The Interpreneur survey: Mid-market global business trends

Understanding mid-market global business trends is critical to effectively supporting our clients, which is why we recently surveyed 1,400 SME leaders to find out what’s driving entrepreneurs to go global. To uncover what they have learnt from their experiences accessing new markets and audiences and how that insight can inform the roadmap for future. And we probed specific themes shaping the boardroom agenda, including ESG, AI, funding, tax and regulation to understand how these issues play into thinking around international expansion.

Though business confidence at large has taken a hit, with the OECD’s Business Confidence Index falling below 100 (indicating a degree of pessimism about future performance) , our findings suggest that business leaders around the world are ready to expand internationally.

Armed with this intelligence, our aim is to inspire and equip CEOs to thrive in any circumstances and to add to the bank of knowledge and expertise that we can offer entrepreneurial businesses and individuals expanding into new regions.

Definition: An ‘interpreneur’ combines international and entrepreneur and
is a term we have created to describe a business leader who successfully expands their business’ presence into markets abroad.

We surveyed 100 of these ‘interpreneurial’ business leaders in each of the following 14 countries: Brazil, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, Spain, UAE, UK, and the US to understand more about the pressures and opportunities they can see.

Survey respondents were C-suite executives, owners, chairs, partners, managing directors, directors or senior management across businesses earning up to £300 million in revenue.

1. OECD Business Confidence Index

Top 3 biggest challenges during international expansion process Percentage
Adapting logistics and supply chain issues (e.g., managing international shipping, distribution, and communication) 41%
Finding the right local partners (e.g., building reliable and trustworthy relationships) 39%
Managing economic volatility (e.g., currency fluctuations, inflation and or low growth) 38%

International expansion challenges can be a big adjustment, and businesses have to be prepared to adapt their thought processes and operating models to differing local market dynamics, economic variations, logistical realities, regulatory requirements, tax obligations and cultural expectations.

With not much to separate them, the principal challenges interpreneurial businesses face are dealing with supply chain issues, local relationship building and grappling with economic volatility, where issues like currency fluctuations or inflationary pressures can have a significant impact on business success.

Navigating global tax regulation (including transfer pricing, double taxation and VAT) and understanding complex compliance requirements (such as ESG obligations and other legal duties) have proved problematic for around a third (35% and 30% apiece). Almost a quarter (24%) struggled with a lack of familiarity with utilising local tax breaks and benefits.

It is interesting to see China and India, both economic powerhouses with established manufacturing bases and large domestic markets, highlighting the value of strategic positioning. This really emphasises the importance of brand as they seek out markets with high purchasing power.

While there are potential benefits for companies to mitigate economic challenges through customer base diversification and tapping into fresh markets, the strategies you choose to get there can define the scale and sustainability of the expansion. It requires in-depth market research, potentially new marketing strategies, and sufficient resources to cater to diverse customer needs.

Finding the right partners to support you as you get your localised operations off the ground can be an overlooked step. You need a proactive business adviser who not only knows how to navigate regulation, tax regimes, reporting and compliance requirements – but gives valuable insights into cultural nuances or expectations to help ensure your business is well received in a new region.

Gary Klintworth
Gary Klintworth
Senior Managing Director,

Risk: What are the biggest risks to global business expansion in 2024 According to Interpreneurs?

How much of a risk do the following pose to your business’s international expansion or planned international expansion?

Type Disruptive risk Significant risk Moderate risk Minimal risk No risk Not sure / Not applicable
Environmental disruption and extreme weather 8% 21% 30% 28% 11% 2%
Technological disruption and AI and new technologies 6% 28% 27% 21% 17% 2%
Talent shortages and skilled labour gaps 7% 23% 30% 24% 15% 2%
Cybersecurity threats and data breaches 11% 24% 30% 20% 13% 2%
Financial market and foreign exchange volatility 10% 25% 31% 21% 12% 1%
Economic slowdown or recession 11% 27% 31% 20% 8% 2%
Escalating geopolitical tensions and instability 10% 24% 33% 21% 10% 2%

Our findings show that the biggest perceived risk to global business expansion is the possibility of an economic slowdown. This was seen as the main issue posing a disruptive or significant risk to a business’ international expansion or planned expansion (38% said so). Given the emphasis placed on growing sales and revenue by expanding overseas, it’s perhaps not surprising that anything that could hit purchasing power is viewed with concern.

Cybersecurity threats/data breaches and financial market volatility were next on the list (at 35% each), followed by escalating geopolitical tensions and technological disruption (both at 34%).

Interestingly, 17% felt that technological disruption posed no risk. Since generative AI, which burst into mainstream consciousness last year with the widespread commercial adoption of ChatGPT, has the potential to radically reshape many industry sectors and ways of working, we might have expected a more cautious appraisal here. However, there are signs that, being the innovators they are, interpreneurs are already more comfortable with the concept than the average business leader, and may indeed see it as an opportunity, rather than a threat (as we will discuss further later on).

Other lower-ranked risks include talent shortages (at 30% ranked disruptive or significant) and environmental disruption (29%). As climate change increases the number of extreme weather events such as floods or droughts which could put business as usual at risk, canny interpreneurs will need to have selected their locations carefully to minimize the risk of business interruption.

Overseas business expansion is widely expected to increase

Significantly increase 42%
Moderately increase 45%
No change 9%
Moderately decrease 1%
Significantly decrease 3%
Not sure 1%

When looking at whether respondents felt more businesses will expand overseas in the next 12 months, overall, there was a relatively even split between those who think there will be a significant increase in overseas expansion and those who believe the increase will be moderate. However, some countries were much more positive about an upturn when predicting mid-market global business trends. Countries where respondents were most likely to predict a significant increase were Nigeria (71%), South Africa (66%) and USA (61%). While only 4% think there will be a decrease, this jumps to 11% in Japan and 12% in Germany.

Northern and Central Europe are attractive destinations for those both inside and outside of these regions, thanks to the stable economies, large and comparatively wealthy customer base, advanced digital infrastructure, and access to finance. Plus its regional interconnectivity and shipping network making it easy to transport goods to different parts of the continent and beyond.

For many companies, moving into another country within their own region, rather than going further afield into a completely new part of the world, is an easier first stepping stone into international expansion. The legislative regime, taxation obligations, language and culture are probably more familiar, they may be more likely to have existing business contacts nearer to home that could help them gain momentum faster.

Jelle R. Bakker
Partner International Tax, Bentacera
European Tax Director, Kreston Global Tax Group

Mid-market global business trends: Which is the best country for business expansion?

Most popular regions for potential global expansion

Western Europe (e.g., Germany, France, UK, etc) 52%
North America (e.g., USA, Canada, Mexico, etc) 48%
North Asia (e.g., China, Japan, Korea, etc) 28%
Eastern Europe (e.g., Poland, Hungary, Romania, etc) 26%
South America (e.g., Brazil, Chile, Colombia, etc) 23%
South Asia (e.g., Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, etc) 20%
Middle East 18%
Africa 17%
Australia/New Zealand 14%
Not sure/ none in particular 1%
Other 1%

When selecting the best country for business expansion, more than half of respondents said their business would consider expanding to Western Europe, and this was the top destination for interpreneurial businesses in the US, Germany, Spain, France, the UK, UAE, Egypt, Nigeria and India. Those in Nigeria were the most keen (78%) whereas those in Japan were far less enthusiastic about investing in new business operations there (at just 18%).

Almost half said their business would consider expanding into North America, and this was the top destination for those in China (70%), Mexico (69%), Brazil (66%), and India (55% – tied with Western Europe). Those in Egypt (36%), Germany (35%), Japan (28%) and Spain (25%) were less likely to have North America in mind.

More than a quarter (28%) said their business would consider expanding to North Asia, with those in China (52%) and Nigeria (45%) the most likely to say this, while for those in Spain (14%) and Mexico (14%) it is least likely.

Germany, Spain, France, the UK, Mexico, and South Africa were most inclined to prioritise moving to a nearby country within their own regions.

North America remains a highly targeted destination for overseas expansion, and no wonder, given that it’s an established market with plenty of purchasing power and good commercial infrastructure, where there is also potential for disruption and greater competition. Trade barriers and recent events such as moves to ban TikTok are making the environment more challenging, but interpreneurs in countries like China think there’s still room to for ambitious, innovative companies to come in and seize market share.

Theo Theodoulou
Theo Theodoulou
Chair of Kreston Global Audit Group & Partner of Audit & Assurance at Kreston Ioannou and Theodoulou

Private Equity vs Venture Capital: Which is the preferred funding source for international expansion by interpreneurs?

Private investors (including HNWIs) 47%
Venture capital or private equity 43%
Capital markets (i.e. IPO) 39%
Employee equity schemes 36%
Government funding 30%
Management buyout 28%
Crowdfunding 22%
Debt 17%
None of the above 3%

When it comes to choosing a preferred funding source for international expansion, private investment features prominently in their thinking. Almost half of respondents said that their business is likely to consider or have used private investors to grow internationally. Those in Brazil (64%), India (63%), Nigeria (72%), and South Africa (69%) were more likely to report using or considering using this form of capital, whereas those in Japan (21%), France (28%) and the UK (35%) were less likely to take this route.

More than four in ten reported using or considering venture capital or private equity investment, and this was more common in China (62%), Egypt (67%) and Nigeria (56%) than in Germany (25%), Japan (23%), Brazil (31%) or the UK (27%). With the industry reported being sitting on record levels of “dry powder” (uninvested funds) – reaching $4trillion according to estimates from Blackrock – there should be plenty of capital to go around.

Accessing funding via capital markets is also a contender, albeit a less popular one – perhaps due to suppressed activity in the IPO market in the past few years – while debt is the least likely option. Businesses in France have by far the highest appetite for funding such a move with debt (where 28% would consider it), while only 5% would do so in Brazil.

2. The Financial Times
3. S&P Global

Deploying debt is less common because of the likelihood of the stricter loan terms and higher interest rates to allow lenders to ‘control’ risk. Debt also creates a fixed repayment burden that doesn’t play well to the long-term capital investment needs of an international business.

Equity investors like private investors and VC and private equity firms provide a more suitable alternative because the risks and rewards are shared, they can provide strategic guidance and expertise, and their focus on longer-term outcomes aligns better with the demands of global growth.

For equity investment to work, however, the business and its equity partner need to be a good fit, and it’s as important for interpreneurs to do their homework about any potential investor as it is for that investor to conduct their due diligence process. It’s essential to make sure they have the right investment philosophy, are on board with your commercial goals, and have the right knowledge, experience and commitment to support you with more than just financial backing.

While it comes as little surprise that those from developing economies may be more inclined than those from developed economies to seek private investment, what is quite unexpected is the relatively low demand for IPOs as a source of funding. Even in the Gulf where IPOs have been booming only 39% of respondents from the UAE would consider this option.

Eyad Farsakh
Managing Partner at Kreston Awni Farsakh & Co, United Arab Emirates

When moving into new territories, businesses must navigate new sets of tax rules that not only differ from the rules interpreneurs are used to in their home country, but that becomes more complex due to the cross-border, multi-jurisdictional nature of their commercial operations.

In addition, global regulations are becoming stricter and more joined up as policymakers look to eliminate tax gaps and mismatches between different countries’ regimes and beef up compliance. To date, more than 140 countries have signed up to the OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion Profit Shifting (BEPS) , marking a significant step forward in international cooperation to stamp out tax planning strategies that aim to shift profits into lower tax jurisdictions to avoid tax.

While the aim is to make global tax more cohesive and transparent, for businesses, this could bring in a new layer of requirements and complexity. Business leaders may well require specific support from experts on the ground to help them comply, especially when entering a new market.



Understanding global tax: Is the interpreneurial C-suite ready for a global tax threshold?

How confident are you in your understanding of the global international tax rules (for example transfer pricing, VAT) that govern multinational businesses?
Extremely confident: I have a deep understanding of global tax rules and their implications for multinational businesses 40%
Confident: I have a good grasp of key principles and can navigate common scenarios, but may seek external guidance for complex situations 53%
Not very confident: My understanding of global tax rules is limited, and I rely heavily on external advisors for guidance and analysis 7%
Not confident at all: I lack knowledge of international tax regulations and rely entirely on external advisors for their advice, guidance, and/or decision-making 1%

As part of the survey we wanted to understand the confidence CEOs had around understanding global tax. The respondents to our survey don’t feel that tax will hold them back and believe they are well-versed in global tax rules and their implications for multinational businesses. Indeed, 40% said they are extremely confident that they understand the global international tax rules that govern multinational businesses – rising to 64% in the US, 56% in Egypt and 53% in South Africa. Japan (9%), Spain (23%), and France (26%) were far less bullish on this front.

A further 53% are confident that they have a good grasp of key principles and can navigate common scenarios, although they may need to seek external guidance for complex situations.

Only 8% are not very confident or not confident at all, with those in Japan, France and Germany evincing the least confidence in this area.

Whether this confidence is reflected in their company’s execution of tax affairs is a moot point, especially since the ‘tax gap’ (i.e., the difference between the tax due and the tax paid) remains a persistent problem. The OECD estimates that around $240 billion is lost each year to tax avoidance by multinationals. However, it seems likely that with further tightening of tax laws on the horizon, specialist support and expertise are likely to be required at some level by many organisations.


Business leaders will valiantly seek to stay ahead of the game on tax but may struggle to keep up with the implications and intricacies of the global tax crackdown that the OECD continues to spearhead. Cross-border transactions can be extremely complex from a tax perspective, and with significant changes on the way over the next couple of years the global tax landscape is set to alter radically. Planning and compliance will become even more challenging for businesses of all sizes. SMEs are either going to have to invest in recruiting more tax experts in-house or get fast, effective advice from outside advisers.

Mark Taylor
Chair of Kreston Global Tax Group & Tax Director, Duncan and Toplis

The growing importance of ESG for investors and interpreneurs

These days, no company can afford to ignore ESG, and these concerns may be heightened by a move to a new country where it’s important to understand the specific environmental and cultural nuances of the area.

Even small and medium-sized businesses that may not need to report to shareholders or make disclosures to regulators on such matters still have an obligation to be transparent and above board in their dealings with other stakeholders such as customers, staff, suppliers and local communities. Getting it right makes good business sense, but getting it wrong could be disastrous, with loss of business value, reputational damage and even financial sanctions among the consequences.

The importance of ESG considerations

We do / would prioritise ESG 37%
We do / would value ESG, but it wouldn’t be our top priority 30%
We do / would consider ESG practices but if only if they don’t interfere with our other priorities 26%
We don’t / wouldn’t strongly consider ESG practices 4%
We don’t / wouldn’t consider ESG practices at all 2%
Not sure 1%

It is encouraging to see that the importance of ESG considerations is high on an interpreneur’s list when expanding internationally, with the vast majority of respondents (93%) saying they do or would consider ESG practices to a greater or lesser extent when considering counties or regions to expand into.

It’s notable that the proportion that say they do or would prioritise ESG without qualification is highest in China (64%), Nigeria (62%), South Africa (54%) and the US (53%) and lower in Germany (18%), Japan (19%), Spain (14%) and France (15%).

Across age demographics, the proportion of respondents who said they do or would prioritise ESG issues without qualification rises with age, peaking at the 35-44 age bracket before falling sharply in the older age ranges.

ESG is not a nice to have or a tick-box exercise: it’s an obligation for next generation and a commercial imperative. An ESG strategy must be based on scientific data and prioritize impacts. Failing to factor it into your business operations exposes you to real risks. So it’s important to take proactive measures like evaluating and minimizing your environmental impact and adhering to fair labour practices to safeguard your business against legal and compliance issues, keeping competitivity and ensuring you avoid negative press which could cause irreparable harm to your brand.

Overlooking ESG could also cause you to miss out on opportunities. A well-defined ESG strategy is not a cost but an investment that should position you favourably in your new market, attracting potential customers and investors who prioritize sustainability and ethical practices. It can open doors to new partnerships and collaboration prospects, accelerating your growth and integration within the new market.

Laurent Le Pajolec
Member of Board EXCO A2A Polska and Kreston Global ESG Committee member

The benefits of AI in international business operations

AI has become a major topic on everyone’s lips, as the sheer scale of its potential influence and transformative power becomes clear. Though the use of generative AI is still in its infancy, clearly it is one of the key mid-market global business trends with adoption growing fast. By early last year, ChatGPT had garnered an estimated 100 million users, and many other such tools soon came on stream in its wake, developed by the likes of Google, Meta and Amazon.

AI can empower businesses looking to enter the global arena in many different ways. For example, it can help them to navigate complex market landscapes by analysing vast amounts of data to identify customer preferences, competitor strategies, and emerging mid-market global business trends in target markets. It can enable them to optimise their global operations by automating routine tasks, streamlining logistics, and identifying cost-saving opportunities across geographically dispersed operations. Moreover, it could enhance the customer experience, via personalised marketing campaigns, providing real-time customer support in multiple languages, and fostering stronger customer engagement across borders.

However, there is still no established framework or path to follow, so business leaders have to work out for themselves how disruptive generative AI could be and how it could be harnessed to gain a competitive edge. They are thinking about what role it could play in their company and how best to implement it in the short term before rivals can seize the initiative, and then considering how to scale it to create efficiency gains and deliver vital commercial insights over the longer term. Broadly, the majority feel they are ready.

AI readiness

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: ‘I feel prepared to harness the benefits of AI in global business operations within the next two years?
Strongly agree 50%
Somewhat agree 40%
Neither agree nor disagree 8%
Somewhat disagree 2%
Disagree 1%

The sentiment of those surveyed around AI readiness was very positive. Half of respondents feel very confident in their ability to harness AI, and four in ten are fairly confident, with just 3% indicating that they lack confidence. Those in Nigeria and the US felt most equipped, with 75% and 72% respectively feeling very confident. Business leaders in Spain and France were the most neutral, with 14% feeling neither confident nor unsure, compared to a global average of 8%.

Japan felt the least prepared, with more than a fifth (21%) saying so. By contrast, no respondents from the US, Brazil, China, Mexico or Nigeria said they felt unprepared.

Technological disruption has gone from being seen as a risk to being considered something to be embraced. While AI isn’t a silver bullet, its ability to automate tasks, glean insights from data, and personalise experiences can be a major advantage for resource-constrained SMEs competing on the international stage. It should certainly be able to help interprenuerial businesses level the playing field with bigger rivals.

Rob McGillen
Rob McGillen
Chief Innovation Officer – Financial Services at CBIZ

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