EI2 Global Wraps up Soft Landing Spring 2024 Cohort

Expanding a foreign business into the U.S. isn’t always a straightforward process. Companies are tasked not only with navigating national regulations and standard practices but also with grasping the nuances of American culture.

That’s where the Enterprise Innovation Institute comes in. The organization is authorized by the International Business Innovation Association (InBIA) to provide instruction on those topics and others through the seven-week, hybrid  Soft Landing program, administered by EI2 Global.

The most recent cohort began February 14 and wrapped up April 17. During that period, participants were exposed to more than 40 hours of workshops, as well as one-on-one meetings and intensive training.

According to program director Alberto Ponce, Soft Landing “is the best investment companies can make to prepare for internationalization. It accelerates their work and provides them with networks, guidance, and hard research to enter the market. It’s an invaluable resource to make their goals a reality.”

People at a conference table speaking.
Juli Golemi (left), director of EI2 Global, listens as Juan Cuellar, senior international trade manager with the Georgia Department of Economic Development addresses Soft Landing Immersion Week attendees. (PHOTO: Chris Ruggiero)

Since its launch in 2018, the Georgia Tech Soft Landing program has worked with 22 companies in five countries from two continents that were interested in expanding into the U.S. market. Of those participants, 15 of them have expanded into the U.S.

The first of Soft Landing’s three components is instructional. Conducted virtually and extending throughout the length of the course, it assists businesses in building their internal capacity for expansion.

“We advocate for Georgia in this part of the program,” said Ponce. “This is the fastest growing region in the United States, and the Atlanta metropolitan area has a great quality of life. But we are fortunate that, as a university-based endeavor, the Soft Landing program is not tied to any particular service-providers or government-based programs. So, there’s no expectation or requirement that businesses relocate here. They have their own networks; they’re not tied to this area.”

People talking at a conference table
Bayron Quinteros, CEO of IData, a 2023 Soft Landing participant, explains how the program helped him in his decision to establish his U.S. presence in Atlanta. (PHOTO: Chris Ruggiero)

Soft Landing’s other two components are designed to connect participants face to face with experts who can help put theory into practice, offering guidance on everything from relocating company managers to navigating aspects of hiring, immigration, and accounting.

It’s during Immersion Week — undoubtedly the program’s highlight — that these personal connections are facilitated. From March 18 to 22, EI2 Global hosted four companies from Colombia looking to expand their business into the U.S. They were introduced to upwards of 15 people in the Soft Landing network, including service providers, powerhouse networkers, government officials, and Chamber of Commerce members. They also attended networking events that put them in contact with hundreds of Latin American businesses, increasing their chances of finding partners, providers, and clients.

Nicolás Ochoa, director of the Medellín creative agency Studio 1642, saw Immersion Week as a structured way to approach people, saying, “the magic of this program is to really use those connections and those mentors.”

According to participant Andrés Domínguez, whose app Beunik connects users to salons and barbershops, one of the main benefits of the program is the way it fosters “unexpected collisions.”

He added, “You can meet anyone from your industry, and [they] can help you. I’ve heard that creating a startup is a lonely process. It [doesn’t have] to be. Allies like Soft Landing can help you to reduce a lot of uncertainty. When you reduce your uncertainty, you are going to make informed decisions, and this is the perfect program to make informed decisions to enter the U.S. market.”

From Ponce’s point of view, many program outcomes can be considered positive. While some Soft Landing participants determine that Georgia is the optimal location for their business, others may choose a different state — or decide it’s not yet the right time to move into the U.S. market. Regardless of which actions they ultimately take, participants gain a solid understanding of the strategies that will best serve their goals.

For Jorge Gutiérrez, whose business Grupo Y provides elastic polymers to a range of market sectors, the program provided a deeper insight into American culture, which he characterized as “very important, because [it gives] us the opportunity to understand how we can arrive in an [appropriate] way in the U.S.”

Even when Soft Landing concludes, the program is far from over. Participants are given ongoing assistance and follow-up mentorship. Scheduled check-ins at six months and a year are built into the curriculum, but there is plenty of flexibility, too.

“We have an open-door policy,” Ponce explained. “They can reach out to us requesting connections for mentoring or consulting, and we are always open to meeting with them to work through their problems. Expanding into a new country takes a lot of commitment and investment. Most of the companies don’t do it within the year.”

Periodically, participants are asked to reflect on how the Soft Landing program helped them and impacted their decision-making. Because success is subjective and highly variable, tracking it is necessarily an open-ended, long-term endeavor.

Said Juan José Acero, of health supplement company Brightfull, “As soon as you finish [the program], you have a lot of questions, but you know how to answer those questions. You know how to structure the project. You are not going to have a clear idea about the next couple of years, but you will be [able to] understand what you need.”

To set up a video call for more information, contact Soft Landing program director Alberto Ponce: alberto.ponce@innovate.gatech.edu, 404.894.7083.