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As competition rises, Canada must stake its claim in wireless market Add to ...

Whether you are preparing to start the day in Montreal, Beijing, or New Delhi, you are likely thinking about the path of least resistance to work. Traffic congestion is an increasing challenge in metropolitan cities around the world. A global challenge requires a global solution. Enter GreenOwl Mobile. This Markham firm has created novel traffic reporting application that helps commuters plan and manage their daily drives. It notifies users of traffic problems and delays in real time before they hit the road. It is a Canadian wireless product that addresses an international problem – and an international market. Fortunately, GreenOwl is a globally-oriented Canadian company.

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So how exactly does a firm ‘go and grow global’, particularly in the highly competitive wireless applications sector? It is increasingly challenging to develop an app that stands out among the crowd – and generates the revenue required to build a sustainable company. Leveraging technology development support and global market linkages from Wavefront, Canada’s wireless accelerator, the firm transformed their idea into a prototype and marketed it internationally. Within nine months, the firm secured deals with two of the world’s largest multimedia giants and millions of dollars in new business. Today, this Canadian wireless application is available to more than 100 million potential customers around the world. The company is now expanding into the United States, South Africa, and Europe.

The success of GreenOwl underscores a key economic imperative. If we are to grow a stronger and more prosperous Canadian economy, we must grow more export-oriented Canadian technology companies. According to Deloitte’s Report on The Future of Productivity, firms that successfully launch operations across and outside Canada tend to enjoy higher growth, more innovation and better prospects than businesses that stay local. Competitive intensity is a key driver of their success. These firms cannot afford to be complacent in an unrelenting battle to stay ahead of the competition. In the same way, Canada cannot resort to the same trade and industrial development approaches if we are to ratchet-up our economic growth.

Canada has relied heavily on the export of natural resources for many decades. As a hotbed of technological innovation, Canada has the potential to become one of the world’s greatest suppliers of novel ideas and technologies. Canada’s wireless sector offers a strong foundation on which to build such a paradigm within our trade agenda. Disruptive mobile technologies have the potential to jumpstart Canada’s productivity, and unlock new opportunities for wealth creation. But it will take more globally-oriented wireless firms such as GreenOwl to achieve these gains. If Canadian wireless SMEs are to build sustainable companies that propel our economy, they must pursue revenues beyond our borders. It is simply a necessity.

Canada represents less than three per cent of the global wireless market. Emerging mobile markets in South America, South East Asia, China, Africa and the Middle East are growing at lightning speed – and creating immense and immediate commercial opportunity. Today, there are more smart phones in use in India than North America – more than 550 million. And this number is growing. A minimum of 15 to 20 million people acquire new mobile technologies or services in India every month. This is equivalent to the number of mobile users in Canada. The rate and scale of this growth is unparalleled – and other countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria, and Kenya are on a similar trajectory. Wireless firms who get in on the ground floor of markets will be well positioned for dramatic growth. The opportunity is far greater than wireless network installations and hand set sales. These nations are seeking mobile solutions to address large-scale economic and social challenges. Who will be their supplier of choice? As a country, we cannot sit on the sidelines. This is an urgent call to get in the global wireless game.

Canada can – and must – become a net exporter of mobile technology. Many of our wireless innovations could be applied to worldwide challenges in life sciences, energy, agriculture, environment and transportation, but they never make it past our front door. These global markets and revenues are ours to claim. But it requires far more companies that are export-driven and structured for growth from the earliest stages of development. If we don’t mobilize for action now, we will be shut out of these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

Companies such as Redline Communications know this well. Global from its inception, this Markham firm is a leading manufacturer and innovator of high-speed M2M communications systems and applications. A staggering 90 per cent of Redline revenue is generated outside of Canada. More than 175 customers in energy, defence, government and telecommunications rely on this rugged Canadian wireless technology to connect people and machines in some of the world’s most challenging environments. These networking solutions provide reliable and secure connectivity in oil fields, deserts, military bases, the Arctic and other remote environments in 75 countries. A key to their global success: early engagement of trusted local partners who market and support these wireless products in the Americas, the Middle East and Africa. It is highly strategic for a growing Canadian company that aims to dominate a growing segment of the global wireless market. How can we enable more of our firms to chart similar frontiers?

With targeted technical, business and global market support, we can cultivate more Canadian wireless companies with the international drive and critical mass required to achieve worldwide success. In the past, it may have taken a generation to grow a multinational. In the dynamic wireless space, this is no longer the case. Take HootSuite. In August, 2013, this Vancouver-based company raised $165-million from US investors. This social media management company achieved a billion dollar valuation in less than a decade. And it continues to take the global market by storm enabling users to manage multiple social media accounts from any wireless device.

It is time to catalyze this same growth with other high-potential, globally-oriented firms. And wireless is the sector to do it. We can begin by:

  • Aligning economic development imperatives and investments with Canada’s technology strengths and global market opportunities;
  • Developing integrated industrial and trade policy that stimulates company creation and global acceleration in high-growth sectors such as wireless; this could include tax incentives for companies that market new technologies internationally;
  • Allocating greater public and private investment to the highest potential wireless SMEs to ensure they have the capital required to scale-up and expand into global markets; and
  • Leveraging Canadian executives with an international track record to help cultivate and mentor the next generation of globally-oriented industry leaders.

We have important lessons to learn from GreenOwl, Redline and HootSuite. These successful wireless firms capitalized on global market windows at the just the right time in the right way – and they continue to reap the rewards. Canada’s time is now. The velocity of mobile market growth in emerging economies is unprecedented. We must seize this window before it closes, and bring our mobile companies global. It requires the right international industrial and trade strategy, action and investment to help them get there. We can become one of the world’s leading exporters of wireless technology and build an economy founded on sustainable multinational firms. The opportunity is ours for the taking. If we ignore it, we do so at our economic peril.

James Maynard is a former entrepreneur and industry executive, and President and CEO of Wavefront, a Centre of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR) that accelerates the growth and success of wireless companies by connecting them with critical resources, partners and opportunities, to drive economic and social benefits for Canada.

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