Aaron Rosland, commercial counsellor of the government of Ontario, encourages tech businesses to be bold during times of economic uncertainty.
There is a temptation during times of great uncertainty to look inward rather than outward.
We become risk averse and delay big decisions. I would argue for the opposite approach.
It is during times of great economic uncertainty that businesses need to make strong, decisive action about the direction of their business, including whether to expand internationally.
In my role as counsellor (commercial) for the government of Ontario I am responsible for building relationships and connecting the dots between businesses in Ontario and the UK.
This gives me the opportunity to experience first-hand the benefits that businesses, particularly scalable tech, can have by expanding their operations internationally – even in the face of economic uncertainty.
Companies are looking for new stable markets, like Ontario, in which to grow their client base, challenge their mind-set and future-proof their business.
What most people don’t realise about Ontario’s tech sector is that it boasts the second largest tech ecosystem in North America (after California), and has some of the best tech talent in the world.
Thanks to the legacy of Blackberry and others, the province has over 20,000 tech companies and its engineers are now more sought after than Stanford graduates.
Numerous home-grown tech success stories include Shopify, a Canadian e-commerce company that develops computer software for online stores and retail point-of-sale systems.
Founded in 2004, the business has gone from strength to strength and now has over 200,000 merchants using its platform. They are scaling up their presence here in the UK and taking on incumbents like iZettle.
What underpins these success stories are education and skills – 63% of the population have completed post-secondary education, the highest rate in the OECD.
We boast the lowest overall business costs in the G7 and a lower tax rate than the United States. There is direct, free and easy access to the US – where over $1m worth of cross-border trade is transacted every minute.
Yet above all of these advantages, I view Ontario as an incubator – simply because of the strength of the region’s relationship with the US and the infrastructure of established export programmes (known as ‘pathways’) on offer.
In recent times, Ontario has forged strong international relationships between Digital Media Zone (DMZ) startups in downtown Toronto and Canadian technology accelerators in US cities such as San Francisco, Boston and New York.
This unique collaboration between private, public and academic entities has led to the creation of accessible incubators, which have undoubtedly helped Ontario companies go global.
There are people like me in places around the world partnering with businesses; introducing them to the right people at the right time. We mitigate some of the inherent business risk of business expansion so they can hit the ground running.
On the ground, organisations will find three of the most important things that scaleup companies need – capital (whether it be VC, debt or grant capital), revenues (i.e. through built sales capacity), pipeline sales (future potential).
At a time when Brexit has caused over 40% fall’ in UK VC investment in Q2 2016, the possibility of additional capital, revenue and sales is an attractive proposition.
There are 200 UK companies with operations in Ontario (e.g. Axxsys Consulting, Operis, and Alexander Dennis), employing more than 40,000 people and enjoying the benefits of a stable business environment.
Ontario can offer companies a competitive advantage through innovation, low business cost, tech talent and unparalleled access to the North American market. In a rapidly changing world, this advantage is worth its weight in gold.