While many early stage companies in Canada tend to focus on growing within a familiar North American market, according to many members of the startup community, looking beyond these borders is imperative to combatting Canada’s scalability issue. In a few weeks, 10 early stage Canadian companies will get the chance to experience a new culture, long and fast-paced work days, an international marketplace, and a line of opportunities for investment and growth in the second cohort of the China Angels Mentorship Program (CAMP) in Beijing, China.
Having direct business ties to an international marketplace can play an important role in helping startups establish their international presence, but companies often lack the resources, funding, and connections to help them do so. In order to help them overcome these obstacles, CAMP, a joint initiative of Ontario Centres of Excellence and the China-Canada Angels Alliance (CCAA), offers companies looking to gain an international presence the opportunity to participate in an accelerator program that will enable them to scale their businesses internationally.
“When they’re introduced to Chinese companies doing similar things, they will become friends and potential partners. They will learn from each other.”
– Aron Solomon, LegalX co-founder & executive member of CAMP
Similar to CAMP’s first cohort that travelled to Beijing in November 2015, 10 companies that specialize in areas of medical services, education, and legal innovation were selected to participate in this year’s CAMP Accelerator program. The companies, which receive an initial investment ranging from $100,000 to $500,000, will travel to Beijing for two weeks in October where they will meet leading investors in China, learn how businesses operate in the Chinese marketplace, and build their network of partners, mentors, and investors. The entrepreneurs will then spend the next year receiving mentorship from both Canadian and Chinese investors and mentors to help their businesses adapt to new markets and ideas.
Alan Yang, the vice president of CCAA, says the program is meant to build a bridge between Canada and China, by allowing the selected companies to scale their businesses in the world’s fastest-growing marketplace, while also allowing Chinese investors and companies to integrate into the Canadian ecosystem.
“What we’re trying to do is develop a long-term plan. We don’t just want to have a few deals and boss some Canadian companies around and take them to China. We want to be a part of the local ecosystem in Canada,” said Yang.
Cyclica, a company that has developed a predictive analytics platform that can model and predict the effectiveness, side effects, and safety of pharmaceutical drugs, will be among those participating in CAMP.
“We can generate some commercial traction and get in front of China’s life science industry. I’m interested in that because it’s going to provide us with an opportunity to immerse ourselves, understand the customs, the norms, and the business practices of the Chinese market,” said Naheed Kurji, president and CEO of Cyclica. “We’ll see not only how they do business in China, but also how they view foreign direct investment and how they look to do business with foreign entities.”
While some of the Canadian companies are looking to integrate directly into the Chinese market, others do not necessarily see China as their immediate next or even long-term market. Regardless, Yang says being introduced to Beijing’s investors, entrepreneurs, and market will bring value and new opportunities for each company to learn and grow.
“We don’t mind what the company’s long-term goal is. Even if they want to focus on the North American market, we are Chinese advisors. What we can bring is our understanding of the Chinese market and our connections in China,” said Yang. “We can use CAMP to give them funding help and other kinds of help. The top companies do what’s best for them.”
To select which companies would participate in the program this year, members of the OCE, Canadian experts, and program mentors got together to assess which companies have the passion and potential to open their businesses to a larger market while learning about how businesses operate in other parts of the world. Although there isn’t a set criteria through which companies are selected, Aron Solomon, co-founder of LegalX and an executive member of the CAMP program, says both the Chinese and Canadian investors and mentors get together to look for companies that they can notably impact with their resources and expertise.
“The main criteria is that we as a group, particularly the folks on the ground in Beijing, need to be able to make an active contribution to the company,” said Solomon. “So if it’s an area that’s so esoteric that we don’t have expertise for it, we won’t take them.”
When in Beijing, the two weeks will move very quickly as Canadian companies will be introduced to an entirely different way of operating businesses compared to North America. The entrepreneurs will be able to meet with leading Chinese companies like Xiaomi to learn about their history and how they have grown. Depending on the needs of the companies, they will also have the opportunity to meet with experts and specialists who can offer specialized mentorship for a company’s intended goals. They will be able to listen to keynote speeches by Chinese entrepreneurs and advisors, and meet with investors to discuss what they look for in Canadian companies. Among the investors is River VC, a larger venture capital fund that works with CCAA to invest in the growth of the companies. According to Solomon, CCAA was “the most active angel investor in all of Canada in 2015.”
“The investors are well-versed in the art and science of entrepreneurial training. They take them [entrepreneurs] to great companies and give them inside views of companies that North Americans never ever see,” said Solomon. “The investors will go deeper in investment as long as the companies keep hitting their milestones and communicating with the investors.”
Along with understanding business in China, the companies will immerse into the Chinese workflow by spending several hours a day applying what they learn from advisors directly to their own businesses, so they can pitch to other Chinese investors they haven’t met at the end of their trip.
“Be willing to learn from investors, be willing to learn from China.”
– Alan Yang, VP of CCAA
While some companies who are in their early stages of revenue and growth have expressed concern that their ideas and concepts may be taken by Chinese entrepreneurs, both Yang and Solomon assure them that the program is meant to make entrepreneurs in both countries work together, learn from each other, and integrate into each other’s ecosystems.
“What I want to say is that a lot of Chinese, they want to buy a company out and take the technology. We just want to be part of the local ecosystem and help and be there for long term,” said Yang. “When they’re introduced to Chinese companies doing similar things, they will become friends and potential partners. They will learn from each other.”
Because Beijing’s culture and fast-paced lifestyle will be new to several of the companies, Yang and Solomon suggest that maintaining an open mind and commitment to learning will help the companies succeed during their time there.
“You have to be really open to experience and learning. I would suggest to each of these companies to take time a couple times a day to reflect and meditate upon your experience because things are coming at you so fast,” said Solomon. “The number one thing I could say before getting on the plane to Beijing is be willing to learn from the investors, be willing to learn from China and be very open to the experience.”
The second cohort of the CAMP Accelerators program will be in Beijing from Oct. 15 to Oct. 29. The full cohort includes:
Stack Fintech: Stack is a smart digital money account that leverages technology and your network to empower financial IQ!
Cyclica: Cyclica uses its technology to provide life-saving therapeutics at an affordable price.
Mosaic Manufacturing: Mosaic technology lets users print with multiple filaments on a single extruder 3D printer, with no wires or modifications.
Law Scout: A platform connecting small businesses to lawyers who work online at upfront, fixed fees.
Cryptiv: Cryptiv’s software empowers organizations to manage blockchain-enabled digital assets.
Sage Senses: IoT-embedded machine learning software with 1,000 times acceleration.
Directive Communication Systems : The first and only estate management solution that helps attorneys and personal representatives organize and contact personal accounts to fulfill wills.
TritonWear advances competitive swimming by providing real-time feedback and long-term tracking of swimmers performance data to coaches.
Industry Corporation: Helps businesses and consumers become more engaged, informed, and entertained through the power of screens.