Can you tell us when you arrived in San Diego to lead Canada’s presence? What were some of the impressions of the market and of its relationship to Canada before you came?
I arrived in San Diego in August 2015. Before I arrived, what I knew of San Diego was the presence of intense research capabilities. I also knew that San Diego is home to a large portion of the US Navy fleet, with several military bases. Because the city is right on the border with Mexico, my expectation was that Canada would likely to be a “third wheel” between that important Mexico-US relationship. While an important export destination for the region, not a lot of people know about it – being so far north.
Now having been working in San Diego for the past four years, how would you describe Canada’s presence in the market today?
Canada’s presence in San Diego starts with a highly effective Consulate, which has a large team of four staff members. That being said, the Government of Canada is not investing in a diplomatic mission in San Diego solely for its value as a market. Of course, we work with Canadian clients looking to do business in the region. But the main reason behind our presence here is the highly innovative ecosystem. The Consulate works and partners with the various local players, so Canadian early-stage companies can learn from them and reach commercialization faster through coaching and mentoring. The Consulate mainly works in the life science, defense and ICT sectors, always on the lookout for those large companies willing to partner with or co-develop Canadian technologies further.
Would you share a couple of examples where you have witnessed a high level of collaboration between Canada and the U.S. in San Diego and what is the implication/opportunity that others can learn from this?
The San Diego ecosystem has grown and rebuilt itself on innovation—so we mainly have this to work with locally. Our own internal analysis tells us this is where our greatest impact as a Consulate can be. The knowledge of how best to approach international markets is strong here. Local experts provide excellent value to small firms, helping to launch them towards global markets and eventually sales.
So to me, the greatest examples of collaboration relate to the special innovative ecosystem San Diego has, and how Canadian early-stage companies can learn from it. I strongly believe a company that is successful in its R&D stage today, is part of the pipeline to tomorrow’s commercialized technologies. When done properly, commercialization inevitably leads to pure trade success. Facilitating connections with those who can make it happen for our Canadian clients, that is our focus. Three main examples of collaboration come to mind.
Southern California Pharma Association (BIOCOM) partnered with the Consulate on our signature program “Building Relationships - Entrepreneurs & Dealmakers” (BREAD). The BREAD program offers pharma-focused Canadian biotech companies 5 months of customized advisory services, which concludes with a three (3) day in-market business program in San Diego. Such program is built around BIOCOM’s Partnering Conference, a key event during which our Canadian clients can truly use their improved strategic approach to partnering by meeting relevant strategic partners in person. BIOCOM’s assistance in bringing Canadians to their international partnering event is instrumental, as it helps us generate increased number of meetings with Global Pharma and Investors
Two years ago, the Consulate launched the idea of having a dedicated oceantech accelerator program for Canadian companies. With the help of a local consultant, a formal group of local experts was put together to coach and mentor five Canadian oceantech companies. The model was for the members of the SAGE (Special Advisory Group of Experts) to perform in-region and virtual incubation/acceleration for three months, preparing for a strategic B2B program at BlueTech Week. SAGE members were so dedicated to their task that all Canadian participants saw great success coming out of their participation, thanks to the highly valuable advice and connections provided.
Another example I have is our LEAP Program. Three years ago, the Consulate developed the program which is basically meant to Leverage San Diego ecosystem, Educate our Canadian startups, Accelerate their technology, and Promote Canadian expertise here in San Diego. The beauty of the program is that all of this is done by sending local experts to Canada. Because San Diego’s business ecosystem is highly innovative, we put in place the LEAP program in order to connect local resources to top Canadian early-stage clients identified in Canada. The coaching and mentoring offered in that program is meant to dig deep and be tough on company strategies. Tough but constructive comments are always based on a local reality Canadian clients will have to face at some point. The experts we partnered with actually travelled to Canada for a week, in order to have those strategic advisory meetings. They studied each of the 30 companies we introduced to them inside out. They showed a lot of dedication to coaching and helping them, in the name of good collaboration with the Consulate.
Looking back over the past four years, what examples can you point to as particular noteworthy with respect to Canada in San Diego?
Canada turned 150 years old in 2017. This was a great year for us in terms of promotion and raising awareness. The Government of Canada had a full-on promotional campaign that was rolled out all around the world. This truly helped us locally to make Canada a little more visible, and remind people everywhere of the valuable relationship we have with the US.
I could not NOT mention the NAFTA renegotiations as a key element of my four years in San Diego. All Consulates in the US had a clear mandate to advocate for a successful negotiation of NAFTA, meeting with political figures and various companies who would have been affected if a new deal could not be struck. With Mexico being so close and with San Diego being so well-integrated with sister city Tijuana, I must admit that it can be difficult for Canada to get attention in the region. While those were challenging times, the NAFTA advocacy campaign we were brought into really helped to raise Canada’s profile locally. Our contacts really seemed to care more about our perspective, asking more questions, wanting to understand our culture and values better. NAFTA negotiations certainly brought more attention onto Canada in San Diego, which was a great benefit to the overall relationship with San Diego.
It was such a great news for us (and the millions of jobs depending on the agreement) when the signing of the renewed agreement was announced. With the steel & aluminum tariffs having been removed, we’re now moving forward towards ratification of the USMCA.
On the military side, I would also note the ship visits we had from Canadian vessels. We had a frigate invited to participate in San Diego Fleet Week in 2016, and HMCS Yellowknife and Saskatoon participate twice in RIMPAC – which is the largest international maritime warfare exercise. Canada being committed to defending all of North America’s security, it only makes sense that we are deeply involved in RIMPAC. Those ships we contributed were Kingston-class coastal defense vessels. They are meant to be patrol ships, designed to perform minesweeping and coastal patrol work. Every time we had such visitors in San Diego, the Consulate took advantage of their presence to host networking events for its local contacts. Such a unique venue is always well appreciated by our guests.
By the way, did you know that HMCS stands for “Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship”? Every ship in the fleet of the Royal Canadian Navy has its name starting with “HMCS”.
Another key moment for the Consulate was the San Diego Mayor’s visit to Vancouver in June 2017, which we helped coordinate. Collaborating on this trade mission with the Mayor’s office and the World Trade Center truly brought the organizations closer together, and helped to better understand their priorities and objectives. But beyond this trade mission, I would say that the overall relationship developed with the Mayor’s office is a success story for the Consulate. Not only did Mayor Faulconer travel to Vancouver, he also generously agreed to meet and work with several visiting Canadian mayors (specifically the Mayors of Vancouver and Edmonton, and Alberta’s Minister of Industry, on their visits here). Mayor Faulconer always made time for Canada and I am truly thankful for his openness. You can tell that he just “gets it”. He gets it that Canada is a key trading partner for the region, and always will be.
Speaking of the Mayor, what has been the impact of Mayor Faulconer’s visit to Vancouver in 2017 and do you see ongoing ties between the cities?
I think the main impact of that mission has been better awareness. San Diego and Vancouver are two similar cities in size, with beautiful environments and landscapes, innovative business ecosystems, and a more liberal culture. It is interesting to note that this trip was Mayor Faulconer’s first international travel outside of Mexico. Canada was not selected lightly. The importance of the relationship but yet the limited interactions between the two regions weighted heavily in the selection of Vancouver as a destination. The Mayor being such an important public figure locally, his agreeing to jointly report on his trip during a press-conference with our Consul General really put a spotlight on Canada. I believe this press conference was a turning point, helping San Diegans and residents of Baja California realize how important Canada is for the region, and what it has to offer.
Our relationship with the Port of San Diego also took off during that mission. The Port is now a key partner for Canada, just like the Mexican city of Ensenada in the oceantech sector.
If you were to ask the Mayor or the San Diego World Trade Center about tangible results for San Diego, they would certainly tell you about Canadian pharma company Phoenix MD, who announced the expansion of its research team into San Diego after the mission.
Why should San Diegans and the overall business community “care about” Canada, especially with the region’s proximity to another great market - Mexico?
The U.S.-Canada trade relationship is a model for the world. It is growing, it is balanced, it is fair and it supports growth, innovation and good-paying jobs in both countries. Millions of good, middle-class jobs on both sides of the border depend on our partnership. In the United States alone, nearly 9 million jobs are linked to Canadian trade and investment. Many people don’t know but simply put, Canada is the United States #1 customer. Indeed, Canada buys more goods from the U.S. than China, Japan and the UK combined. Every day nearly US$2 billion worth of goods and services crosses the Canada-U.S. border.
As I mentioned before, Canada`s importance for the local economy is not well known here. On any given year, Canada is always amongst the top destinations for San Diego exports. Locally, there are over 50 Canadian-owned companies in SD county, directly employing over 5000 people. We have companies in the IT sector with hundreds of employees. We have companies involved in clean technologies, life science, banking, insurance, retail, you name it! As you can see, Canada`s footprint in San Diego is strong!
By the way, did you know that Circle K is Canadian-owned?
Beyond trade, the United States is Canada's most important ally and defense partner. Defense and security relations between our two countries are longstanding, well-entrenched, and highly successful. This relationship is forged by shared geography, common values and interests, deep historical connections, and highly integrated economies. From joint training exercises (such as the RIMPAC I mentioned earlier) to personnel exchanges, strategic policy discussions, and operational cooperation, our countries share a broad-based, dynamic, and mutually beneficial approach to defense. Canada and the U.S. share a deep and enduring relationship as NORAD partners, NATO Allies, and North American neighbors.
The close defense relationship between our two nations provides us both with greater security in North America, and contributes to peace and stability in the world in increasingly complex and uncertain times.
Would you tell us how the Canadian Consulate team is organized in San Diego? What services do you provide and with respect to business - which sectors do you focus on?
I’ve answered that question so many times over the last four years… First, I must say that this office is a satellite office of the Consulate General of Canada in Los Angeles. LA provides consular and visa services, we don’t. The Consulate of Canada in San Diego is a trade office only, an office which was originally open to enhance Canada’s presence within the innovative and research-intensive ecosystem San Diego has to offer. So in a nutshell, we work with our Canadian clients to help them be better connected to San Diego. We help them find the appropriate partner to further develop their technologies.
While our mandate is to help any Canadian client reaching out to us, our sectors of focus are ICT, life science, defense, and ocean technologies. Those sectors are hot locally and offer numerous business/partnership opportunities for Canada – because our companies have excellent technologies to share!
The Consulate is lucky to have two of the best sector officers in the entire Trade Commissioner Service network. Both have an industry background and can speak (and understand) the same “technical language” the companies speak. When it comes to understanding the business strategy, such experience is invaluable.
To answer your question regarding services, one of the core services of the TCS is to assist Canadian clients with assessing the potential of international markets. Mario and Cheryl have been with us for over 12 years, living and working in San Diego for over 20, so they truly know what the local ecosystem is about. Their knowledge and network of contacts is of great value to any client looking to partner with a local company. When clients active in other sectors reach out to us (mainly customer products, cleantech), our trade commissioner assistant Amandine Etter takes the lead on serving them. So whether it is to connect them to local buyers, explaining what San Diego is about or to assist them in further developing a new technology, Canadian clients rate our services quite high, with a satisfaction rate of 97%, much higher than the average in the US. That, I am very proud of. If clients are happy, I am happy.
Another service of the TCS that is of great value to the clients is preparation for international markets. Obviously, Canadian companies can get assistance in Canada prior to exporting, but we as a consulate can contribute to that learning curve by assessing their technology offering from a local needs perspective, even before they get here. Canadian companies have to have something unique and well-articulated before considering San Diego. Local competition is fierce and I see our mandate as preparing our own clients for such competition – making sure they are ready. Otherwise, they may not make it in the long run.
What should Canadian businesses know about San Diego that they might not?
San Diego is much more than a vacation destination, much more than a surfer town. It is obviously all those things, yes, but it is also a world-famous research hub. One thing that most Canadian may know but do not necessarily realize, is that this market is really hard to penetrate. You better be ready to explain in what way you are unique, and know how to demonstrate your advantage over competition. Otherwise, such competition will eat you alive. That is why we are trying to bring that knowledge to our clients, so they can adjust, pivot their business strategy or realign their technology in order to be as attractive as possible when they get here.
There is a lot to be excited about with respect to the tech/start-up communities in San Diego. Have Canadian firms had a role in the growth of the innovation/entrepreneurship landscape in the region?
You are right when you say that there is a lot to be excited about with respect to San Diego. San Diego IS innovation!
I mentioned earlier how I see Canada being in a position to learn from the regional ecosystem – that is a fact. That being said, Canada also has excellent innovation and disruptive technologies. It is in San Diego’s interest to take the time to sit down with us and find out about those new ideas Canada has to offer. Locally, innovation stakeholders must realize they should collaborate with us, the Consulate, to their own benefit. To create such excitement locally about Canada is also part of our mandate at the Consulate.
Over the years, this region developed key partnerships with Canada, from which it greatly benefited.
About 10 years ago, an important partnership provided the basis for discussions that led to the formation of a $120 Million "Canada-California Strategic Innovation Partnership in Cancer Stem Cells." Dream teams of 40 top Canada-California researchers were built cross-border to solve the issues surrounding patients with leukemia. As a result of establishing and maintaining such longstanding relationships between Canada and California, companies and organizations on both sides have grown.
More recently, we saw EvoNexus proudly announcing the creation of a new fintech accelerator program, partnering with Royal Bank of Canada on this project worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, which will help local startups grow.
So yes, Canada can also contribute positively to the innovation ecosystem, and not only benefit from it.
We understand that you and your family will soon be moving to Brussels to take on your next mission for Canada. At a personal level, what will you miss most about San Diego and what do you see as the opportunity for Canada and San Diego in the next 4-5 years?
Yes, our next life chapter will take place in Europe. After four years of learning how the Science, Technology & Innovation business line should be managed from our internal government perspective, I will continue on the same path. I have accepted the position of STI Advisor at Canada’s Mission to the EU. When I work with the EU developing joint-research funding programs, my time in SD will certainly serve me well in better understanding the challenges Canadian companies face when they are looking to take advantage of such partnerships.
As for San Diego, what is NOT to be missed?? The sunshine, the perfect climate? I will obviously miss it. The cool California vibe? I will miss it. My highly dedicated team? I will certainly miss them. They were at the center of the successes this office generated during the past four years. It may work like that in other places, but I will also miss the highly collaborative business environment we have in San Diego. A level of openness and collaboration which, I must admit, surprised me from the very beginning. But you get used to it and end up taking it for granted. It is organizations like you, MAPLE Business Council, that contribute to maintaining such high level of collaboration alive.
It was certainly a pleasure to be part of this vibrant ecosystem. I was quickly included and I want to thank everyone who let me be a part of it.
Merci beaucoup et au revoir!
Can you tell us when you arrived in San Diego to lead Canada’s presence? What were some of the impressions of the market and of its relationship to Canada before you came?