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How OPEX connected with the GlobalScot network

Aberdeen-based AI company OPEX Group recently connected with GlobalScot — Scotland’s international business network. GlobalScot’s community of business leaders helped OPEX develop its international expansion plans and make valuable contacts and connections. Learn about the practical advice, support and real-life insights the company received.

23 Mar 2022 | 7 minute read

Based in Aberdeen, AI company OPEX Group has worked at the cutting edge of the energy industry since its formation. The company uses data intelligence software to shape energy and sustainability solutions.

Since 2015, its technology has helped customers get the maximum benefit from their information.

From a small team to part of a global enterprise

OPEX is a multi-disciplinary team of 40 people, including data scientists, AI engineers, software developers and engineers. It's recently been acquired by ERM — one of the largest sustainability consultancies in the world.

Starting as a small Scottish team, OPEX is now part of a global enterprise with 6000 staff and the company faces a future of untold potential.

Vice President of Business Development, Euan Macalister, says:

“Obviously, growing the business internationally is a great story for us, but it’s also a great story for Aberdeen. Being part of ERM has helped us change our business model.

“Mainly, we were working with customers in the UK but picked up bits of work in America and the Ivory Coast. Now, through ERM’s network, I’ve been talking to people in twenty countries. We’ve got new sales channels opening up. It’s really exciting.”

OPEX has received some key support that has influenced its international strategy. Last year, it engaged with the support of our GlobalScot community.

Coached by GlobalScot Derek Blackwood, OPEX presented to a panel of prominent energy industry leaders based in the United States, getting insights that helped the company to refine its global expansion plans.

Euan Macalister, Vice President of Business Development, OPEX.

Where did it begin?

Euan says:

“We’ve been on the go for twelve years. We started out in the condition monitoring space, although about six years ago, that became a very saturated marketplace. We began investing in data science techniques, working with early adopter customers with oil and gas platforms in the UK. 

“At that point, our work was more around reliability: trying to prevent shutdowns and problems offshore. Just before lockdown, we began to develop a tool around emissions.

"We had several operating companies in Aberdeen giving us their input on it. And now, I’ve been sitting in my home office for almost two years, selling it around the world.”

Linking up with the GlobalScot network

OPEX learned about GlobalScot through Gerry Love, an International Trade Advisor at Scottish Enterprise. The company was then introduced to GlobalScot Relationship Manager Tracey Lees.

One of Euan’s colleagues, Donna Liddle, took charge of researching suitable GlobalScots and setting up meetings.

“I’d asked her to look into it,” Euan recalls. “It wasn’t until someone said ‘We’ve given you an hour’s slot – do you want to talk to the GlobalScots?’ that I felt compelled to write and deliver a presentation.”

Unsure of what to expect, he admits he was initially sceptical of what it could deliver for the business: “To me, it was something where I initially thought, ‘I don’t know what’s involved in this, it seems like it might be a lot of hard work.’ Once you get involved in it, it’s actually okay.”

Use the network as much as you can

OPEX was invited to an online event and ended up presenting to a panel of esteemed energy sector GlobalScots, mostly based in the U.S. Long-established GlobalScot Derek Blackwood (formerly of Wood Group Americas) facilitated OPEX's presentation – as well as investing time to help the company with prep.

"Derek listened to us beforehand and gave comments at a pre-call meeting we had with him and Tracey,” says Euan.

“He told us how to structure the half-hour slot that we had, suggesting we keep the presentation to ten minutes — and leave 20 minutes for questions.

"One important thing he mentioned: have specific asks. Tell them what you want out of this and be extremely specific — whether it's contacts in particular markets, or something else. Following up, Derek said, is key. Thank everyone and use the network that you’ve created as much as you can.”

Still, Euan’s scepticism remained, as he wondered where this desire to help was coming from. “I remember asking Derek, 'What’s in this for you? Why are you doing this?'”, he remembers.

“He replied, ‘I’m a Scottish guy and I’ve needed help myself before’. And then, the penny dropped. They’re not doing it for anything other than that. If I moved abroad, I’d do the same. It’s paying it forward. It made sense to me. I’m always sceptical about people helping you when there doesn’t seem to be anything in it for them.”

Valuable contacts and connections

Outside of the practical advice on pitching and presentation, was there anything else that helped the company?

“I made about 20 contacts through it. Out of that, five to ten have given advice to some degree.

“Jim Richardson reached out after the call to talk to me. We chatted a few times. Nina Spencer, who has a recruitment company in America, too. She gave me advice on how to hire salespeople out there, tips on salaries, and things like that.”

Two OPEX employees analysing data on a large screen.

OPEX data scientists

Real-life insights on strategy

With the real-life experience that these US-based businesspeople had, they were able to offer deeper, cultural insights on OPEX’s market strategy too.

“We got some advice that maybe we were trying to push too hard into America - that we could tone down our message. We were at risk of overwhelming our audience with too much information, and we were possibly trying to do too much too soon with how we went across. Loads of good advice came out of it.”

It’s been a hugely positive experience, he believes, and one that differs from other types of business support that he’s used.

“First of all, the support from GlobalScot is different because it’s free,” he says. “We’re an SME with a constrained budget. We didn’t really want to spend any money on business development support companies where you pay per phone call. It never really works. But this is free — and it’s from people who want to help you. It’s quite unique.”

OPEX employee looking at data on a laptop screen.

OPEX's cloud-based emissions.AI software

Any advice for other businesses?

There’s no doubt that the future is bright for OPEX, and while Euan’s enthusiastic about his business prospects, he’s keen to show how the support he’s received can also work for others.

What’s one piece of advice he’d give to businesses curious about taking the leap?

“It’s easy: give it a go,” he encourages. “I didn’t have to do much to prepare. I had most of the content ready, so it’s not a huge amount of effort.

"You’ll have to do the follow-ups because people aren’t going to just come to you. But you’ll be amazed at what you get. Take the opportunity. Don’t be sceptical about it. Just go in with an open mind and see what happens.”

“If you’ve got something viable, I can’t see why GlobalScot won’t be able to help you. It'll give you access to contacts that you’d never get yourself. Doing it, I didn’t have to go overseas to open all these routes to the world. I did it from my desk in Aberdeenshire.“

Looking to the future

And what, given all the fast and significant changes they’ve experienced, is the plan now?

“Conquer the world, really. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re now in great conversations all over the world, with more senior people than we would have been able to get in touch with,” he says.

With the credibility and sustainability gained through its parent company, OPEX is beginning to look at diversifying and expanding its horizons. “We're thinking about expanding into the energy regions, maybe moving out of oil and gas and into other sectors,” Euan says. “Who knows where we’ll get to?”

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