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Toronto-based Mako Invent’s Kevin Mako: Global offices help with taking on global projects. (JENNIFER ROBERTS For The Globe and Mail)
Toronto-based Mako Invent’s Kevin Mako: Global offices help with taking on global projects. (JENNIFER ROBERTS For The Globe and Mail)

Global Commerce Insider

Attention Canadian businesses: Each office abroad means a new set of rules Add to ...

While Kevin Mako helps inventors make their global dreams a reality, he has had to figure out how to have a global presence to help make that happen.

Opening offices abroad includes mastering the requirements that are specific to each location, but there is help for Canadian businesses seeking a global presence.

In the 10 years since founding his company in Toronto, Mr. Mako has been all over North America, made regular trips to Europe and China, and in 2014 opened a second office in Austin, Tex.

The kinds of projects that his Mako Invent takes on vary widely, but the basic premise is that it is a one-stop shop for anyone with an idea on a napkin. Mako Invent then takes that idea and conceptualizes it, does the design work, applies for patents where necessary, and markets the finished product.

One client the company worked with resulted in PetBot, an in-home robot with a camera device that allows pet owners to check on their animals remotely, call to them through a prerecorded message or dispense a treat through a smartphone app.

Another recent association with a client produced MakerArm, a digital fabrication system that can 3-D print, carve, laser or assemble, all from a desktop.

With Mr. Mako’s Austin location now starting to be profitable, the president of the 25-person company with annual revenue in the range of $3-million to $5-million is turning his attention to London as he attempts to build a stronger presence in Europe.

“There’s a tremendous amount of value to the clients in having multiple locations,” Mr. Mako says. “We’re able to tap into the best talent from each of those locations – that’s probably the biggest benefit.”

Another key benefit is the ability to take on projects that either are global or intend to be global.

“There are only a handful of firms in the world that can do that in our industry,” he says.

He identified London as the company’s destination of choice because of its support for startups and easy access to the European market, then set about learning what it would take to open another office there. He consulted with friends and other business owners that had made the move to Britain, and employed multiple lawyers and accountants to take care of the fine details.

Having gone through the process two years ago when he opened the office in Austin, he was aware of some of the peculiarities that these kinds of moves bring. For instance, the company had to lease an office in Austin ahead of applying for the right to open an office there, putting $50,000 (U.S.) on the line.

“Since I’ve already done this once, I understand what I need to go through [moving to London] a little bit better … but they still have their own business climate there which has its own unique situations,” he says.

Mr. Mako is applying through Britain’s Tech City, a government-funded organization that aims to help startups. Each year it grants a limited number of visas to global experts. While Mr. Mako is confident it will eventually work out, it’s not an easy process.

“It’s very rigorous,” he says. “You have to have all sorts of supporting documentation, you have to have awards, you have to be recognized by two global experts as a global expert, get letters of referral.”

Assuming everything goes according to plan, Mr. Mako plans on finding some office space and hiring three or four people to work for him in London over the next 18 months.

“The nice advantage of having a presence [in different global cities] is the best people want to be part of this team and therefore we get to pick from the cream of the crop,” he says.

To this end, the Canadian government provides a number of programs to help Canadian businesses in their overseas dealings, such as CanExport, launched by Global Affairs Canada in January of this year. It provides matching contributions of $10,000 to $100,000 toward export development costs to small and medium-sized enterprises looking to develop a new market.

In addition, the Canadian Trade Commissioners Service, which has more than 160 offices around the world and across Canada, helps Canadian companies in their overseas business dealings, whether that is relocating abroad, exporting or seeking technology or research-and-development partnerships.

The Trade Commissioner Service in Britain says it estimates there are 574 Canadian companies in the country, while Canada had an estimated $93-billion of foreign direct investment in Britain in 2015.

The Trade Commissioner Service aids Canadian companies by providing market intelligence and research on the market in their sectors. It also can identify potential partners or customers, and connect a company with UK Trade & Investment, a British government department designed to help overseas investors move into the British market.

It also cautions a company on the difficulty of moving into a place like London.

“The key thing to remember in the U.K. is that it is extremely competitive,” says Greg Houlahan, minister-counsellor (commercial-economic) and senior trade commissioner at the High Commission of Canada in London. “It’s a world financial centre in London. All of the major corporations throughout the world in any sector have some kind of presence here.”

As a result, Mr. Houlahan says finding local partners can be very beneficial in helping Canadian companies find their feet.

“You need someone who’s going to help guide you through the local business customs and culture, so that’s where we try and support Canadian companies when they’re expanding their business or looking for business opportunities here,” he says.

One of the services provided by the Canadian Trade Commissioners Service in London is through its Canadian technology accelerator. It was opened two years ago, and, since then, 23 Canadian companies have gone through it.

“Basically, this is a series of mentoring, presentations, key connections and we provide a workspace and all of the additional support,” Mr. Houlahan says. “We’ll do it generally up to a three-month period so it helps them get a soft landing here in the U.K.”

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