Trade agreement opens doors for clean‑technology firm

Expanding into new markets requires good timing, flexibility, a long‑term view and the ability to take advantage of any available opportunities and support.

Luckily, Acuva Technologies Inc. has all of these things and more. The young company makes ultraviolet LED‑based disinfection products for use in purifying drinking water and other applications, eliminating 99.99% of all types of viruses and bacteria. With the COVID‑19 crisis, the Burnaby company has burgeoning global sales as well as a growing list of customers and potential users in the United States (U.S.), particularly under the renewed Canada–United States–Mexico Agreement (CUSMA).

“The trade agreement certainly makes our lives a lot easier,” says Manoj Singh, the company’s CEO. He co‑founded Acuva in 2014, and in 2016 the firm began exporting its “game‑changing” disinfection solutions, beginning with the U.S. and expanding to countries in Latin America, Europe and Southeast Asia. The devices can stand alone, for example being installed under the sink in homes, cottages or RVs to purify the drinking water supply coming through the tap, or they can be integrated into appliances like refrigerators, water coolers and coffee machines.

Today the company has 40 staff and sales in some 15 countries, often with the assistance of Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service (TCS).

“I think we are probably one of the biggest beneficiaries of the TCS globally, and I have had very positive experiences with them everywhere,” says Singh, noting that trade commissioners “act like extended resources for us.” They help Acuva connect to the right partners, act as validating agencies, offer insider information and contact him about potential opportunities. “We have definitely benefitted from these interactions,” he says.

Manoj Singh
Manoj Singh, co‑founder and CEO of Acuva Technologies Inc.

In the U.S., for example, the TCS in Chicago got in touch with Acuva last year when it helped to set up a multi‑post pilot initiative called “Let it Flow” focused on COVID‑19 water solutions, says Ann F. Rosen, a trade commissioner there who covers the cleantech and infrastructure sectors. Rosen says that with the support of her manager Laura Dalby, she identified, researched and recruited Acuva to join the project to promote Canadian companies that have COVID‑19 solutions for the water industry.

A key contact at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, the world’s largest wastewater facility, asked to have a further conversation with Acuva, Rosen says, and a call was set up so the company could present some of its disinfection solutions to the agency.

Singh says the “Let it Flow” event was “a good platform for us to show our technology and product to U.S. partners.” Another TCS introduction connected Acuva with a major firm that supplies products to real estate development companies, which could use its water purification technology in new‑home builds.

Singh appreciates having such chances to spread the word about his ground‑breaking products, which are currently better suited to consumer‑level water volumes and uses, although LED technology is constantly becoming better and cheaper. Acuva currently has about 20 products on the market, which are sold via the internet or through distributors, as well as targeted to appliance manufacturers.

He notes that the company benefits from CUSMA through its U.S. sales.

“When we export the product to distributors in the U.S., we don’t face as many administration hassles, like having to pay duties and dealing with other complications,” he explains. “Agreements like this play a big role not only from a cost standpoint but in simplifying administration and processes.”

Rosen says that Canada’s free trade agreements (FTAs) give such firms a distinct market advantage in a number of countries. “FTAs help lower the barriers to entry so they can operate on the same level as local companies,” she says. “By taking advantage of FTAs, they gain preferential market access over competitors from countries without such agreements.” Given pressures on the global supply chain, she adds, FTAs also allow the company to competitively source inputs from foreign countries.

Rosen comments that Acuva is passionate about delivering clean drinking-water solutions with a positive social impact “in these unprecedented times, where safety from microbiological contamination has never been more important.” The company is also flexible, open to new markets, looking for direct exposure to potential clients and “working to identify and leverage new market opportunities in a changing COVID‑19 world,” she adds.

Mike Walsh, vice‑president of finance and corporate development for Acuva, says the company’s future plans include expanding its core designs to increase the rate of flow that the ultraviolet LED technology can handle, at an affordable price. The company has an upcoming high‑flow water purifier that can enable larger applications, for example installed in a home’s utility room. The goal is to ultimately use the technology in large-scale food processing, bottled water manufacturing and water utilities.

Walsh remarks that Acuva “is not a household name yet” but continues to grow and get the word out with the help of the TCS. “Every little bit helps, especially when we’re breaking new ground in countries without any brand recognition,” he says, noting that it’s important to be a company that’s known and that people trust. “Any opportunity that supports either of those pillars is really critical to our efforts.”

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