 8 step process. Fees associated with the Fellowship program may be offset by the GoGlobal grant. Word Systems used their GoGlobal grant to create a proactive export strategy, identifying three key foreign markets for export development. The company executed their first export to one of those countries, Australia, in October of 2017.
ISBDC experts and Purdue graduate students have helped Word Systems research technical specifications, sales potential and go-to-market strategies to sell its iRecord platform to law enforcement and other target customer groups in key countries.
For Word Systems, the initial task of targeting the most promising foreign markets comes with a significant list of research demands, from their legal systems, laws regulating recording of interviews and interrogations, language and technological issues and more, including a more efficient approach to the logistical details that multiply when selling abroad.
“The Export Fellowship program is really helping us focus on the best sales strategies and untangle the day-to-day red tape – without Andy Reinke [of the ISBDC] and the rest of the team, we might still be lost in the shuffle,” Vogt said. “Instead we’re moving forward and making progress – just recently, we’ve made deals with an international group cracking down on human trafficking in Thailand and a child welfare advocacy organization based in Australia. By exporting our solutions, we’re already finding new opportunities to do well and do good.”
For interest in the Export Indiana Fellowship Program, please contact the Central ISBDC office which is hosted by the Indy Chamber (317)464-2228, or contact the ISBDC Export Advisor at .
Vogt added that Word Systems has also tapped into another Purdue program, the Experiential Learning Initiative (ELI) that connects MBA and other graduate students with real-world companies in project consulting roles.
“There’s a whole ecosystem of services and support for growing businesses like ours in Indianapolis and beyond – the GoGlobal Grant helped jump-start a much broader push for Word Systems,” he finished.
Applications for the GoGlobal Grant are still open and are being accepted on a rolling basis with two priority deadlines of November 22, 2017 and February 9, 2018.