Selling South

A bigger investment in U.S. government security means Canadian technology companies that normally supply the Canadian government should consider looking south for new business. That was the word at the recent U.S. Market Primer in Toronto, where one former FBI official even suggested that Canadian businesses may have a leg up on their American competitors.

Skip Brandon, a founding partner at Smith Brandon International, said Canadian companies enjoy a good reputation in the U.S. In fact, when he worked with the FBI, the department was using so many Canadian resources that it was accused by some of ignoring hometown companies.

“We have a lot of things in common that make you a natural,” Brandon said. “Don’t back away from doing business with the U.S. government. The question is, how do you do it?”

The answer, he explained, is found once Canadian businesses get over the idea that the U.S. government is too daunting as a business partner.

“Homeland defence is the buzz word right now and that is what you are looking at,” Brandon advised tech business managers at the Information Technology Association of Canada Ontario (ITACO)-sponsored session.

“On the non-military side alone, US$38 billion has been requested and will be approved. Where is it going to go? New technology, new ideas and new thinking.”

Judy Bradt, director of business development at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, agreed that the new focus in the region is security.

“How sexy is insurance? On Sept. 10, spending a lot of money so nothing would happen was pretty dull,” she said. “On Sept. 12, there was nothing hotter in town.”

So hot, in fact, that Bradt guarantees those interested could have “breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week attending seminars on security” in the Washington area, which includes Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

Where security was once only fashionable when needed, it is now here to stay, she said.

“Security is now gone from old news to being a new way of life. It is no longer a flash in the pan. It is with us, because there are mischief-makers out there and they are going to be out there for a long time and they are fundamentally changing the way business protects itself.”

Because of those mischief-makers, organizations are now asking themselves new questions about employee safety and asset protection.

“If the services or products you offer can answer some of those questions, then there is business for you in Washington,” Bradt said. “Canada and U.S. free trade means that you can sell. If you want a customer that has deep pockets, one who pays its bills and is basically next door and one that guarantees you a level playing field, Washington is it.”

She explained that the critical applications in Washington right now are data mining, data storage, data analysis and anything that answers fundamental questions.

And if an eager market weren’t enough to attract business, Brandon said, Canadian companies shouldn’t even “wait until the pen is ready to write with.”

“Start looking for applications in the security area because that’s where the money is

and if you come up with a good idea that is in the R&D stage, sometimes you can get some help.”

And while that doesn’t necessarily mean a guaranteed contract, it certainly does mean that businesses have an advantage.

“They will pay you to make the product they need if you can convince them that they need it,” Brandon said.

Other Canadian Trade Commission Service representatives spoke about cultural differences business owners should be aware of before seeking venture capital or business in the U.S.

Philippe Wahba of the New York City Canadian Trade Office, said because New York is home to many Fortune 500 companies, Canadian companies should only come to the city when in at least the second or third stage of product development.

“The company should already have funding in Canada and a Canadian venture capitalist lined up to deal with the American,” he said. “They shouldn’t be looking for less than US$5 million, because it’s just not worth the time.”

But Bill O’Connor, a consultant at San Francisco-based Muse Creative Consulting, said it is vital to create relationships in different regions before product completion. “Go down there and chat,” he said about Silicon Valley. “The economy is a network and there is nothing that stands alone now in the new economy.”

Julie Clow is a staff writer for IT World Canada ( and can be reached at [email protected].

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