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November 17, 2020

WGCIT Sponsor: Canada Becomes First International Sponsor of Innovation & Technology Center

By Tim Linden

Recently, Western Growers and the Canadian government announced that the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) had become the first international sponsor of the trade association’s Center for Innovation & Technology (WGCIT).

The Consulate General of Canada in San Francisco Rana Sarkar explained that trade and investment promotion is an important part of TCS, which helps Canadian companies succeed in international markets. The government agency has a presence in more than 160 cities worldwide, and it is Canada’s most comprehensive network of international business professionals. “We provide Canadian companies with on-the-ground market intelligence and access to unparalleled business networks in order to reduce the costs and risks of exporting, and we help firms tackle in-market problems,” Sarkar said.

The Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA) is one of the signature programs that the TCS runs at the Consulate. The CTA initiative helps Canadian companies with an existing technology, product or service explore opportunities in foreign markets. The program provides access to local mentors and experts, as well as curated introductions to potential partners, investors and customers. The Consulate in San Francisco, and its office in Palo Alto, operate several CTA cohorts each year to serve Canadian clients in technology sectors. The local Consulate has developed efforts ranging from relationships with local technology and venture capital firms and partnerships with local accelerators and incubators to engagements with local universities, such as Stanford and UC Berkeley.

Sarkar said the partnership with WGCIT is the first of its kind, both with its specific focus on accelerating agtech solutions, but also with giving Canadian companies direct access to both an innovation center and potential customers through connections to growers. “When the Canadian Consulate in San Francisco began to expand its support for Canadian agtech companies, developing a partnership with the WGCIT was the backbone of that plan,” he said. “While the overall program includes many aspects of support for Canadian companies, the partnership with WGCIT, with its reputation and access, remains critical in accelerating the growth of Canadian agtech companies.”

He added that Canadian agriculture and the western United States are tackling many of the same challenges. “One key example is climate change, which poses a number of challenges to farmers including the increased intensity and frequency of droughts and violent storms–and resulting impact on crop yields,” he said, adding that warmer summers are causing many problems including the potential increase in the range, frequency and severity of insect and disease infestations.

“Labor shortages are another major challenge,” Sarkar said. “As in the United States, Canada’s agricultural community has been grappling with chronic labor shortages, as the inability to find a skilled and knowledgeable workforce directly affects sales, productivity and expansion plans of farmers across the country. In addressing these two challenges, new technological solutions can help farmers navigate these issues and continue to thrive as an engine of economic growth.”

Canada is also poised to bring expertise to the WGCIT table, the Canadian representative said our northern neighbor has produced world-class engineers and innovators, many of whom have leveraged their education and entrepreneurial spirit to develop solutions for growers worldwide. “As a global leader in AI (artificial intelligence) research, Canada is poised to lead the technological breakthrough in applying AI to improve the food system supply chain, making food production more sustainable and resilient, and ensuring the safety of food grown and processed worldwide.”

In the early stages of this U.S./Canadian collaboration, coronavirus travel restrictions have created challenges with direct access to WGCIT but Canada’s accelerator program has been working closely with the WGCIT’s leadership to build a virtual connection. In fact, on October 27, the CTA agtech cohort was scheduled to pitch directly to members of Western Growers in a virtual event led by the WGCIT.

Sarkar said Canada takes a long view of this collaborations and the commitment is ongoing. “The Canadian Consulate in San Francisco expects the partnership between Canada and the WGCIT to be robust and long-lasting. By connecting its world-class agtech innovators with the hardworking growers in the western United States, we are confident that Canadian startups will not only be better informed of the pain-points of growers, but also able to provide solutions directly to these growers.”