For many growing Canadian water technology companies, the United States represents attractive opportunities to both secure investment and gain global traction. At the same time, the United States is comprised of many competitive regional markets that can be challenging to navigate.
Recognizing the need to support emerging cleantech businesses, Global Affairs Canada positioned Trade Commissioners in New York City and Silicon Valley to gather and execute on market intelligence. The two posts also work together to manage the annual Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA). Through the program, Canadian entrepreneurs get a boost in this competitive sector, growing their skills and building their networks in the process.
To learn more about the CTA, WaterTAP spoke about the program with Ian Philp and Evan Cohen, Trade Commissioners representing Canada in New York City and San Francisco.
The CTA program was created to support and showcase the significant output of clean innovation coming from Canada, says Philp. “Evan and I work one-on-one with Canadian companies daily. There has been plenty of interest in Canada’s expertise, and plenty of capital available, particularly in New York City and Silicon Valley.”
For participating tech companies, Cohen says the CTA program is a high-value, efficient use of time and resources. “Successful candidates come to the United States and build a network of investors, as well as the tools to navigate what can be uncharted territory for many companies,” he says. “Through the program, we aim to demystify the subtleties of American venture capital, underline the value of a strategic investor, and discuss the pros and cons of corporate versus private venture arms.”
Philp says the core value of the program is the in-market portion, when companies travel to New York City and Silicon Valley to meet investors face to face.
Who should apply?
The CTA is very flexible with its cohorts. The Trade Commissioners curate their selections to resonate with the needs of both New York City and San Francisco. Cohen confirms that there is a great demand for innovative water technology. “Almost every fund I work with is thinking about water as a pillar. There is significant interest and plenty of business opportunities.”
As for age and stage, Cohen says that ideal program candidates are seeking to raise seed or Series A funds presently, or within the next 12 months.
“We usually look for companies that are no longer in the lab and have at least one reference customer or signed P.O.,” Philp says. “We look for evidence that the company is building market traction toward $1 million in funding or annual revenue, but we can be flexible depending on the type of technology or service on offer.”
The most important question to ask, says Philp, is why does the company want to do business in the United States?
Preparing a strong application
Both Philp and Cohen stress that the quality of the application is critical. Review to ensure that the pitch deck has no errors, is American-focused in language and conversions, and that figures and charts include explanations. The pitch must clearly describe the value of the solution. “You have one chance to make an impression with American investors in particular, and your deck is that special opportunity,” Cohen says.
The CTA cohort and Global Affairs support
In July, a selection panel of venture capitalists, angel investors, and ecosystem experts in both San Francisco Bay area and New York City will review the CTA applications to determine a cohort of up to 10 companies.
“Evan or I will engage each company in the cohort, doing a deep dive to determine the company’s viability and objectives for the U.S. market,” Philp says.
In the fall, the in-market programs in New York City and San Francisco will give companies the opportunity to pitch to investors directly.
“We identify the contacts that will be valuable to each company’s growth,” Philp says. “For some companies it will be angels or venture capitalists, while for others it will be connections to potential customers. There will be a combination of pitching to a larger group, as well as one-one-one meetings with people with specific interest in what the company has to offer.”
Outcomes and water sector success
Global Affairs has had positive success with the CTA program in previous years, and several cleantech companies have received funding or strategic partnerships as a direct result of participating.
Calgary’s FREDsense offers a technology that detects chemicals in industrial water. The company was part of the program’s 2016 cohort. President Emily Hicks says the company was starting to put together a seed round and leveraged the CTA to investigate investment opportunities. “Although we were likely the company at the earliest development stage within our cohort, we thought that this cleantech accelerator would be a good fit for our company and corral investor attention,” she says.
At the in-market group session, FREDsense practiced pitching to investors, participated in business webinars, and attended key networking events in San Francisco and New York, Hicks says. “As an early-stage company, those opportunities were very important to us in determining our customer segments and how we might expand into a different country.”
“Many investors were looking for Series A round as opposed to seed investment. Two years later, our company is now ready to consider Series A, and we have managed to keep those key contacts,” she says.
Don’t be shy about reaching out
The CTA program is but one of the programs and services that Global Affairs offers, so Philp and Cohen encourage applicants to connect and learn more. “Even if your company is not a candidate for the CTA, there are plenty of ways the Trade Commissioner Service can help your business,” Cohen says. “We will work with companies to find the program that best fits their needs.”
Philp agrees. “We fully expect to do one-on-one calls with potential applicants so that they can understand the benefits, process, and expectations. We want companies to make an informed choice before they proceed.”