Quebec company helping to protect water resources in Europe

When Sonja Behmel, Ph.D. was completing her master’s degree in geography, she needed a project and contacted an NGO to see if they might work together. Out of that project sprung WaterShed Monitoring, a company that integrates data across all aspects of watershed management, from wastewater treatment to water resource protection.

Founded in Quebec City, WaterShed Monitoring has now expanded its work into European countries, including France, with the help of the Canadian Trade Commission Service (TCS) and the Canada‑European Union (EU) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

According to Behmel, the company’s co‑founder and Chief Executive Officer, “we are living in a very complex world and we know that we need to protect our resources—in this case water resources — for quality and quantity, for humans as well as for the natural environment.” This means taking multiple factors into account to be able to advise on water resource protection from the source to the tap to wastewater and its return back into the environment.

Emilie Roy is Trade Commissioner at the TCS office in Montreal who was instrumental in assisting Behmel and her business to take root in Europe, and has been working with the company since 2018. The first step Roy takes when working with a new company is to understand exactly what they do, what makes them different, and what their needs and priorities are. She then works with them on the next steps for their international expansion.

Sonja Behmel
Sonja Behmel, co‑founder and CEO of WaterShed Monitoring

Before Behmel and her team developed their integrated data management system, watershed data was scattered, with different stakeholders working in silos with little interconnection. There was no centralized place where stakeholders, under data sharing protocols, could see all the relevant past and future data to support clearly informed decisions about protecting this valuable natural resource.

As Behmel and her team discovered, European countries faced the same data management challenges that WaterShed Monitoring was addressing in Canada. In 2016, WaterShed Monitoring began exploring the European market when Behmel attended the IFAT trade show for innovative environmental technologies in Munich.

“We really went there to see if there’s any need in Europe, or if we were not up to date [in that market] at all,” Behmel says. As it turned out, Europe had more regulatory challenges than Canada at that time. For the next two years, WaterShed Monitoring researched the European market and formulated a plan for entry.

“The TCS really helped us to prepare for the trade show in 2018,” she says.

Emilie Roy
Emilie Roy, Trade Commissioner at the TCS office in Montreal

Roy says helping Canadian companies with planning and preparation for their entry into new markets is a cornerstone of her work. “For instance, I debriefed my colleagues abroad on the contacts sought by WaterShed and the SME’s unique capabilities. My colleagues shared specific market intelligence information, to provide the context that they are looking for, as well as introductions to key contacts to help WaterShed get the results that they're seeking. I am also keeping a read on opportunities that could be relevant to them,” she says.

The fact that there’s no charge for TCS services is a huge benefit for WaterShed Monitoring, given the costs to expand one’s company overseas. CanExport SMEs funding has also supported the SME’s efforts in Europe. For IFAT, the TCS provided a B2B service ahead of the trade show, preparing a slate of meetings with German companies in the market for WaterShed. “They did the whole matchmaking, which really made it efficient,” Behmel says. “For a startup like ours, it made all the difference in optimizing the results of our effort.”

Roy assisted WaterShed Monitoring in refining its international business strategy, including strengthening its sales pitch and sharing best practices for its website design to have greater impact. She also kept Behmel and her team apprised of relevant financing programs and resources for women-owned companies. Roy also coached them on best practices for government procurement projects — like how to navigate TED, the Tender Electronic Daily — and the importance of working with local partners.

The result was the company made solid connections within France—enough to begin offering its services in that country.

“From that time on, we have been supported in having the TCS as an ambassador for the company and it has been a door opener for us to the different European countries,” says Behmel.

The opportunities made possible by CETA complement the TCS’s work. For example, under the government procurement provisions in CETA, Canadian companies can compete and be treated in the same way that European companies can. These provisions have helped WaterShed Monitoring secure work with the French national space agency [Centre national d’études spatiales] and the European Space Agency. As well, CETA supported business travel to European nations, making it very easy for Behmel and her team to travel as needed to establish their European presence.

Thanks to CETA and the TCS, WaterShed Monitoring now has an office in France, and is registered as a French company. WaterShed Monitoring has benefitted greatly from the government procurement provisions in CETA.

“CETA gives us a nice security blanket,” Behme says. It gave WaterShed Monitoring a comfort zone so that it could take more informed risks when expanding.

She encourages other Canadian companies in the sector to explore the European market.

“They really want to advance green technology. They love it. They have funding for that. They are curious about what’s going on the other side of the ocean. And CETA allows companies to try to do that business there.”

Roy and Behmel continue to work together closely. The next step for WaterShed Monitoring is labour mobility — another barrier to international trade that CETA helps to eliminate through temporary entry provisions. Roy says being able to help Canadian companies make the leap overseas is amazing.

“We are here for them, the companies that have a really strong business plan with good capabilities here in Canada, to help them in their export plan and having success abroad.”

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