ONB takes an active role in helping New Brunswick businesses with international trade, emphasizing the unique requirements of prospective exporters seeking market diversification, market expansion or value-added opportunities. The post below originally appeared in July 2016. It is being republished today to coincide with Masitek’s involvement in our Trade Mission to the UK and The Netherlands, two important European markets for Canadian companies.
Atlantic Canada is home to a growing number of companies supporting the manufacturing sector with innovative software and hardware offerings. New Brunswick in particular—with its history as home to traditional industries like manufacturing, and a world-class IT ecosystem—has proven a good fit for the burgeoning Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Masitek Instruments is supporting manufacturers with a variety of new hardware solutions. Launched in 2010, Masitek has built state-of-the-art real-time wireless detection and reporting sensors designed to instantly identify damage to food products and other fragile goods on the production line. Masitek technology isolates the location of the damage so operators, engineers, and quality control can target their maintenance crews and/or shut down times to those specific areas.
We spoke to President and CEO, Tracy Clinch, to learn more.
ONB: Your tech patent is held by Technology Venture Corporation (TVC), who formed Masitek to commercialize it. How did TVC decide you were the right fit for CEO?
Clinch: My background is in sales and marketing for major consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands, specifically two well-known New Brunswick food and beverage producers — Moosehead Breweries and McCain Foods Limited.
From my time with McCain in particular, I gained plenty of experience with international markets and developed an ability to problem solve solutions for markets across the globe. That’s been valuable as we launch Masitek and export our solution to most of the world. Ninety-five per cent of our business is outside of Canada, primarily in Europe, Japan, and Mexico.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
Awareness. We have a very strong technical staff in Moncton, and our business development team has done an excellent job selling outside of Canada. The problem is when you have a technology with very few competitors it’s hard to gain the right amount of awareness needed to sell to international markets, where your name alone doesn’t carry as much weight.
Much of what we did, in the beginning, involved teaching customers what the tech could do; that was more important than actually selling the product. We had to sell the concept itself before the product would move. Fortunately, we have patient investors that have allowed us to work through that challenge.
What’s been the key to success in reaching markets beyond North America?
Europe is a good case study. The success we’ve had there is due to the forward thinking of that marketplace with regards to sustainability and reduction of materials. Examples of this attitude include lightweighting projects, material reduction for PET bottles, and reducing damage to fruit and vegetables. The mindset is more aggressive in those European markets as it relates to reducing damage and waste.
On a related note, can you touch on ONB’s role with Masitek?
We have had really talented people on our account supporting us from the beginning. It’s important for people to understand that it’s not simply about monetary assistance, though that is crucial for startups. What’s important is the support structure and mentoring; these Business Development reps have been through it before, and have seen what made successful companies here. The expertise they bring to our export efforts are crucial; they know how to help you grow.
You’re a lifelong New Brunswicker; what do you see as advantages of living and working here?
In a small region, we tend to think that finding the right people is a challenge. We’ve had a lot of success in that area, however. We’ve found people with not only the skills we need but with strong ties to the province. They want to do it all from here, lead the world from Atlantic Canada. I wouldn’t live anywhere else myself, that’s for sure. New Brunswick has always been home to me and always will be.
The province’s higher education ecosystem has been a benefit. Our lead engineer, for example, is a graduate of the University of New Brunswick (UNB) and came to us via Mitacs. Without programs like that I’m not sure we’d be at the point we are now.
As a startup what has Masitek’s support system been like?
Entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity in New Brunswick, and the reason is our size. When you start a company in this region you’re not one of 50,000 companies launching that month, you’re one of maybe 10 or 20. The support ecosystem here for companies in growth mode is really strong.
Start with the public sector; ACOA, the NRC, and ONB. Those organizations stay with you all the way through, to the point where you’re a success story for them. Then you become a mentor for the region, and for their programs.
Then you have groups like Planet Hatch, Propel ICT, Venn Centre, Enterprise Saint John — partners that will do anything it takes to support you. It’s an incredible ecosystem you will not find everywhere.
Written by Jason Boies
Cover image: Masitek