A study by the Conference Board of Canada found that small (and medium) sized enterprises owned by recent immigrants to Canada, are more likely to export, and they are also among the fastest-growing SMEs. This series highlights some of their stories.
Think of Glint Innovation as a virtual suggestion box. Called the “people success platform,” Glint Innovation is the product that’s sold by a Toronto-based company by the same name, one that was founded by a small group of new Canadians who were looking to become their own bosses.
The Glint product is a virtual collaborative space employees can visit to leave a workplace idea or challenge for which they want a solution. That’s what most of its clients do, but they can also open it up to the public and gather ideas from their customers on how to make their experiences more fulfilling. The company, meanwhile, will also provide training for those requesting it.
“It’s being used by companies for campaigns in which they want to open it up for a couple of months to the public, to gather ideas,” explained Tarik Chakrellah, a co-founder and the company’s director of data analytics. “They launch a campaign, gather ideas from the public or even from within their own workforce.”
The software also has a reward component for employees who participate. In addition, it’s integrated with Facebook, Yammer, Google+, and LinkedIn. In fact, Yammer is how the company started exporting.
“We were featured on Yammer and that’s where we got our first interest from foreign markets,” said Kaoutar el Hilali, business development director of Glint Innovation. “We were featured in their social network and afterwards, we got requests from the U.K .and France.” Today, they count National Geographic in the U.K., Remy Cointreau in France and Fox Network in the U.S. as clients.
As part of its continued desire to export, the company qualified for a grant of just under $20,000 from CanExport, a program run by Global Affairs Canada, that covered a portion of the cost of exploring a new market.
EDC resources to help you export
“We had learned that the United Arab Emirates was working on an innovation campaign and we knew our product would align with those goals so we wanted to explore those opportunities,” Chakrellah said. “It gave us the opportunity to go and we did pick up Insurance Authority, a regulatory body for insurance organizations, and Emirates Post, as clients. The insurance organization at first just wanted to use it for its employees, but during the UAE’s week of innovation, it invited its clients — insurers — to join the conversation. The staff discovered that our platform was perfect for both uses.”
Glint Innovation co-founders Chakrellah, El Hilali and Alberto Perez are all new Canadians. Chakrellah and El Hilali are both from Morocco and Perez is from Colombia. All three studied in the U.K. where they met in 2008.
It was only in 2010, when they all made their way to Canada after recession hit the U.K., that they decided to create their own company. Glint now boasts $500,000 in revenue, numerous high-profile customers in several different countries and 14 employees. Chakrellah had experience in building software and customizing platforms for large corporations and his two other co-founders had vast experience in human resources. Their technology brought together all of their skills into one product.
When it comes to exporting advice, el Hilali suggests being open to new cultures. “Not everyone thinks or operates like your home country,” she said. “Maybe having local partnerships would be easier, but exporting is rewarding. Just prepare yourself for the culture shock. When you’re trying to enter a new market, you have to play by that market’s rules.”
She also said to adjust your pricing strategy for your market. For example, markets such as Canada, the U.K. and Europe are all fine with teleconferencing when they buy software, so the team priced its offerings in the Middle East the same way. The Middle East, however, is a market that demands a lot more face time of its customers, something that the folks at Glint learned the hard way after failing to accurately price the travel and time into their offerings.
Finally, they suggest studying your prospective new markets, and then travelling to them and immersing yourself into the culture so there are fewer surprises when you’re negotiating deals.
Chakrellah said being Canadian helps on the world stage. “Canada has that image of delivering excellent products in the marketplace.”