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Adam Harris of C-Therm Technologies in New Brunswick is just back from a two-week trade mission to Brazil, where he landed several solid sales prospects for his firm's instruments, which measure thermal conductivity. (James West for The Globe and Mail)
Adam Harris of C-Therm Technologies in New Brunswick is just back from a two-week trade mission to Brazil, where he landed several solid sales prospects for his firm's instruments, which measure thermal conductivity. (James West for The Globe and Mail)

International expansion

After U.S. meltdown, international markets step up Add to ...

If Adam Harris, managing director of a lab equipment startup in Fredericton, N.B., is a little exuberant these days, blame it on Rio.

"It's been a good year so far," enthused Mr. Harris of C-Therm Technologies Ltd., just back from a two-week trade mission to Brazil, where he partnered with a local distributor and landed several solid sales prospects for his firm's instruments, which measure thermal conductivity.

While there last month, as part of a delegation led by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Mr. Harris toured the research facilities at Brazil's national oil corporation, Petrobras, and met senior officials at Petrobras and 20 other organizations interested in doing business with Canada. C-Therm had established long-distance relationships with some of them well in advance of the Rio trip and sold its first unit in Brazil earlier this year.

"We installed it during the trip," Mr. Harris said. The client was the Institute for Technical Research, one of the country's leading research institutions, "so it's a great reference client for us."

C-Therm, which was launched in 2007 by entrepreneur Chuck Cartmill, has always had a global focus, but the recession made the case for geographic diversification even more compelling. The company is now placing greater marketing emphasis on Brazil, Russia, India and China, "which are widely documented as significant emerging economies," Mr. Harris said.

"Our U.S. sales were down considerably last year, but we were able to offset that quite a bit with improved traction in places like China," Mr. Harris said in a telephone interview from Fredericton. "I think what we have done quite effectively is refocus our efforts on these emerging markets."

C-Therm's lab instruments are used to measure the thermal properties of liquids, powders, pastes and solids and have a range of applications in the petrochemical, pharmaceutical, electronics and other industries. The company's clients include Procter & Gamble in the United States, Dupont in Japan, the United States Navy and the Canadian Explosives Research Lab.

The emerging economies are a logical source of new business as they invest in research and development and build up their industrial bases, said Mr. Harris, who has made two follow-up visits to China since participating in a 2008 trade mission led by New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham. Russia and India are next on Mr. Harris's itinerary.

For most small- and medium-sized enterprises in Canada, however, the United States is still viewed as the most promising area for trade growth, according to a global trade confidence survey released yesterday by HSBC Bank Canada, a subsidiary of HSBC Holdings plc, which operates in 88 countries.

More than 55 per cent of the Canadian 300 SMEs that participated in the survey said they expected the most trade growth to come from the United States in the first half of 2010, while 16 per cent rated Greater China as the most promising region for bilateral trade growth. Five per cent cited Southeast Asia and another five per cent saw Latin America as a promising trade partner.

The United States is still the No. 1 trade partner to Canada," Bill Nowicki, New York-based executive vice-president and head of trade and supply chain for HSBC North America, said in an interview.

"There's a comfort level, there's a history there," Mr. Nowicki said, adding that organizations such as Export Development Canada provide invaluable assistance to Canadian enterprises hoping to establish the business relationships they need to break into foreign markets outside of North America.

EDC opened doors for Lisa Shields, president and chief executive officer of Vancouver-based hyperWALLET Systems Inc., which provides electronic fund transfer services for multinational corporations with far-flung work forces and suppliers. Her firm, established 10 years ago, now has a "network reach" of 40 countries, 20 operating currencies, and website and payment applications available in 10 international languages, she said in an interview.

Any business hoping to expand abroad should "call up EDC, explain who you are and get on the list," Ms. Shields said. "You can't just say 'go get me business' - but their mission is to help Canadian companies improve exports … and when an opportunity does come up that they know about, they will let you know.

"It has absolutely borne fruit for us. We have had in-bound sales calls from EDC.''

Canadian trade consulates and embassies around the globe are also a key - and free - resource. "They want to help - and do they ever have local connections and local knowledge that you pay the great sum of zero for tapping into!

"If you have communicated effectively with them in advance … they are really going to show you some love," said Ms. Shields, who has also leveraged existing business relationships - including the relationship with her bank, HSBC - for introductions to prospective new clients and business partners.

"They [HSBC]have helped us walk into, gosh, about 20 different countries through correspondent relationships and introductions to local bankers there."

Outside the comfort zone

C-Therm's six steps to success

1) Prep time: "Yes, our trip to Brazil was very successful, but we probably put in a year's worth of time getting ready for that trip," managing director Adam Harris said.

2) Leverage existing relationships: "See if you can get a friendly introduction. It's much easier than cold-calling."

3) Follow-up: "You can't go just once and expect that, all of a sudden, that market is turned on. You are developing trust, you are developing a sense of awareness of each other in terms of your partners in that market, so you have got to take your time."

4) Leverage technology: It is not a replacement for face-to-face meetings, but it keeps the communication going. "Things like webinars and Skype are quite helpful."

5) Free advice: Contact the foreign embassies and trade consulates. "We want to make them aware of us, that we are entering this space, what our markets are, who our target clients are and see if they have any suggestions … They want to help, and sometimes they can be a significant help."

6) Listen and observe: "Different markets have different dynamics. As much as we want to do things our North American way, you have to be flexible and listen and observe what the local climate is like. If you don't, you are going to come off as fairly ignorant."

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