When first starting out, the decision to expand your business internationally can appear a daunting prospect. Companies are either faced with an avalanche of information or too little and, alongside numerous logistical hurdles, can be completely unaware of the largely free support available to them.

The good news is that advancements in technology, infrastructure and regulation - when matched with dedicated government assistance - have all made such expansion less intimidating.

This was certainly not the case several years ago when a Canadian organisation tasked me with opening an office in India and then another 21 offices around the globe. The challenges were extensive, for instance in some countries we couldn't set up a bank account because my organisation lacked a domestic credit history, or hire local staff due to HR law nuances.

In my current role as a Canadian Diplomat focused on the province of Ontario, I work directly with UK companies - such as TruRating - to help them expand into North America using Ontario (and its proximity to the US market) as a scale up platform. Though only 16 million people, Ontario boasts the second largest tech ecosystem in North America after California, and the second largest financial services sector after New York in terms of industry employment.

For those companies operating in the tech and fintech arenas, the region is already home to some 15,000 technology companies, 5,200 start-ups, and 16 technology-related institutions and incubators. Other growing areas include artificial intelligence (AI), with a recently announced $50 million investment in the Vector Institute, headed by British Google executive and deep learning pioneer Geoff Hinton. The institute specialises in using software and algorithms to simulate the neural circuits of the human brain, allowing them to compute massive amounts of data, potentially offering up exciting improvements across all manner of sectors.

Latterly, it's not just tech, fintech and IT companies which are well catered for in Ontario, the province also provides opportunities in digital and creative sectors. Haley Sharpe Design (HSD), for example, is a UK business which has successfully expanded into Ontario and North America. The Leicester-based exhibitions design agency opened an office in Toronto and has since benefited from Ontario's educated, diverse and reliable workforce. It has recently won two of Canada's biggest projects in the space - including the Canadian War Museum - and is now generating over 50% of its business in North America.
Below are some practical questions to ask yourself when considering a move to Ontario:

Where do I find information about doing business in Ontario?

The Invest in Ontario website (www.investinontario.com) is an excellent resource for organisations from all industries looking for information on doing business in Ontario. There is also a wealth of information focused on specific industries including:

  • Aerospace
  • Automotive
  • Cleantech
  • Financial services
  • Industrial automation and robotics
  • Information technology

It's important to equip yourself with as much knowledge as possible when considering a move abroad. To this end, cost comparison studies and market research reports can be extremely useful and are something which my office provides free of charge. These reports help businesses get a handle on useful information such as local salaries, general operating costs and office space prices.

Who do I turn to for advice when in Canada/the UK?

In addition to my personalised assistance to UK companies, there are numerous incubators that can provide help with market insights, analytics and scaling up. For example, the Digital Media Zone (DMZ) university incubator in downtown Toronto helps to connect start-up companies with Canadian technology accelerators in US cities such as San Francisco, Boston and New York.

Another way businesses can connect with the entire industry ecosystem is through the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), that supply training and development and work with both academia and industry.

What about legal considerations, visas and local business requirements?

Our business concierge services offer a one-stop source of information of all such queries. My office, which is part of the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration and is inside the Canadian High Commission in London, can also provide timely information about options and procedures to support you through the process.

Are there any tax breaks or grant opportunities I should know about?

There are a number of financial incentives and generous tax credits available for small size corporations (companies with a taxable income of less than $500,000).

Businesses can also take advantage of incentive programs and services to help lower the costs of training employees. For example, the Apprenticeship Training Tax Credit offers up to $40,000 in tax credits per apprentice, and the Co-operative Education Tax Credit program generates a tax credit up to $3,000 per student placement.

More information on specific programs can be found here: www.investinontario.com/incentive-programs-and-services


International expansion is a serious decision for any business, but it's clear there has never been a better time for UK SMEs to consider Ontario. If you're looking for a way to grow your business into North America, then Ontario can provide you with an innovative and diverse environment to give you the best chance of success.