4 fantastic takeaways this global conference gave SMBs

(en anglais seulement)

Last week I spent the day at Centrallia 2016, a two and a half-day conference held at Winnipeg’s RBC Convention Centre designed to connect and promote business on local, national, and international levels.

The first day consisted of two “breakout sessions” during which a variety of presenters discussed opportunities for business in the Arctic (northern provinces and territories) as well as the Americas (Central American countries such as Mexico, Brazil, etc). In the evening, attendees enjoyed an exhilarating talk from Dr. Gerald Durley, a speaker and civil rights activist, followed by a busy day-and-a-half of “speed dating” style networking sessions.

Are you regretting not attending this valuable conference?

Never fear! I’ve put together a recap of some of the most important points and takeaways covered, so you can start thinking about how to grow your business today.

1. Plan Your Partnerships

One of the major reasons that businesses attended Centrallia was to take advantage of the opportunities to network, connect and, with some luck, form strategic business partnerships.

Though the second and third days of the conference were dedicated solely to “speed dating” style networking sessions, the presenters who spoke to the crowd during the first day touched upon this important issue.

“Partnershipping is like making a baby… it’s fun to make one, but after you’ve made one you have to roll up your sleeves and go to work” said Chris Reynolds of Stantec during the Arctic breakout session.

He went on to explain that while networking and meeting new people may be exciting and exhilarating, it’s important to think critically about the long-term benefits and drawbacks of entering into a partnership.

2. Understand the Markets You Want to Enter

Are you thinking about expanding your business into new international territory? Then get ready to do your homework and take a lot of business trips, says Gustavo Zentner.

Zentner spoke about opportunities for developing businesses in Central America’s Mercosur countries (the Southern Common Market) during The Americas breakout session.

He warned against using an interpreter, as important linguistic choices and details may be left out unintentionally. He recommended that if businesses are interested in expanding into new markets where they don’t speak the language, they should take the time to find a connection they trust to assist with challenges around language and communication.

He also warned that it’s important to take your time and accurately assess the strengths and weaknesses of your target country, stating: “keep it real and look at a variety of levels in Mercosur countries such as levels of globalization, corruption, and technology adoption levels in areas like manufacturing. Be prepared to make a serious and long-term investment in your country of choice.”

3. Protect Your Intellectual Property

The breakout sessions were broken up by a “learning lunch” during which presenters from Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP presented on the topic of business law. Various talking points benefitted a variety of businesses, from small and local to international.

One of the most pertinent points came from a presentation about intellectual property (IP) in Canada. Intellectual property refers to creations used in commerce such as inventions, designs, names, logos, code and so on.

The presenters explained that many businesses do not properly understand intellectual property law, and that often leaves them vulnerable to employees or contractors stealing or using their unprotected intellectual property.

In particular, they cautioned that businesses should take extra steps to make sure that they are protected before amendments to the Canadian Trademarks Act, which will take place in light of Bill C-31. These changes are expected to happen in 2018 and could potentially leave businesses open to “patent trolling” or “trademark trolls”, which are parties or businesses who preemptively apply to register trademarks or intellectual property with the intention to block other parties from using it, usually via expensive litigation.

How can you protect your IP? Here are a few takeaways from the talk:

  • Speak to a qualified legal professional about your ideas and how best to protect them.
  • Make sure that any employees or contractors sign an agreement which expressly states that you own the IP that they create, including any code written for your project.
  • Ensure that you have an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) included in your agreement or employee contract.
  • Take precautionary steps before the changes to the Canadian Trademarks Act are enacted in 2018.
  • Read up on patent trolls and trademark trolls.

4. Don’t Let Other People’s Opinions Keep You Down

Dr. Durley, whose keynote talk officially kicked off the evening after the daytime breakout sessions, used examples from his childhood and youth to caution business owners against letting other people’s opinions and attitudes discourage them from doing what they believed was right.

He captivated the audience with his insightful advice.

Much of this talk drew from examples in his life, such as being harassed for the colour of his skin and being told that he should “mind his own business” instead of getting involved with the civil rights movement. This cause which would later come to define his life.

“Moments of growth come during challenging times” he stated, explaining that there will always be naysayers and people who want to keep you in the “‘I can’t do it’ box.”

“The trick is to always have the right attitude and to listen to yourself first” he said, “…connect with other like-minded people. Seek them out and listen to their words of encouragement and support. See people face-to-face because if you never touch anybody your business will always remain small and you’ll lose sight of it.”