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Miriam Tuerk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Toronto-based Clear Blue Technologies Inc.Handout

Off-grid power has the potential to bring renewable energy to devices from street lamps to cellphone towers and WiFi hot-spots. However, making equipment run properly on solar and wind energy is critical.

That's where Clear Blue Technologies Inc. comes in. The Toronto company's products, which control, monitor and maintain off-grid power systems, seek to revolutionize energy delivery around the world, with sales in 33 countries and growing.

"We've learned fast," says Miriam Tuerk, co-founder and chief executive officer of the company, which was founded in 2011. They began by bootstrapping the development of the technology and operating out of her home, she said, and they launched its first products in 2014.

Ms. Tuerk, an electrical engineer by training, calls Clear Blue's technology the "brains" of devices that use renewable energy. It is designed to improve their reliability, she says, reducing the operating costs of off-grid systems by 80 per cent and extending their life. The key to the technology is a cloud-based system that connects the devices to a monitoring centre in Toronto that remotely controls and maintains them.

The company has lighting installations in Toronto's Bloor West Village and along Mountain Brow Boulevard in Hamilton, and it sees a significant market in off-grid infrastructure renewal projects here at home. But exports are key. They currently represent 90 per cent of Clear Blue revenues, Ms. Tuerk says, with about 3,000 projects around the world in sectors such as telecom, rail, traffic management and oil and gas.

The company's export strategies include taking advantage of resources such as Export Development Canada and the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, and the Ministry of International Trade in Ontario, which has assisted Clear Blue in getting greater visibility and profile. For example, it helped to finance the development of the company's global go-to-market strategy, as well as involving it in trade shows such as the annual Mobile World Congress.

Clear Blue has looked for customers in markets with an appetite for off-grid power, starting with Africa, where it has sales in seven countries and has plans to soon expand to six more. The new target this year is South America.

It's critical in such markets to "understand the culture and how people do business there," Ms. Tuerk says, noting that it helps that the company's staff of 30 (it plans to grow to 45 by the end of March) is highly multicultural. It's important to gain experience in a region, get references and work with partners on the ground there, she says, as well as to team up with companies and organizations with significant projects for which its smart off-grid systems can be a part.

For example, the Department of Homeland Security has installed Clear Blue's technology in security cameras and lights along the border between Arizona and Mexico. The company is also collaborating in the Telecom Infra Project, an initiative co-founded in 2016 by companies such as Intel Corp., Nokia Corp. and Facebook Inc., that is designed to improve connectivity in remote communities throughout the world.

"The internet is one of the most powerful forces shaping our society, but in rural areas around the world, billions of people are being left behind," Ms. Tuerk says.

She adds that one-quarter of the world's population does not have reliable access to power for outdoor lighting and critical infrastructure like hospitals and schools, which "hinders economic inclusion." The fact that Canadian technology can help is gratifying, Ms. Tuerk says, noting that Canada has an excellent "manufacturing backbone" for her company's products and is considered a trusted and reliable country with which to do business.

Clear Blue's export challenges range from the sheer complexity of the logistics of doing business in 33 countries to raising capital for growth. Ms. Tuerk says it is difficult for early-stage companies to get venture capital in Canada and they should "consider other sources of funding." Clear Blue has received about $10-million in private investments; most recently it got $400,000 for its scale-up activities from the Ontario Federal Economic Development Agency (FedDev Ontario).

Jane Kearns, senior advisor for cleantech at the MaRS Discovery District, says that an international strategy and access to global markets are critical for Canadian companies in the sector. MaRS data show that 68 per cent of cleantech companies' revenues in 2016 came from exports.

"It can be complicated getting a foothold in these markets," warns Ms. Kearns, from the extra time and expense involved to the fact that each has its own cultural norms, regulations and legal structure.

It's important to have local agents to partner with and large companies to sell through, which brings credibility and market access, she says. "And you need to be confident that your technology is solid, so when you deploy it elsewhere, you've worked out the bugs."

Canada has a "really good name" in fields such as energy storage, renewables and control systems like Clear Blue's smart off-grid technologies, she says, which have all kinds of potential.

"There's a massive opportunity there, and it's also socially really important," Ms. Kearns says, adding that it is exciting that Canada is playing a role in the global market for the technology. "It's game changing for lots of parts of the world."

Ms. Tuerk advises companies like hers to "find the right partners to get the conversation at the right level," and to "learn by selling," even if they aren't successful at first. "It's important to fail fast and learn and iterate quickly," she says.

Her key message: "Don't say 'I'll export in the future," which wastes time. "Time is the No. 1 enemy, because time costs money,'" and foreign markets are the way to go, she adds. "The part of the world that is downtown Toronto is pretty small."