In 2019, the trade promotion organizations (TPOs) from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland together formed the Nordic-Canada Health Collective operating out of Toronto, Canada.
The collective, which was co-funded by Nordic Innovation and coordinated by Norway Health Tech, quickly became a valuable platform for Nordic companies looking for export opportunities in Canada. 16 companies participated in a year-long program consisting of workshops, stakeholder meetings and individual mentoring with great results:
- One company securing a NOK 2 million sale to a leading hospital.
- One company in final negotiations with a Canadian equity partner.
- Two companies in deep conversations with Canadian distributers/retailers.
- Several companies in continued dialogues with stakeholders in the Canadian health ecosystem that they met through the project.
In addition, the Nordic-Canada Health Collective has increased Canadian interest in collaborating with Nordic partners and there is now work underway to set up Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with the Nordic TPOs and health system players in Canada to more systematically find Nordic solutions to Canadian health challenges.
We got exactly what we were looking for out of it. Now, we are hoping that the collaboration with our Canadian partners will continue to be successful and that more and more orders are coming in.– Simone Englert, Marketing Manager, Assitech
Strong interest from both the Nordics and Canada
The Nordic-Canada Health Collective started out by identifying potential buyers and partners in Canada while simultaneously recruiting Nordic companies to participate. More than 40 stakeholders in Canada confirmed their interest in learning more about Nordic solutions and the project initially attracted more than 70 Nordic companies to participate in introduction workshops held in Helsinki, Oslo, Gothenburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Reykjavik.
The health collective’s expectation of recruiting 10 companies was easily surpassed as they received 28 applications to their program. Johanna Tarvainen-Lee from Merenbridge Consulting, representing Business Finland in the Nordic-Canada Health Collective project team, explains that they had to keep the number of companies below 20 to ensure that they could receive individual attention. They based their evaluation on market-solution fit and market readiness – supported by Canadian health experts, 18 companies were accepted and 16 of them eventually joining.
“After careful review, 16 companies were selected, and they all proved to be fantastic contributors to the program”, says Tarvainen-Lee.
All participating companies were offered two visits to Canada during 2019, with seven of the 16 companies seeing enough of a business case to complete both trips.
A fruitful experience
Norwegian health tech company Assitech was one of the companies experiencing success through the project. After a video of their product Assistep, a walker for stairs, went viral in fall 2018 they experienced a lot of interest from North America.
Marketing Manager Simone Englert explains that they quickly identified Canada as a great way to approach the North American market. However, they realized that they needed help to access the right people. The Nordic-Canada Health Collective provided just what they needed.
After holding somewhere around 15 meetings with potential partners during their second visit to Canada in fall 2019, they ended up partnering with the Bay Area Health Trust and through this partnership got Live Easy Inc as their Canadian distributer. Assitech has already received their first big order and expects deliveries and installations to start this fall.
“The program delivered for us! We got exactly what we were looking for out of it. Now, we are hoping that the collaboration with our Canadian partners will continue to be successful and that more and more orders are coming in, and that we will continue to grow” says Englert.
A pioneering partnership
The Nordic-Canada Health Collective project is the first time that all the Nordic TPOs have actively collaborated to strengthen the Nordic healthcare brand in Canada and secure better market access for small and medium-sized Nordic companies in the Ontario healthcare market.
In addition to the results listed above, all 16 companies report that they now are in a better position to access the Canadian market than before, and the majority of the companies that made just one visit report that they will continue their efforts in the Canadian market in the short term.
We are more powerful when collaborating across the Nordic countries than when we are working individually.– Johanna Tarvainen-Lee, Merenbridge Consulting/Business Finland
Johanna Tarvainen-Lee explains that Canada is an interesting market for Nordic health companies for several reasons, including being a single-payer healthcare system like many of the Nordic countries, shared societal values and market size. While being much larger than each Nordic country, Canada is smaller and more accessible than the United States, making it a desirable market particularly when launching into North America.
“If a Nordic health business has been successful in their own country, there is a strong likelihood their business model will adapt well to the Canadian market”, Tarvainen-Lee explains.
Nordic solutions to Canadian needs
The collective was co-financed by Nordic Innovation through the Nordic Welfare Solutions special initiative, which is our effort to brand and export Nordic health and welfare solutions globally. The special initiative is one of six projects initiated by the Nordic prime ministers to promote Nordic solutions to the global challenges outlined in UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Tarvainen-Lee is convinced that the collaborative nature of the Nordic-Canada Health Collective helped strengthened the visibility of the Nordic companies and open doors to stakeholders and potential customers and will continue to do so for future companies. She thinks the collective is now seen as an important group that can help connect needs in Canada with Nordic solutions.
“We are more powerful when collaborating across the Nordic countries than when we are working individually. We hope that our project is an inspiration to other Nordic offices around the world to collaborate and we wish to continue on the journey of building the Nordic brand in Canada together with Nordic Innovation”, says Johanna Tarvainen-Lee.