European fact-finding mission to promote Canadian IT

A Toronto-area industry group has embarked on a fact-finding mission to Europe to drum up foreign investment and support for the city’s IT community.

The Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance (GTMA), along with partner

eBiz Toronto, a not-for-profit organization promoting e-business development, left Tuesday for Stuttgart, Germany. Next on the whistle-stop tour are Lyon, France and London, U.K.

Among the travel contingent are representatives from law firm Gowling Lafleur Henderson and the University of Toronto’s Innovation Foundation. They will be meeting with local business interest groups — as well as IT, biotechnology, venture capitalist and financial services companies — that have expressed an interest in opening Toronto-area offices or investing in Toronto firms.

“”We find there’s a mutual benefit in knowing each others’ industry clusters, what the interests are there and what businesses are looking for,”” said Tony Romano, director of corporate affairs for the GTMA.

The GTMA has attempted similar missions in the U.S. over the years, particularly to New York, Washington, D.C., and the Silicon Valley. The trips yielded some important leads and contacts, said Romano. “”But after 9/11, as expected, things in the U.S. dried up. We found that there was a considerable amount of interest, particularly from France, Germany and the U.K.””

“”There’s a great basis for technology (in those countries),”” added Dave Codack. Codack is president and CEO of e-business portal provider iStark and sits on eBiz Toronto’s executive committee. “”They have invested in the past in the GTA area and they look like they’ll continue to do that in the future. They’re natural areas to go an test that assumption.””

Overseas industry associations reciprocate by looking for investment in Toronto, Codack pointed out. U.K. organization London First, for example, came to the city in August to encourage firms to open London offices.

The GTMA laid the groundwork for the current trip about five months ago. One of the companies the organization will be meeting is private Swiss bank Mirabaud & Cie, which has already committed to opening a financial services centre in Toronto. The GTMA will also host 15 investment prospects that are coming to Toronto from the Lyon area in November.

The October visit is actually a preamble to a larger trip that will take place next spring, said Romano. This one is more of a meet-and-greet; the next will involve a larger delegation and more meetings with serious investors.

But it’s often hard to gauge the impact of these sorts of visits, said David Paterson, executive director of industry association CATAAlliance. “”I have done work in that field on a number of different occasions and you really can’t tell in the end,”” he said. “”It may turn out that a year from now some European IT firm will commit to a major investment within the GTA that was prompted by this mission, but whether they will actually mention the mission at the time that they do it is impossible to say.””

Codack insists that they are worthwhile missions. The GTMA is planning a trip to Asia — particularly Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong — in late 2003. Earlier this summer, the organization hosted 45 Taiwanese venture capitalists interested in IT and biomedical investment.

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