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Winnipeg company’s formula for success includes trade commissioners’ assistance

Cypher Environmental Ltd. has customers for its dust control and soil stabilization products in 50-plus countries around the world, on every continent except Antarctica. And don’t think that Todd Burns, the Winnipeg company’s founder and CEO, is content to leave that market untapped.

“Our Australian and Argentinian distributors have both talked about potential projects in Antarctica,” he says. “If that happens, then we’ll truly be everywhere.”

Todd BurnsTodd Burns, president and CEO of Cypher Environmental Ltd
Photo: bdragency.ca

It’s among the ambitious plans that the entrepreneur and Andrew Lindsay, Cypher’s senior vice‑president of business development, share with the vast network of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) through Ryan Collins, a trade commissioner at the TCS Prairies regional office.

“Ryan is helping to connect us to the world,” says Burns, whose firm makes an expanding range of products used in applications from mining and infrastructure to construction and transportation that perform well, save money and are environmentally friendly.

Burns started Cypher about 20 years ago with his father. The first product was a biodegradable, non‑toxic liquid that stabilizes soils with high clay content. The concentrated, long‑term material improves the most marginal unpaved roads so they can be used by trucks and high‑speed vehicles, saving on costly construction and maintenance that would typically involve the use of specialized equipment and aggregates.

In 2010 Burns took over the company, updating its image and brand, improving the formula and expanding into new products. These include long‑lasting dust control for use in any soil type, for example on haul roads and on tailing piles subject to erosion. He says the company recently adopted the tag line “Always do what’s right” and prides itself on its core values and culture rooted in corporate social responsibility and environmental, social and governance aggregates principles.

Ryan CollinsRyan Collins, trade commissioner at the TCS Prairies regional office
Photo: Deborah Boyce

It’s a formula for success but it comes with challenges, Burns says, from finding the right markets and distributors to demonstrating the unique qualities of Cypher’s products. That’s where Collins comes in, providing the company with leads on a wide range of markets. He makes detailed introductions to trade commissioners on the ground in new markets and organizes regular “reacquaintance” calls to existing ones. These consist of a detailed presentation by Cypher and a chance for the trade commissioners to ask him and the company questions on its market strategy and product line.

“Ryan is supportive of our needs outside of the standard Monday‑to‑Friday, nine‑to‑five&mnsp;hours,” Burns says. “He’s very approachable, very reachable. In fact, Ryan communicates with us with an ease at which it almost feels as though he’s a member of our team.”

Collins, whose sectors include infrastructure and clean technology, enjoys “coaching” the company on its export journey, noting that Cypher “wants my advice and works together with me on its international strategy.”

He notes that the TCS network helps the company with a wide range of issues, from narrowing down the countries it should focus on, based for instance on their tariffs and regulations, to dealing with problems in risky places. “They have new applications, new products, new sectors and new markets. All of that is a little challenging and exciting,” Collins says.

Burns says that Collins’s help is particularly welcome following the COVID‑19 pandemic, which meant a slower year but helped Cypher to “hit the pause button” and focus on the Canadian market, given travel restrictions. The company pivoted by recasting its branding and positioning, with a revised website, new names for its products, targeted online marketing campaigns and a revamped corporate culture. It has also recently grown its manufacturing base in Canada.

“Now that life getting back to normal again, things are starting to heat up for us,” Burns says. “The regional office has been phenomenal in our ability to reconnect with people around the world and to help us turn the taps on, so to speak.”

One of the places where Cypher sees vast potential is Australia, where it is assisted by trade commissioner John Williams, who is based in Brisbane as the national lead for the mining and gas sectors. Williams says the TCS regional offices “play such a vital part in our network. They get to know the Canadian products, services and innovations ready for export, and help companies identify which international markets provide the best opportunity.” 

Williams says Australia is a good target for Cypher, which “can demonstrate real cost savings to mining companies through reduced energy wastage on haul roads.” He expects the company will also “capture the public mood” with the way its products reduce water usage. He adds that TCS colleagues in Australia in the agritech and environmental sectors are also “providing support in other niches”.

Cypher today has a growing staff in Winnipeg and around the world, plus a trusted group of distributors it counts on to sell its products in foreign countries, many of which the TCS helped it to find. Burns says these distributors in turn can contact Collins for support. “They feel like part of a real Canadian team,” he comments, noting that in places where the company does not have distributors it relies even more heavily on the advice of trade commissioners in the field about local clients and deals.

Burns says the company is coming out with new products and he expects to focus on major markets in Peru, Chile and Brazil, for example, as well as many parts of Africa, all with the help of Collins.

“You can tell when someone is passionate about what they do, and it feels like Ryan actually wants to see us grow,” says Burns, who thinks the company will continue to benefit from the help of the regional office and wider TCS network long into the future. “There’s so many ways in which the TCS adds value to us that, regardless of what stage we’re at in business, I really can’t see us not needing their services.”

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