Award-winning business to ease customs problems

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 12:47:00 BST
Catherine with UHatch academic lead Professor Bruce Wood
Catherine with UHatch academic lead Professor Bruce Wood

A Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) PhD student is looking to help solve world-trade issues through an innovative business.

Catherine Truel, PhD student in customs law, was named as one to watch by the Scottish Institute for Enterprise (SIE) while her prototype business, Alegrant Ltd, was also honoured at the 2017 SIE Awards in March. It is also among those shortlisted for the 2017 Converge Challenge.

Still in its relative infancy, Alegrant seeks to address the problems of customs clearance, border delays and import/export regulations.

“During my PhD research, I noticed that traders are facing similar problems and making similar mistakes in various countries, so I thought I could help make import and export easier,” Catherine said.

“I started to develop a global platform which will connect importers and exporters with vetted global-trade and customs-compliance experts worldwide.

“I believe global trade should be accessible and affordable for everyone, so Alegrant’s mission is to develop systems that help the world trade.”

The SIE awards reassured Catherine that her idea had legs and provided valuable feedback and customer engagement.

She said: “We are yet to officially launch our platform, but we have approached customers to test the features of the prototype, and we have £200,000 of orders already.” 

Besides external investment, Catherine has also benefited from the support of GCU entrepreneurial hub UHatch.

“I am absolutely delighted to be part of the GCU start-up hub. They are simply wonderful at supporting emerging companies and, for us, they have been instrumental in the transformation of the idea into a business.

“We got our first £1,000 from Santander Universities when joining UHatch, which allowed us to test the idea on the market.

Catherine said UHatch academic lead Professor Bruce Wood and UHatch mentor Andrew Mason, along with fellow UHatch start-up companies, proved an invaluable source of encouragement and advice.

Catherine has since seen her idea evolve to meet the challenges that come with changing political climates, with disputes and sanctions making trade difficult.

“War zones and sanctioned nations can prove tricky places to trade; some of our clients work with partners in Iraq and shipping high-value equipment to oil fields is rather complicated. 

“Brexit, too, will be a big challenge for intra-EU traders, as they will need to submit import and export declarations for each shipment. 

“Of course, we’ll stand ready to help, whatever happens.” 

Catherine is hoping to see the business flourish and feels that GCU can provide further aid.

“In the short term, I am looking forward to the launch of the platform and hope the wider market is as welcoming as our current customers.

“We’ll be looking for staff and interns to help us grow, so we are turning to the Careers Service for help.

“Further ahead, we hope to be the go-to place for importers and exporters wherever they are, whatever their products and experience in cross-border trade.”