Chinese entrepreneurs scout business opportunities in Ottawa

Several Chinese billionaires were in Ottawa Tuesday, meeting with the city’s business leaders and eying investment opportunities in the nation’s capital.

Delegates from the China Entrepreneur Club, a non-profit organization that includes 31 of the Asian country’s leading entrepreneurs, diplomats and economists, are currently on a cross-country tour of Canada.

Several local economic development officials and Ottawa entrepreneurs pitched several local companies and made-in-Ottawa innovations to delegates of the club, whose members collectively bring in US$460 billion in annual revenues.

Presenters included Spartan Bioscience founder and CEO Paul Lem and L-Spark’s Leo Lax, who positioned Ottawa as an innovative hub.

“Here in Ottawa, we have a rich number of organizations and companies that are creating new innovations on a daily basis,” Mr. Lax told the crowd, giving L-Spark grad Better Software as an example of local success.

Mr. Lem pitched directly to the Chinese crowd, suggesting that his company’s DNA diagnostic technology could pave the way to eliminating deaths from stomach cancer in China, the disease ranking among the highest causes of death in the country in 2015.

“Imagine the market that’s available there,” he told the crowd.

Chinese delegates in the room were eager to form connections. Upon hearing Mr. Lem’s ideas, ChinaEquity Group chairman Wang Chaoyong suggested the name of a Silicon Valley company doing similar work in DNA sequencing that he could connect to Mr. Lem.

After the presentations concluded, T&T Supermarkets founder Jack Lee gave an impassioned multilingual speech of the great market he sees in Ottawa, calling the city a “top performer” for his company, Canada’s largest chain of Asian supermarkets.

Blair Patacairk, Invest Ottawa’s host for the event, spoke to the Ottawa Business Journal afterwards to explain why Ottawa is so attractive for Chinese business.

“It’s by no coincidence that people like Huawei came into this market for talent,” he says, referring to the technology talent birthed from the booming days of Nortel and the telecom industry, as well as the research and development that continues in Ottawa today.

“Ottawa has the opportunity to capitalize on that,” Mr. Patacairk says.

He mentions local firm Graphite Software, which received $8 million in funding from Chinese investors in June of this year, as an example that China is looking at Ottawa as an attractive place to invest.

Mr. Patacairk also lauds the recent mission by Prime Minister Trudeau to China as a door-opener for Canadian business, noting that Chinese culture and business practices rely heavily on government interactions.

“It means something for us to have our own federal government bringing us over and showcasing what we have as Canada. It’s a big, powerful message to China,” he says.

He says there’s interest for Invest Ottawa to send a delegation to meet with the CEC in China, noting that the need for a reciprocal relationship.

“The Chinese are coming more often to North America. They want to do business. The olive branch is out both ways.”

Mr. Patacairk said companies that were unable to directly participate in today's meeting but are interested in foreign investments could speak to Invest Ottawa officials.

Other presenters included CENGN president and CEO Ritch Dusome and Wesley Clover International’s Greg Vanclief, who spoke about Canada’s role in 5G and next generation networks.

The CEC’s stop in Ottawa is part of an eight-day tour in Canada, with visits including Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Today’s visit included a meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau.

In a separate initiative this week aimed at attracted more foreign investment to Ottawa, the Kanata North BIA hosted its second annual diplomatic tour and dinner reception. The event is aimed at broadening awareness of the Kanata North business community among the foreign diplomats and embassies in Canada.

“The Kanata North technology community has been enjoying impressive growth with many companies being recognized on the global stage as leaders in their fields. This event provides a wonderful opportunity for our business community to meet with international delegates and strengthen those relationships,” BIA executive director Jenna Sudds said in a statement.

In addition to attending a reception, attendees toured the Kanata facilities of Flex, BlackBerry/QNX and You.i TV.