Technology Accelerators go virtual to benefit more Canadian entrepreneurs

The programs promised intense immersions into foreign markets for Canadian technology entrepreneurs, organized by Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) through its ambitious Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA) initiative. It was a chance to be advised by mentors, find potential clients and customers, meet like‑minded partners and unlock valuable venture capital for these disruptive start‑ups and scale‑ups in clean technology, life sciences and digital industries.

When the COVID‑19 pandemic hit in early March, the CTA programs that were to take place later that month and in early April in markets such as New York, Boston, Denver and Taipei went virtual. The events were coordinated by trade commissioners through online platforms and tools that have since become familiar to many but were then in their early days. Nevertheless, the programs went off without a hitch, bringing accolades from—as well as results for—their virtual cohorts.

“We turned things around,” says Daniel Arsenault, a trade commissioner who manages the CTA program. “We showed that we were able to pivot really quickly.”

In those early days, companies were focused on “core elements of survival,” looking after their employees and protecting their bottom lines, Arsenault recalls, but they were keen to reap the benefits of their scheduled involvement in the CTA.

“We could get them in front of mentors, advisors and even venture capitalists in a secure environment from the comfort of their own homes and offices. That was transformational,” he says, commenting that the trade commissioners running the programs were eager to lead the way. “This is an example of innovation, as well as adaptability and resilience.”

This recording took place before COVID‑19 and does not reflect current restrictions on gathering. To help you expand your operations in international markets, we are currently offering our CTA programs virtually. (Watch the video.)

Today the CTA’s all‑virtual platform is “allowing us to maintain momentum,” Arsenault says. “Our services have grown due to COVID‑19.”

Indeed this is a time of global expansion for the CTA program, ­which was first piloted in the U.S. in 2009 then launched in New York, Boston, Palo Alto and San Francisco in 2013. It has since been extended to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Mexico City and Berlin, with plans to bring it to London and New Delhi. The program helps high‑potential, high‑growth Canadian technology companies accelerate and grow their business globally, by immersing them in key international technology hubs. More than 580 companies have participated in the CTA, reporting $645 million in capital raised and $238 million in new revenue, as well as 1,100‑plus strategic partnerships and 2,500‑plus new jobs created.

Andrea Clements, a trade commissioner who directs the High Intensity Services division of the TCS, says the virtual CTA program enhances the diversity of participants by making it more accessible. Companies aren’t forced to choose one particular market because they can circulate among them, she says. “We find synergies.”

Clements, whose division provides enhanced services to high‑potential, high‑growth companies, says the networking and deal‑making that happens in the CTA in‑market is critical to bring to the online component. This is happening through break‑out sessions and follow‑up chats, and with COVID‑19 restricting movement, “our trade commissioners are more important than ever. They’re on the ground to make personal connections so that virtual connections can work properly.”

She notes that having real people in the field representing and advising them is valuable for CTA participants. “It’s not just a screen, it’s not a robot on the other end who’s talking to you,” she remarks, which could be critical if people continue to curb their international travel. “We’re here to champion and support them.”

In‑market experiences will return to being “part of the overall client journey,” Clements predicts, although she hopes to retain the openness, flexibility and additional services that the virtual CTA allows.

Arsenault points out that even before the pandemic, there were certain aspects of the CTA that were done online, like pitch‑coaching sessions, preliminary programming and webinars. “Now we’re just doing it 100%.”

With the expansion of the CTA program and the virtual element, participating companies can explore more markets “at low or nil cost,” Arsenault says. The TCS has been able to expand the size of each CTA cohort, and additional staff members in companies can join in without the expense and time involved in travelling to far‑off places.

Challenges of the virtual program include ensuring that companies continue to send top people to it, he says, noting that it needs—and so far has—the commitment of senior management. “We’re getting even better coverage now, with both the CEO and the CFO attending.”

The virtual program has been improved by working out and technological “kinks”, fine‑tuning tools and making sessions shorter and more engaging. Trade commissioners share lessons they’ve learned, for example how to help people absorb information that’s delivered virtually.

Once the virus is under control and things return to normal, he says some of the highest potential companies that have participated in CTA programs virtually may want to “dig deep” and visit the markets to follow up.

Arsenault expects there will be a sizeable virtual element in the CTA of the future. “We need to adapt to what companies are requesting,” he adds. “We’ll find a balance going forward.”

Specialized support in global technology hubs

The Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA) program run by Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) gives high‑growth, high‑potential Canadian companies access to personalized support, connections and guidance in global market hubs with strong technology ecosystems.

The CTA helps companies scale up existing technologies and products. They receive customized programming, including the dedicated support of a specialized trade commissioner, mentorship from industry leaders and partners, support lining up financial resources, engaging strategic partners, and refining international business strategies, as well as exposure to global partners and opportunities to pursue clients.

Participants can benefit from the TCS network, which is present in more than 160 cities worldwide, and join the 580 alumni companies that have completed the program since it was first piloted in 2009.

Companies leave the CTA with advanced knowledge and experience that can help them find success abroad, as well as a better understanding of other international opportunities and the additional resources available through the TCS.

For more information about the CTA program, check us out online or contact your local TCS regional office.

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