Schulich launches Centre for Global Enterprise to assist Canada’s SMEs compete internationally
The Schulich School of Business at York University launched a one-stop consulting, research and teaching hub on Thursday that will actively help Canada’s small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) compete internationally. The Centre for Global Enterprise will serve to motivate, enable and assist SMEs build on their domestic success by taking advantage of global opportunities.
Canada’s estimated 1.4 million SMEs, defined by Industry Canada as companies that employ fewer than 500 people with revenues of less than $50 million, make up about 98 per cent of the nation’s businesses and employ almost 60 per cent of the country’s workforce. Despite this, only about 8 per cent of SMEs have developed significant export markets, a statistic that needs to change to ensure Canada’s continued economic prosperity, according to Dr. Lorna Wright, who holds the EDC Professorship in International Business at Schulich and is the inaugural Director of the Centre for Global Enterprise.
“Canadian business has to increase its global presence,” said Wright at the launch. “We are underperforming the rest of the world in trade. It has been estimated this year that we will need to increase our trade activity annually by almost three per cent for the next 15 years just to keep pace.”
According to Dr. Wright, Canadian companies conducting business internationally grow faster than companies focused solely on domestic activity and the Centre for Global Enterprise will help SMEs deal with the constraints associated with expanding into global markets, such as identifying partners, understanding language and culture, developing management expertise, and understanding foreign legal and administrative environments.
“The Centre for Global Enterprise at Schulich has a unique combination of world-leading expertise and research, a truly global reach, and an ability to link well-trained, internationally savvy students and graduates with companies that will help SMEs and entrepreneurs access international opportunities,” said Wright. “Working collaboratively and partnering with others, as researchers and business coaches and mentors, we will seek out new and innovative solutions to help Canadian SMEs expand successfully beyond our national borders.”
To achieve their goals, the Centre will base its activities on three pillars of knowledge: knowledge creation – through close interaction among researchers, policy-makers and entrepreneurs the Centre will conduct high quality research that has immediate relevance to businesspeople and policy makers; knowledge sharing – through nation-wide networking and knowledge forums, as well as working/discussion papers; and knowledge application – through faculty-led, student-executed consulting projects, as well as coaching and mentorship activities.
“We will [ensure our research] doesn’t just get published in academic journals but also gets translated into language businesses can understand and published in places where they will actually find it and use it,” she explained. “But it’s not enough just to supply information. We will be providing hands-on training and coaching for entrepreneurs; conducting enterprise forums and cross-sector workshops; and having faculty-led student teams consulting for and mentoring SMEs.”
Recognizing Canada’s need for such a Centre, the Certified General Accountants of Ontario (CGA Ontario), Export Development Canada (EDC), RBC and Scotiabank will work actively with the School to support many of the Centre’s activities.
“Every nation in the world knows small and medium businesses are a powerful driver of national economies and none more so than Canada,” said Ruth Fothergill, Head Corporate Responsibility, EDC. “Here, SMEs are in fact vital to our role as a trading nation.”
But according to Fothergill, these exporters face a variety of challenges in pursuing international trade, including the need for specialized knowledge in a fast changing world.
“If you are a small or medium sized exporter, you face financial, networking, and knowledge challenges in pursuing international trade activities,” she said. “The process of trade has become more complex in our times. On the other hand, trade confidence is rising among SMEs.”
“Recent small business research shows that access to financing is less of a barrier to growth than market knowledge, finding partners, and identifying opportunities,” said Fothergill. “Among the perceived obstacles for SME exporters, there is a clear set of knowledge gaps, including: market entry and diversification, contract structuring, intellectual property protection, regulatory compliance, CSR practices and navigation through government programs.”
“All this to say that EDC is thrilled with Schulich’s latest achievement of the new Centre,” she concluded. “We are confident it will become an essential resource and an avenue for exploring new ways to leverage our collective expertise and resources to better serve the sector and to help it thrive and compete in the global marketplace.”
In his remarks at the event, Dezsö J. Horváth, Dean of the Schulich School of Business, said the School is well-positioned to launch such a Centre because of its long and successful track record in outreach activities in the global business community, as well as the School’s teaching and research activities.
“We have all of the building blocks in place to make this Centre a dynamic and practical hub for small and medium sized businesses that want to go global,” explained Dean Horváth.
“For one, Schulich has a very strong record of innovative research in the related fields of international business and entrepreneurship. We also have deep faculty expertise in this area, with experts that include Moren Levesque, who holds the Certified General Accountants of Ontario Chair in International Entrepreneurship; Lorna Wright, who holds the Export Development Canada Professorship in International Business and who will serve as the Centre’s first Director; and Eileen Fischer, the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Chair in Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise; to name just a few. In total, we will have 24 faculty members from Schulich affiliated with the Centre.”
“And, of course, we have the critical backing of our four founding members,” he continued. “For all of these reasons, I believe that Schulich is the right place to house the Centre for Global Enterprise. The thousands of small to medium-sized firms located in towns and cities across Canada are the firms that will ensure our future competitiveness. These SMEs will be the engine of Canada’s economic growth in the years ahead. They are, as I like to say, Canada’s future global champions. And the Centre for Global Enterprise is ready to play a significant role in helping these companies grow beyond our borders.”
Two special dignitaries from the Canadian and Ontario governments were also on hand for the launch of the Centre: The Honourable Lisa Raitt, federal Minister of Transport, and Monte Kwinter, Chair of the Ontario Investment and Trade Advisory Council (OITAC) and Parliamentary Assistant to the Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment.
“Our transportation systems in Canada connect people to each other across our country and around the world,” said Minister Raitt. “As Minister of Transport, I am also very aware of the continuing role that transportation plays to support Canada’s economy by connecting us to markets around the globe.”
“This fits in nicely with the kind of research and programs you will be developing at this Centre,” she continued. “By supporting the development of small and medium enterprises and their efforts to link to global markets, you are reaching out in the same way that Canada is reaching out to integrate a domestic perspective on business within a global context.”
“In a country as large as Canada, transportation will always be a major factor, both for our people and our economy,” said the Minister. “This will require talented people to manage and operate the various other transportation and trade systems that will produce Canadian products and promote them to the world. Through its research and training, this Centre could play a key role in this future.”
To conclude the official launch, Centre for Global Enterprise Director Lorna Wright moderated a panel discussion on “Harnessing the power of Canada’s SMEs for global success”, which featured Greg Twinney, FCGA – CFO and COO of Kobo Inc., and Alan Ballak, President of Trade Network Canada and a former Trade Commissioner with The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service.
For more information about the Centre for Global Enterprise, please visit www.schulich.yorku.ca/cge.