NATIONS UNITED ON FESTIVAL FLOOR
If you had any doubts that the International Business Festival was a truly global affair, a wander through the exhibition stands would soon put you straight.
Hamburg, Shanghai, Antwerp, Ras al Khaimah (that's the UAE, for the uninitiated), South Africa... These locations - some renowned as hubs of international trade, others emerging centres of industry - are just a handful of the many overseas names on show.
And hundreds of those attending events, delivering seminars or shaking hands in the Global Connections Lounge have travelled across borders to spend time at Exhibition Centre Liverpool.
At least 150 delegations from 90 countries are due in Liverpool across the three weeks of the Festival, which clocked up 1,500 overseas visitors in its first few days.
Among those visiting in Week Two were Isaque Pinto and Komlan Gnamatsi, who were representing the Portuguese municipality of Famalicão. Styling itself as a "Textile City", the northern town is Portugal's third-largest exporter and used a bright display of stylish socks to lure delegates to its stand.
"We brought with us five start-ups who were looking for contacts into retail and also partnerships for distribution and logistics," said Mr Pinto. "It was really good for them."
Mr Gnamatsi added: "It's not about selling at these kind of events, it's about the leads to follow up and they found they had the right kind of contacts. We had a half-hour presentation on the Knowledge Hub [the Festival's practical stage] and following on from that the stand was packed."
It wasn't all work, work, work. The group had made the most of Liverpool's restaurants and nightlife while they were in town.
"This is my kind of city," said Mr Pinto.
Someone else enjoying the hospitality was Indian investor Ravi Kumar, who attended a drinks reception for overseas visitors at the British Music Experience in the Cunard Building, one of the iconic "Three Graces" on Liverpool's waterfront.
"There was a lot of effort to make the international delegates feel at home," he said of the event, which featured a range of food - including curry - and a Beatles tribute band. "This sort of cultural integration makes a big difference when you're trying to do business."
Mr Kumar was part of a delegation from the southern Indian city of Chennai and colleague Christie Cherian, who chairs the area's British Business Group said this year's Festival was even better than its 2016 iteration.
"It's been wonderful," he said. "Very well-focused. Brexit is happening and we need to find ways to make it work so we're identifying SMEs our companies can partner with to connect into our large network.
"The Festival is absolutely the right kind of setting to do this."
Mr Kumar - pictured chairing a Knowledge Hub panel showcasing opportunities in south India - said clothing, IT and renewable energy companies among the delegation had been able to tap in to expertise available in north-west England.
"At some events, many people coming through are just collecting cards," he said. "Here there's a higher quality of delegate. We're looking to build partnerships so it's a great idea to be talking to people from Slovakia or China. It's connecting many dots for us."
The delegation was one of 15 from India, many of which were lured by a strong focus on the fast-growing nation during the Festival's second week, which focused on Future Transport, Manufacturing and Global Logistics & Shipping.
Indian presence was third only to that of the US and the best-represented nation, China, which brought some 200 delegates.
Attendance from Liverpool's twin city of Shanghai was particularly strong, with at least 10 delegations totalling 70 or so people. It launched the Amazing Shanghai initiative to promote the city and the China International Import Expo it hosts in November.
And Jasmine Pang, president of Branding Shanghai, said she was delighted to be in Liverpool for the full three weeks of the Festival.
"It's been really good so far. We've received a lot of interest, with inquiries and requests for information. We've picked up some really good contacts. We're also working toward the 20th anniversary of the twinning with Liverpool, so that's another strong reason to be here."
And there's been no shortage of star quality on the stand. As well as having some seriously impressive augmented reality tech on display, they hosted the Festival's patron, the Duke of Cambridge, during his visit. And the representatives also spoke to former Liverpool player Jamie Carragher about the potential to work together in the run-up to the twinning celebrations.
Not every overseas presence comes from a commanding economic powerhouse. Some exhibitors represent developing countries, hungry for partnerships with British companies to help improve infrastructure and turn promise into progress.
Godfrey Kwoba was one of a team from the Ugandan High Commission, manning a bright stand emblazoned with images of its amazing natural environment.
"We need tourism infrastructure; nice hotels and conference facilities for people to visit our sanctuaries and national parks," he said.
"But we are also looking for investment in oil and gas, as well as agriculture and agri-processing; we produce a lot of organic fruit and much of it is wasted because we don't add value by processing it.
"We have been seeing many people who have the technical skills in that area and hopefully they will get back to us. This is our first time at the Festival and next time we would like to bring some individual companies here so they can benefit too."
The strong international presence is the culmination of two years' work for the Festival's head of international Christine Vaudrey, who has travelled across the globe to speak to trading organisations, business networks, investment bodies and political leaders with the aim of attracting them to Liverpool.
"We worked with International Promotion Agencies and conducted research to develop a strategy targeting both developed and emerging markets which aligned with the Festival's key sectors," she said. "We also used this intelligence to match overseas delegates with local companies they might like to meet, trade with and develop new relationships.
"We also work closely with Invest Liverpool and partners in the wider region by developing sector tours and networking events so that if a delegate wants to visit local assets and projects such as Sci-Tech Park in Daresbury or neighbouring areas like Manchester, for example, we can help connect them to the most relevant people to maximise the value of their visit."
Another 47 international delegations will be in Liverpool for the final week of the Festival, which focuses on Health & Life Sciences, the Creative Industries and Sport, Culture & Travel.
A networking reception for overseas delegates will take place at the Royal Liver Building, from 6.30pm on June 27. To gain entry, sign up here and bring a Festival Pass or Day Ticket.