It’s been called speed dating for business, and when Naturallia gets underway at the end of this month its creators hope the result will be the blossoming of some long-lasting relationships that will bolster business in the North.
Taking place Oct. 28-30 in Sault Ste. Marie, Naturallia will bring together business people from across the globe in a matchmaking forum designed to create new collaborations between businesses in four of the North’s strongest sectors: advanced manufacturing, value-added forest products, mining supply and services, and smart energy development, supply and services.
The initiative is a joint effort by the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), and RDÉE, the economic development organization for Franco- Ontario.
Naturallia will be an ideal opportunity for the North to showcase itself, its businesses and its natural resources, said Jason Naccarato, the innovation centre’s vice-president of development.
“It’s really an opportunity for Northern Ontario,” he said. “We want Northern Ontario to put their best foot forward and show their best and brightest companies at this event and, hopefully, with the intent of bringing a lot of those investment dollars to the North.”
Planning started more than a year ago, when Naccarato and Dodds travelled to Winnipeg to make their case to RDÉE during a similar event, Centrallia.
“Given our central location in the North and our presence in the four sectors, it really was a good fit to have it in Sault Ste. Marie,” Naccarato said. “There was a bit of a competitive process to it, but I think a lot of it is the diversity of where the Sault’s headed right now in all four of these sectors.”
Highlights of Naturallia will include access to international trade experts, a keynote address by Sean Wise, a professor of entrepreneurship and innovation with the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, as well as industry tours of local companies like Essar Steel Algoma, Heliene, Boniferro Mill Works and the Ontario Forestry Research Centre.
But central to the event are one-on-one 30-minute meetings between businesses whose interests intersect, said Tom Dodds, CEO at the city’s EDC.
“In terms of the individuals and organizations going, you’ve got a very rich mixture of small business, larger corporations and organizations such as ourselves that really are there in the game of promoting economic and business development,” Dodds said.
The speed-dating format allows business owners to ascertain very quickly whether or not their “date” will provide some value to them, whether it’s connections with other people or businesses.
“It’s an incredible networking opportunity,” Dodds said. “It establishes an ability to reach out and communicate with all manners of people and it helps build some of the businesses that you may have never considered getting involved with in the first place.”
Naturallia is based on Futurallia, a model that originated in France two decades ago. The term Naturallia was chosen to reflect the event’s focus on Northern Ontario’s natural resources sector.
“With the North, we’ve chosen four sectors very strategically that are very important—kind of lynchpins for Northern Ontario—being forestry, mining, advanced manufacturing and smart energy,” Naccarato explained.
As companies register they fill out profiles detailing what sector they participate in, what their core strengths are, what they’re looking to gain from going to Naturallia, where they’re looking to move their company, and what kind of alliances they’re looking to form.
Then they are matched up with companies that meet their interests and requirements.
After the event is over, the companies take home a booklet detailing the contact information for more than 200 businesses, with which they can follow up for further networking.
“Talking to some of the companies that went to Centrallia, in a lot of their views, in this book alone, with basically a roadmap on how to connect with 200 companies, was worth its weight in registration, other than all the other extra added-value things that happened by going to a conference like this,” Naccarato said.