The newspaper ad was so small, Clara Steele almost missed it.
But that two-inch ad was all it took to foster big change at TesMan, a Sudbury-based mining service company run by Steele and her husband, Rod. It was that ad that led the Steeles to enroll in the Export Marketing Assistance Program, which they say was an invaluable tool in helping them prepare their business to move from the R&D stage to commercialization.
“The program helped us create our vision and our mission, and it taught us how to brand ourselves, so those are things that you always work on,” Clara said. “Once you have a vision and mission in place, then you have a foundation to move forward from.
“Overall it was excellent,” she added. “I would highly recommend it to all startup or established businesses in the area.”
An initiative of Ontario’s North Economic Development Corp., in co-operation with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, the program provides marketing support to Northern Ontario mining supply and services companies that are exporting, or would like to export, their products and services. It provides up to $10,000 in funding per year.
A second component, the Strategic One-on-One Export Marketing Program, pairs up business owners with mentors to help them develop a corporate strategy, marketing tools and an international marketing plan.
The initiative was inspired by a 2010 Doyletech study that indicated half of the businesses catering to the mining industry in Northern Ontario got up to 50 per cent of their revenue from only two clients. There was a need for firms to expand their reach so they could supply their services anywhere in the world, project manager Scott Rennie said.
“That helps us to be stronger so the next time nickel takes a downturn, or any other metal takes a downturn, they have more options or clients than just having to rely on companies in Northern Ontario or the few they’re working with,” Rennie said.
An expansion into global markets will create an estimated 170 new jobs over the next two to three years as a result of continuing activity in those target export markets, Rennie said. “So, as they continue to grow and expand in those markets, those companies are saying they’re going to have to start adding people and growing.”
Though the Steeles have a combined 35 years of experience in mining around the world, neither knew anything about running a business. So when it came time to advance TesMan, which develops motion-capture and 3D tunnel-mapping software, the couple needed all the help it could get.
“The course took us rapidly through all the different elements that allowed us to formalize our direction,” Rod said. “It was unbelievable for entrepreneurs learning how to run a business and improve it, and not just entrepreneurs; there were big businesses there learning how to improve as well.”
Input from their mentor, Jon Baird, the executive director at the Canadian Association of mining Equipment and Services for Export (CAMESE), proved especially insightful. Mel Sauvé, a business growth specialist and proprietor of Global Growth, also serves as a mentor.
“Jon Baird’s extensive wealth of knowledge and experience is invaluable to companies like us,” Rod said. “He really took us to a whole other level as far as our business goes, and the majority of these presenters at these workshops brought extensive knowledge to the table in a vast array of fields and topics.”
Symboticware, which manufactures the SymBot, a data-monitoring unit for use on mining equipment, first got involved with the program last year, said president and CEO Kirk Petroski. After participating in a marketing workshop, the company then travelled to Chile for a trade show. As a direct result, Symboticware signed a reseller agreement with a company in Chile to represent its products.
Petroski said the assistance the program offered was integral to bringing its locally developed product to an international market.
“If I look back at how we got to this point and the success, definitely the Export Assistance Marketing Program was very helpful in that, to be able to help us with our go-to-market strategy, and also from a funding perspective to help support some of the costs to help getting us there, recognizing that we are a fairly young company and don’t have a large cash flow to support international sales, which can be expensive,” Petroski said.
Originally, the program was set to wrap up in March, but it’s been so successful Rennie said funding has been extended to October 2013, and partners are currently examining the possibility of developing a second stage for the program, which would support participating companies for another two years.
He’d like to see even more training opportunities and peer-to-peer exchanges to share market intelligence, as well as the development of a web portal that would act as a one-site resource for exports for Northern Ontario mining supply and services companies.
“If there’s a theme behind all this it’s that there’s an incredible entrepreneurial spirit out there with these mining supply and services companies,” Rennie said. “They’re developing new products and services—other areas would kill to have that kind of entrepreneurial activity going on.”