*Q&A: Maple Business Council

Stephen Armstrong, co-founder, Maple Business Council

OC Startups Now will periodically run Q&A’s with interesting entrepreneurs and key players in the OC startup/innovation ecosystem, in their own words.

There’s been a lot of synergy lately with OC and Canada, with UCI Applied Innovation entering into a formal agreement to collaborate (see related story here) and the new presence in SoCal of a representative of the TMX Group, which owns the Toronto Stock Exchange and the TSX Venture Exchange, (see related story here).

This Q&A features the Maple Business Council, in Tustin. It’s essentially the Canadian-U.S. Business Council of SoCal. It’s a non-profit, executive level networking organization that promotes investment, trade, and entrepreneurship between OC, SoCal and Canada.

The council does a lot of work with startups and is in the midst of developing a program that will help Canadian start-ups that are scaling and ready to expand to the U.S. learn more about OC in particular and SoCal in general.

The non-profit was founded by Robert Kelle and Stephen Armstrong, who provided the answers for this Q&A.

OCSN: How did the Maple Business Council come to be in OC?

Armstrong: Maple was born out of a social network, Canadians in OC, which we launched with fellow Canadian expats in 2009, and which now has several thousand members.

Orange County is not only our long-term home, but is ideally situated to cover the SoCal region.

OCSN: What are the goals for Maple?

Armstrong: 1) Create a clear identity/brand for a community that is focused on our region’s engagement with Canada. Maple not only quickly evokes Canada in name, but also in how we nurture this engagement as it is an acronym that stands for Market, Access, Promote, Lead, and Enable.

Maple is now a recognized organization in SoCal and Canada and we are grateful to the Consulate General of Canada in Southern California for its endorsement and support.

This speaks to our second goal – to create an engaged community. We do this by hosting four networking events a year in OC, SD and LA for 12 total events.

We also co-sponsor and host additional events and thought-leadership programs, lead delegations to Canadian markets and curate content about OC, SoCal, and Canada via two monthly newsletters and our social media channels.

Finally, we wanted to integrate into the incredible network of economic development organizations that exist locally that support investment attraction, promote trade/exporting and help businesses connect with the resources they need to grow. We were delighted to welcome the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as part of our delegation to Toronto last fall, for example.

But more importantly, we are about serving our members. All of our activities – events, lectures, business missions, welcoming inbound businesses from Canada and our content – are to set the table for meaningful conversations and connections to occur. And when we hear that a member or partner has grown their business as a result, we know our model is working.

OCSN: How do you help start-ups in particular?

Armstrong: Networking is critical for any business, but especially for one that is establishing itself. Because we are an executive level community, start-ups can connect with senior business leaders with the experience and resources that can help their business grow. As a new business, it can be difficult sometimes to get this kind of visibility. In addition, our networking events are opportunities to learn about key industry sectors and the expertise of our corporate members.

A really interesting opportunity is through one of our newest members, the TMX Group.

Canada represents an outstanding, first-export market experience for an OC start-up, given the geographic proximity, common language, rule of law and market affluency.

In addition, we have developed the framework for a week-long soft landing program, Maple House. When launched, this will help Canadian start-ups that are scaling and ready to expand to the U.S. discover what OC and SoCal can offer them.

With the Canadian market being one-tenth the size of the U.S., at some point most Canadian businesses need to look to the U.S. to grow, so why not here in OC, which is part of the largest Canadian diaspora worldwide? We’ve seen estimates that upwards of one million Canadians now live in California. We can obviously relate personally!

OCSN: What are highlights of the Canada-California relationship?

Armstrong: Canada is California’s second largest customer and the largest customer for 35 states. Moreover, Canada is already invested in California’s success locally.

Notably, City National Bank was acquired a few years ago by Royal Bank of Canada, or RBC as it’s now known.

In this year’s report on foreign direct investment by the World Trade Center, LA identified Canada as the third largest investing nation across SoCal.

Specifically in OC, Canada is the third largest foreign investor with 11,909 jobs from 160 Canadian-owned businesses. This is a payroll worth over $800 million to OC.

And together with Mexico, our supply chains are closely linked together under NAFTA. We just don’t trade with one another, we make things together. 1.2 million jobs in California are dependent on trade with Canada. It’s a relationship that deserves protecting and growing further.

OCSN: How do you promote OC to Canada?

Armstrong: OC is an incredible place to live. It’s a privilege to promote its merits to Canadians.

In our first three years, we have made five trips to Canada, during which we have raised awareness of OC and our mission through briefings with businesses, startup communities, universities, and government leaders. It was a particular thrill to share our mission with Prime Minister Trudeau on his visit to SoCal earlier this year.

And we welcome Canadian businesses to OC to connect with business leaders here. We’ve already held 40 events across SoCal in our first three years. And, we regularly meet with visiting Canadian businesses, many of whom are startups themselves, which are looking to explore where they fit in to our landscape.

About The Author

Deirdre Newman is a long-time journalist, who's covered OC startups for a few years.

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