“‘Deals made here” – the motto of this year’s Softworld conference – was a good choice for the event.
The annual forum drew about 800 tech executives from 30 countries to Vancouver, with the primary goal of developing strategic alliances, partnerships, mergers and industry contacts.
Vince Taylor, marketing director at SideWare Systems Inc. in North Vancouver, came to the show with the hopes of snagging some overseas licensing agreements.
“We are well funded already, and things are good. So we may be a little bit of an anomaly at Softworld, but we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to present our products to the international market,” he said.
“It really doesn’t matter where you are located anymore. I think that whatever our needs are here, those are represented in all countries. So if we have identified a need, and a product to solve it, then that translates well – no matter what language you speak or where you happen to live.”
Taylor was especially impressed with the calibre of IT professionals he met at the event.
“It’s been an excellent experience for us, the quality of the traffic has been outstanding – the people are knowledgeable. These are not tire-kickers here – these are real people trying to further their business.”
Other companies’ prime goals were exposure and awareness.
“The actual action – the real world – is out where the companies are. So we are visiting companies to work with them and help them take on new technologies,” said Walter Wardrop, industrial technology advisor with the Vancouver-based Alliance of Manufacturer & Exporters Canada, which is affiliated with the National Research Council.
“More often then not, this means putting them in touch with different groups and organizations, potential networking partners, venture capitalists – there are a whole variety of different ways that we can help them,” he said.
“We do not have a large budget for advertising – we are probably one of the best-kept secrets of the Canadian government. The old slogan ‘I’m from the government, I’m here to help you’ is a bit of a joke at times, but in this case there’s actually a lot of truth to it.”
According to Wardrop, the event allows you to “pick up a lot of business cards, you make a lot of contacts,” but some of the calls don’t come until months later, he said.
Greg Kiessling, chairman and co-founder of Toronto-based KL Group Inc., came to the show to create networking opportunities and find potential distribution partners. He was pleased with the Canadian government representation but “a little underwhelmed” at the amount of American presence.
“I thought that there would be more of an American financing spin on the whole thing, but there are very few American companies here.”
The size of the event also presented a bit of a challenge, he said.
“The show is big enough now – it can’t get a lot bigger – but it’s so diverse. Of the thousand people here, there’s probably 20 that I really want to talk to.”
David Martin, chairman and CEO of Calgary-based SMART Technologies Inc., said the primary reason he attended was to create awareness about his company’s new software offerings.
“The most important thing for us was the quality of the people. The [attendees] are looking to partner, which means that they are probably more senior in the organization – and we’ve had some good discussions with people, which might have been difficult in a normal trade show environment.”
In retrospect, Martin wishes he had done more preparation for the show. “There are a lot of networking possibilities, but it’s never enough to find the people who you are trying to find,” he said.
“Ironically, I think we will sell a bunch of products from being here, which was not our reason for coming, but that’s okay. It’s possible that it will take three to six months before some of the interactions are going to lead to potential discussions.”
Ken Hughes, CEO of Calgary-based Teck Trak Corp., also at the show to form partnerships, found it a great opportunity to meet with industry people.
“If one tenth of the people who I talked to come through, then it will be a good deal,” he said.
Scott Ferris, director of marketing and communications with Charlottetown-based Simscape Development Corp., was successful in striking up a lucrative partnership with another company.
“I wanted to come home with at least five really, really good leads that would help us on the research and development side of things or the software delivery side,” he said.
Attendee David Lee Chay Tiam, president and CEO of Singapore-based Brain Capital Technologies Ltd., came to the show to find Canadian companies that could provide a gateway to North American business. He said the show exceeded his expectations.
“I find Canadians very interesting people to work with, and think they are positioned well to do software business,” he said. “[Canadians] are less brash and less direct than Americans. The software business is very creative – it requires a lot of patience and time.”
Vancouver was the first Canadian city Tiam had visited. His impressions: “The food is great, the companies are great, and the rain is not so bad.”