InterAnalysis are celebrating their tenth year of business, meaning that their trade modelling software TradeSift has been used by trade officials around the world for nearly a decade; what better time to look back at all that they've achieved so far?
Peter Holmes, Jim Rollo and Michael Gasiorek met whilst working in the Economics Department at the University of Sussex where they used the "Sussex Framework" to assess potential trade agreements. Jim describes the framework as "analytical rules of thumb for people to apply to questions [such as] 'should we have a free trade agreement with country x or y?'". However, using the framework had its drawbacks. "We were doing an awful lot of stuff again and again, so the obvious answer was to turn [the framework] into software... that's what software does, it's for all those repeatable tasks" Jim explains; and so the idea for TradeSift was formed. TradeSift is designed to enable robust and consistent analysis of trade data and trade policy choices. Users are able to easily load data, visualise and analyse that data with instant charts and indicator calculations, then report using the integrated report writer.
The three professors envisaged being sponsored to produce the software for the World Bank or a similar organisation, which in turn would distribute it free of charge to developing countries. In reality it was hard to get people to back them and it wasn't until they created the business, InterAnalysis, putting their own time and energy into starting it up, that they began to gain credibility and the big organisations started to take notice.
Although three of InterAnalysis' directors worked at the University, the software developer did not, consequently the business was set up independently. It wasn't until 2009 that the University started to put more of a focus on commercialising its activities and the Enterprise Development Fund was born. "We were one of the first enterprises to go through the Enterprise Panel" Jim says. "And just about the only one coming from outside the science and engineering [departments]" Peter adds. The University went on to become an equal partner in the business, one of the conditions being that the company located itself at Sussex Innovation Centre. Taking an office at the Centre gave InterAnalysis space to grow, along with valuable mentoring and business support, whilst enabling strong links to be maintained with the University.
InterAnalysis' first big project, this time funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), was to design and deliver TradeSift training courses firstly in Sussex, and then in locations around the world. It is this business model that has meant that the team have travelled to places such as Addis Ababa and Arusha. "My principle has always been: you have one day [before the course begins] to settle in and one day to recover, during which you do some sightseeing... [In Vietnam] we went to Ha Long Bay which is one of the most beautiful places in the world actually I think." Peter says. Trips to beautiful bays, national parks and elephant sanctuaries, it all sounds pretty idyllic, but all that travel hasn't been without its issues. Peter recounts receiving a call from a member of the team who'd travelled ahead to Tanzania to set up for a course; he'd arrived to find desks in the classroom but not all of the wiring in place - a short while later a server caught fire, and they had to evacuate. Jim has his own tale of negotiating freeing a Mauritian delegate, who had travelled on a tourist visa, from the airport: "I think I was being approached for a bribe but I was damned if I was going to give one!"
It may seem odd than an SME in East Sussex has built its reputation internationally; according to Peter it's not due to big marketing campaigns but rather "a kind of network of connections...referrals and contacts". If you consider the number of students that Peter, Jim and Michael have collectively taught over the years, perhaps this isn't such a surprise after all. It looks likely that a trip to Egypt is on the cards after a call from an Egyptian steel company whose lawyer is a former PhD student that Peter supervised. Similarly, the new Trade Minister for Botswana is a Sussex Masters student who is encouraging her government and the government of Ghana to use TradeSift. As a company, InterAnalysis also has a lot of interaction with international students as it regularly takes on interns from the Erasmus programme. This, teamed with the number of contacts that the team have made through working with DIFD and the Department for Business, makes InterAnalysis the go-to consultancy when it comes to questions about trade.
The impact that InterAnalysis have had is undeniable. They've received recommendations from Marine Scotland for their work to help the Scottish Government understand the impacts of Brexit on the seafood industry, and from the Canada-Ukraine Trade and Investment Support Project for training delivered to the Ukrainian Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, to name just a couple. However, one of the biggest impacts is perhaps not quite what you'd expect...
At a time when the Indian and Pakistani armies were firing at each other across the border, InterAnalysis brought officials from both countries together for TradeSift training. Peter describes it as a "very big diplomatic mission... the people we were dealing with were very keen on the possibility of co-operation with their neighbours but they couldn't talk; we could come along and say 'Would you both like to come to our party?'". He goes on to describe a dinner held in the foothills of the Himalayas where the Indian High Commissioner and Pakistan's State Secretary sat and ate together. The courses that were held as part of this project were emotional and had an impact above and beyond anything that Jim, Peter and Michael could have expected when they first set up the business.
So, what about the future? It appears that InterAnalysis will continue to deliver training around the globe but recent politics, namely Brexit, means that a lot of their work will be carried out closer to home. InterAnalysis and the University of Sussex have been working closely with the Department for International Trade (DIT) through the UK Trade Policy Observatory which is setting itself up to be the external analytical arm of the DIT. The future of the UK's trade relationship with the EU is still unknown but at least we know who will be there to advise.