| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter Youtube RSS Feed


MarketLink is helping small Toronto and Canadian tech companies get into international markets

Last month, two Toronto technology companies, armed with business cards and slide decks, flew to California to pitch their products. Instead of working the scene in Silicon Valley, however, their plane touched down a few hundred miles to the South, in San Diego.
The meeting was set up by the Consulate of Canada in San Diego through a program known as MarketLink. MarketLink was established four years ago by information and communications technology (ICT) industry organization CommNexus to connect large companies to start-ups with new technology.

"With over 400 corporations actively working in the communications space," says a CommNexus report, "as well as five major universities working closely with industry, the San Diego region has quickly become a global hub for wireless technology and related services." 

The Canadian consulate has been working closely with CommNexus to present cutting edge Canadian companies to large industry players who are looking for a competitive edge.  Last month's meeting was with Sony, an opportunity that elicited over one hundred applicants. From this pool, Sony chose nine to come to San Diego for a closed-door meeting. Three of them were Canadian. Vancouver-based Intrinsyc, a mature software company, had traveled to San Diego through the MarketLink program three times before, while the other two were cleantech start-ups from Toronto

In big cities all across the world, Canadian consulates try to foster such business connections. "The one in San Diego is a particularly strong program," says Earl Miller, Director of Strategic Partnerships at the MaRS Discovery District. "The consulate is interested in growing the technology base in the San Diego area. They're trying to facilitate the entry of Canadian companies into the San Diego market."

One of the companies MaRS currently advises on business strategy, MMB Research, was one of the start-ups chosen to meet with Sony. "The opportunity to present our technology to Sony was very valuable and worth the trip," says MMB Research CEO Daniel Moneta. "The fact that CommNexus is able to get the attention and attendance of so many top level executives made it particularly worthwhile."

MMB Research makes hardware and software designed to make it easier for appliance manufacturers to comply with the network of emerging smart grids across North America. "That the company itself (i.e. Sony) reviews the applicants and chooses the candidates means that they have a genuine interest in the technologies presented," says Moneta.

Another MaRS client, Talking Plug, was also chosen by Sony for a meeting. Talking Plug makes plugs for standard wall sockets that compare electricity usage on-line with other locations. Talking Plug users can monitor their appliance use in real-time and adjust the electricity flow to minimize electricity costs.

For this round of MarketLink meetings, Sony was specifically interested in companies like Talking Plug and MMB Research that are working in the consumer-level energy efficiency space. As such, the value of these focused trade meetings lie beyond just the initial pitch. "I think there will be opportunities to talk to and work with the other presenting companies, as some of them were in complimentary spaces," says Moneta. "So even aside from Sony, there was extra value there."

To ensure a focused round of meetings, companies such as Sony release a shopping list of new products and services they're looking for ahead of time through CommNexus, and the Consulate, in turn, sends it out to organizations like MaRS who work directly with companies like Talking Plug. "For us it's really helpful," says Miller. "One of the difficult things about booking relationships is you never really know what a company is looking for. Once we know what people are looking for we can help them."

This kind of pointed technology request is a win-win for both parties. Entrepreneurs are spending money on a trip that is sure to get them a face-to-face meeting, and Sony is meeting with a company that is working in a space they're explicitly interested in. "The response I received from Sony was great," says Moneta. "They did seem genuinely interested. I'm looking forward to continuing to build that relationship."

This model of scouring small companies for the next big technology is becoming a necessity in the ICT industry. It's hard for large companies like Sony to retain both a large chunk of market share and a receptive attitude towards cutting edge technology.  "Companies don't want to take the risk of all the development costs," says Miller. "Their primary play is interest in the technology, not in buying up the company."

The result for Canadian companies is that the large players are often interested in licensing technology but want them to remain Canadian. "This is part of a trend for companies to outsource their innovations," says Miller.  Start-ups realize they don't need to be giant behemoths to attract the attention of a company like Sony. They just have to have a good technology and the networking skills to make an impact at a pitch meeting.  

So keep your eyes open for the next big launch from Sony. It might have traveled all the way to San Diego from Toronto via the Canadian Consulate.

Joseph Wilson is a freelance writer on issues of science, technology and culture.

Signup for Email Alerts
Signup for Email Alerts

Related Content