Business News Wales has interviewed Aaron Rosland, Counsellor – Commercial, Canadian High Commission, on his business work in Wales. With a focus on helping UK companies expand into North America, he tells us how he envisages links with Wales and Canada developing.
Can you give our readers a background into yourself and your role as a Canadian diplomat?
My primary focus is helping UK companies expand into North America. This entails offering a whole range of services from branch office set-up to connecting them with a highly skilled workforce to relationship building in the US market.
Within this, a particular focus of mine is developing commercial partnerships between academia, industry and government. For example, the province has helped startups operating within the world-renown Digital Media Zone (DMZ) university incubator in downtown Toronto connect with Canadian technology accelerators in US cities such as San Francisco, Boston and New York. Partnerships like these are highly effective for helping businesses achieve scale as they expand and it’s my job to ensure more companies are aware of the opportunities they provide.
Prior to my role at the Canadian High Commission I worked on a number of international business expansion projects, setting up a Canadian organisation’s first office India and then another 21 offices across the globe.
What brings you to Cardiff?
Aside from my fondness for Wales of course! I’m part of a delegation of global diplomats who regularly visit different parts of the UK to learn about key economic growth areas and sector specialisms. I try to get around the country as often as I can, and this group, the Association of Economic Representatives of London, is a terrific launch pad to be networked into.
How do you envisage links between Canada and Wales developing from a business perspective?
I would of course be excited to see Welsh companies using Canada as an incubator for the North American market and vice versa. In my short time in Wales I’ve witnessed potential in IT sector, particularly cyber security, which I’m sure could be cultivated for success in Canada and the US. The key is for Welsh businesses to think ‘globally’ from the very beginning, so that they are poised to hit the ground running as they access new markets, not being overly focused on conquering the domestic market first where growth opportunities may be less.
Tell us more about the Incubator framework supporting Welsh businesses that set-up in Canada.
Firstly, what most people don’t realise about the province of Ontario (Canada’s largest by population and GDP output) is that it boasts the second largest tech ecosystem in North America after California, and the second largest financial services sector after New York. This strength and proximity to the US market – 40% of which is less than a three-hour flight time from Ontario – has allowed us to build very strong business relationships across many sectors and an infrastructure of established export programs known as ‘pathways’.
To provide a short synopsis, the pathways program includes cost comparison studies to help companies select their destination, free bespoke market research reports, connection to incubators via the Ontario Centres of Excellence, a concierge service for fast office set up and a two-day program on exporting to the USA.
Furthermore, it is not just tech and IT companies we welcome in Ontario. A UK business I’ve been interacting with recently is Haley Sharpe Design (HSD), a Leicester-based exhibitions design agency who moved to North America in 2000. With an office in Toronto, the agency has now won two of Canada’s biggest projects in the space – including the Canadian War Museum – with over 50% of its business now in North America.
Are there any innovations that you believe should be adopted by the wider Welsh business industry to make it work in a global market?
Interestingly, I still don't think businesses employ the internet as much as they can. It's obviously no longer classed as an innovation having been around for 25 years, but I find companies continue to underutilise it's potential for research, knowledge, and profile raising – especially since it is basically free!
While not ignoring the potential offered by new innovations, I think it also important that Wales leverage the existing expertise it has in business influencers like Sir Terry Matthews and Dylan Jones-Evans OBE, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at Bristol Business School.
Do you foresee any issues that Welsh businesses will be facing in the short/medium/long term?
Obviously, Brexit is a big issue, simply because of the uncertainty that comes with it. But I am working hard to help UK businesses find new, stable markets in Canada to help them manage the risks. It seems that the Welsh Government is also keen to help companies access new international opportunities which is very encouraging.
What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as country?
I've not spent enough time in the country to fairly comment on strengths and weaknesses. However, I'm particularly excited by the growth in entrepreneurship culture and the tech sector and hope that both can adopt a truly global outlook from the start.
What can Wales do to attract more inward investment?
The Welsh Government is already acting proactively by inviting AERL to visit and learn about the country. People need to hear more about your great schools & universities, highly trained workforce and easy access to markets.
In your opinion, what skills should the education system be promoting to the next generation?
Many schools and universities around the world are working hard to provide students with skills directly relevant to the job market. However, rather than preparing students for a job, could an education system not make students ready to create jobs? This approach would undoubtedly require a different educational philosophy – asking students how to be an innovative/creative thinker, how to identify opportunity and take action, how to build something out of nothing, and how to create value? However, by using this approach, students might embark on a career as either an entrepreneur or intrapreneur (one who acts as an entrepreneur within an organisation).
You expressed an interest in becoming involved in Wales Week in London on 27 February. How do you think your involvement can benefit relations between Canada and Wales? What are your plans for the event?
I'm always happy to get involved in anything that promotes international growth of companies and closer relations between Canada and the UK. I've had initial discussions on how we can do this during Wales Week in London and am looking forward to being involved where I can!