Reaching across the Irish Sea – how a unique alliance has been nurturing business and friendships across the Islands

A pre-lockdown Construction networking lunch at Royal Horegaurds in London

 

Developing trading relationships and friendship between Britain, the Isle of Man and Ireland has rarely been more important. Brexit has changed the landscape in respect of trading alliances and the development of new business channels.

The British Irish Trading Alliance (BITA) was formed well before the Brexit bombshell, but the groundwork done will play a pivotal role in nurturing the often complex relationship between the countries that face each other across the Irish Sea.

Business365 spoke to the key players to find out more about the alliance.  

Firstly – BITA itself, The British Irish Trading Alliance can you tell us what it is and what is the role of the Isle of Man chapter?

The British Irish Trading Alliance is a non-profit making organisation that encourages its members to build relationships to generate business through exciting networking, educational and social events held in both countries. Our belief is that we can help more people and influence further; as a collective. We are ‘the people who know people that help people’, a motto that encapsulates our ethos, and one that makes our organisation truly unique. 

BITA promotes and grows our member businesses; successfully increasing trade, creating opportunities for business, and improving the relationship between the UK and Ireland. We want to help our members achieve their goals and work to create pipelines and opportunities for SMEs to work with our supporters and patrons who often head large multi-nationals, offering the right providers of labour, contractors and supplies. 

BITAIOM was launched in September 2018 at a lunch held at the Comis hotel and it was one of those pivotal moments when guests were asked to stand up if they represented businesses off Island half the room of 100 guests stood. That is what BITAIOM is about introducing off Island to On Island businesses, assisting on Island businesses to gain from opportunities off Island. 

The Isle of Man is special and different. We already have a vibrant networking climate here with the Chamber of Commerce IOM Business Network and the professional bodies so BITAIOM has made a commitment to work with these two main organisations. However, the main thrust is working with the Department For Enterprise to ensure that the strategies in place we can support and so enhance these initiatives through our connections with BITA as a whole.

Chapters in Leeds Liverpool and Manchester means connections with the NW corridor and then you add on chapters in Cork, Dublin, London, South West the net spreads wider.

BITAIOM sist at the Global forum Table where discussions take place on green issues sustainability and as a partner of UNESCO biosphere and with Beach Buddies, Plastic busters we have been able to show the progression and commitment the Island has to these issues. 

Do you consider there is scope for a significant uptake in business transacted between the Isle of Man and Ireland?

BITAIOM work closely with the Department for Enterprise as has been said and Finance Isle of Man has initiatives which involve Ireland especially Dublin and is looking forward to working with BITAIOM to bring these to fruition. The products are in the field of insurance and pensions and there are a lot of opportunities in this sector as well as construction and we are on hand to facilitate these opportunities both in Ireland and also the Northern Powerhouse.

It can be difficult for people to know where to start when it comes to building up working relationships across the Irish Sea – is this where BITA can act as a catalyst?

Yes, our founder Paul Whitnell is a Corkman, and many of our members are either from, or have close ties with, the Emerald Isle. We are able to make introductions to the right people in the UK or Ireland, and can help people develop beneficial relationships, as well as offer advice on how to get started in either nation. This might be in the form of general advice around cultural norms, to specialist advice around how to set up an office or new business. 

How much do you think the current issues over Brexit and the position of Northern Ireland in particular will muddy the waters in respect of developing new trading relations?

Historically the trade partnership between Ireland and the UK has been very strong, despite political difficulties. This will never change. Obviously, BREXIT has inevitably brought up unforeseen issues but with the strength and depth of our members and associates and the great working relationships with the government departments we can assist. For instance, the fishing industry has been affected both in Northern Ireland. Eire and here on the Isle of Man by Brexit and also the pandemic. It is when situations like this arise that we all have to look for solutions and work together to clear the muddied waters.

Is BITA just about large and medium sized businesses or is there a focus on small companies and even individuals?

We have something to offer most businesses, whether it is our Mentor Hub, Resource Library, or many networking opportunities. We are happy to welcome anyone who embodies our values of integrity, passion, and delivery. The crucial thing is that, whether it’s a company or individual, they understand the values, mission and goals of BITA, so that they can maximise the return from our friendly community.

Brendon Kenny and Paul Whitnell (left and centre) with Patrick Greenaway at an Isle of Man event

It’s a not-for-profit organisation, so how are its activities funded?

BITA Ltd is funded by our members, through annual subscriptions and sponsorship. We also get a small portion of our funding through events. 

Clearly Covid 19 has brought a halt to the movement of people, but in normal times is there a lot of contact between members on both sides of the Irish Sea?

Yes, there are usually Irish members flying over for events in the UK and vice versa. In particular, our Dublin Christmas lunch, and our London Construction Networking lunches see high levels of this traffic. The Isle of Man events were also proving popular with UK and Ireland based members. Since introducing Zoom as a medium of communication and seeing how popular and useful it can be, we expect that future in-person events will be organised as hybrid events with an online component so we can accommodate greater numbers.

BITA is a relatively recent creation established in 2012 by Paul Whitnell, has it managed to gain significant traction in the past eight or nine years?

We would say so! In the last 5 years especially, as BITA has set up 9 chapters across the UK and Ireland (with plans for another two in the first half of 2021), signed MOUs with similar organisations in Scotland and the USA, created relationships with organisations and businesses in mainland Europe (Germany, Czech Republic and Poland) and Australia, and has recently initiated relationships with areas in the Middle East. In addition, although we are proudly independent (we aren’t government funded), we do have productive ties with various government departments in the UK and Ireland. One of the reasons behind this is because the core values of BITA and the desire of companies to align themselves with this best practice.

How do people go about becoming part of the BITA network?

People can join with us through the website, www.bita.ie. However we recommend that people attend one of our networking events or webinars first, or arrange for a 121 with head office, to make sure that we are the right organisation for your business. 

Who are the key people in the Isle of Man Chapter?

Isle of Man BITA Board Chair, Brendon Kenny

The Isle of Man board is led by Chair Brendon Kenny, and he is supported by Darryl Callister, Jason Scales, Jennie Thompson, Mike Dodd and Richard Corlett. 

Brendon M. C. Kenny

Brendon is a serial entrepreneur, early adopter and innovator who is passionate about technology and believes business should create profit with purpose. With experience in Business Creation, Sales, Marketing and Consulting within the construction, technology, distribution sectors.

Brendon is co-founder of Tutum Technology and has been involved in a whole plethora of innovative technology businesses and believes collaboration is key to success. The first company in the Tutum Technology stable is Tutum Workplace which offers ‘Covid Testing as a Service’. They are currently testing critical infrastructure sites across the United Kingdom and are now helping the hospitality sector with staff and customer testing.

Brendon is also co-founder of Changing Streams which is a not-for-profit company aiming to reduce the amount of plastics consumed in the construction sector, this company is partnered with Liverpool University who are helping to research alternative materials to plastic.

Brendon is passionate about the Isle of Man and has been promoting the Island for the past 10 years.

Paul Whitnell

BITA founder, Paul Whitnell

Paul Whitnell created The British and Irish Trading Alliance (BITA) in 2012, to focus on creating business opportunities for UK and Irish businesses, offer advice and share connections. A pre-requisite of membership is that connections and knowledge are shared, so all have the opportunity to forge successful and profitable networking relationships.

“BITA is a not-for-profit membership organisation, and we live by our motto of being the ‘People who Know People that Help People’.” Says Paul. “Not only do we concentrate on assisting our members, we value our communities and look for chances to give something back, supporting various charities through fundraising and promotion.”

Leaving Ireland for London in 2010 to find work during the recession, Corkman Paul discovered that the old networks Irish people had previously relied upon to find work had disappeared. After securing a position at Premier Contract Supplies (PCS), he set about re-establishing those networks with fellow like-minded businesspeople, and BITA was created. 

Paul has a background in the varied arenas of business, music and politics, as he was the Director of Elections for Fianna Fáil politician Billy Kelleher for 25 years. He is well placed to spot trends and anticipate the needs of our members in the current diverse and rapidly changing economic environment. “We enjoy working with businesses in the UK and Ireland but recognise we need to expand our gaze and look further afield, which is why we have established our BITA Global Forum. The Global Forum is a chapter of BITA comprised of businesses across the globe and working to tackle big issues. We are currently focussed on plastic pollution. I feel it is imperative that we establish a global presence due to the incredible opportunities for UK and Irish companies, but also because there are great markets here for businesses looking to expand.” Says Paul. 

We are acutely aware of the need to consolidate relationships that result in not only trade, but friendship. With our values of integrity, passion and delivery, our vision of BITA provides a wonderful counterpoint to the aggressive networking scene. Relaxed, friendly and valuing the craic!

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