Imagine being able to replicate sunlight to such a precise degree that you can actually mimic the daily light patterns of a specific location halfway around the world—on any given day or time during the year. And imagine controlling light with such perfection that it can be used to test flight-critical hardware for space missions or grow crops indoors to produce 30% higher yields. Unimaginable to most of us, it’s these levels of precision and sophistication that are at the heart of G2V Optics’ Engineered Sunlight™ technology.
The highly innovative, Edmonton-based company was founded in 2015 by scientist and researcher, Dr. Michael Taschuk. The first generation of their technology was developed at the National Institute of Nanotechnology and the University of Alberta. Incredibly complex, their solar simulator solution produces illumination that re-creates natural sunlight and is used by indoor test facilities under laboratory conditions.
Seeing the exporting light
“We’re the world experts in bringing light and data together for applications where light is the most important component,” says Ryan Tucker, G2V’s chief executive officer. The global solar simulator market is growing strongly and is expected to climb to $1 billion within the next few years. “We’ve known all along that exports were going to be a huge driver of future sales,” he adds.
The company’s second sale went to the United States, quickly followed by their fourth sale to Pakistan. From very early on, they were in the enviable position of having labs reach out to them rather than the other way around. So far, G2V has sold its solar simulators in 35 countries and international sales account for a full two-thirds of company revenue.
The company’s unique technological advantages in some of the most demanding lighting applications has attracted top-tier customers worldwide—and G2V has risen to the challenge of becoming the global leader. G2V’s products are used by some of the most prestigious universities and research institutes in the world such as NASA, the University of Cambridge, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Centre national d’études spatiales (National Centre for Space Studies in France) and countless other leading institutions globally.
Engineered Sunlight™ technology also has applications beyond scientific research: for example, G2V’s horticulture lighting solutions are used in a number of Canadian indoor farming operations, resulting in bountiful crops of fruits, vegetables, flowers and spices.
Like many technology companies, they’re aggressively pursuing every opportunity available globally, and that’s where Export Development Canada (EDC) and the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) come in. The combined efforts of these two Government of Canada partners have armed G2V with market intelligence, trade knowledge, connections and financing solutions that have facilitated the company’s rapid growth.
Making all the right connections
“The TCS is an amazing service. They’re just so focused on helping us with business development, networking and making the right connections,” says Tucker. The TCS has more than 1,000 Trade Commissioners in offices across Canada and worldwide. Collectively, they help Canadian companies prepare to do business internationally, assess their market potential, find vetted business contacts and opportunities abroad, and resolve business problems. These TCS services are also free for qualifying Canadian companies and organizations.
After G2V participated in the TCS Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA) in San Francisco-Minneapolis for agri-tech, and in Denver’s program for high-growth, high-potential cleantech companies, some very big doors started to open.
According to Stephen Davis, the Trade Commissioner responsible for the program in Denver, “G2V’s trip here in 2020—to which they travelled virtually because of COVID-19—generated the kinds of results that every young tech company dreams about.”
First, as part of the Denver program, they had the chance to present their business development needs to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). G2V scored a major victory by being one of two Canadian companies that were awarded 40 hours of coveted lab time with NREL researchers to validate their technology. NREL validation of G2V’s technology can be an invaluable credential when building international sales and attracting investment.
Second, the program helped prepare G2V to participate in NREL’s annual Industry Growth Forum so they could maximize their exposure to investors. The Forum brings together entrepreneurs and investors to build relationships, showcase innovative technologies, and identify disruptive business solutions, and G2V earned an impressive 13 one-on-one meetings with prospective backers. The potential spinoffs from that can last for years and open countless doors.
Third, NREL was so impressed while testing G2V’s Sunbrick™ solar simulator, they purchased a unit for their lab and are collaborating with G2V in further research. The relationship G2V has with such a prestigious, internationally known research lab will be invaluable to the company’s business development efforts worldwide.
The TCS CanExport program, which provides qualifying SMEs financial support for various aspects of international business development, has also been a valuable tool for the company. “G2V used CanExport funding to offset the expenses of an online marketing campaign that included both Google ads and targeted ads. Originally aimed at the U.S., those ads have netted hits from markets around the world,” explains Samuel Boateng, a Trade Commissioner in Edmonton, who leads the TCS relationship with G2V. “At last count, they’ve had direct sales as a result of that campaign, and that doesn’t even include the benefits of greater awareness and exposure,” he adds.
With the support provided by CanExport funding, the company also secured reseller agreements in South Korea and Brazil, on top of new sales in Germany, France, Belgium, Poland, Czech Republic, Australia, and Kenya.
Boateng provides a continuity of service to the growing tech company, as well as access to the TCS global network of business development advisors. When G2V wanted to qualify a reseller partnership in India, they turned to the TCS team in Delhi. Similarly, when they encountered delays in a contract related to a Buy American waiver, the TCS at the Embassy of Canada to the U.S. was able to provide guidance about the differences between Buy America and Buy American, clarify the administrative process surrounding a Buy American waiver, and share information and a list of lawyers with the right expertise to address the company’s concerns.
“G2V is one of those companies that has successfully leveraged the global reach and local expertise of the TCS for maximum benefit. We are a force multiplier for SMEs that are developing their international business, offering an enabling environment where they can get answers to their questions, helping make critical connections with buyers and partners, and using our events to dig deeper into potential markets and assess strategies. They’re a great example of how SMEs can use the TCS to maximize their global potential,” adds Boateng.
The BETR way to trade
The Business, Economic and Trade Recovery (BETR) team includes trade-related Government of Canada organizations that work together, every day, to help Canadian businesses venture into foreign markets.
In many ways, G2V Optics’ international success has been strengthened by the BETR organizations they’ve come to rely on throughout their exporting journey.
- Export Development Canada (EDC) has partnered with G2V’s financial institution to guarantee an operating line of credit, which provided the necessary cash flow to service multiple international contracts. EDC’s Account Performance Security Guarantee is a critical solution as the company establishes manufacturing partners outside of Canada.
- The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) has been invaluable in connecting G2V to an industry-leading lab and critical investors through their Canadian Technology Accelerators in the U.S. Their CanExport funding program has not only provided G2V with direct sales, but extensive global reach.
Keeping ahead of capital demands
With all of those connections, it didn’t take long for the young tech-driven company to run into financial challenges as a direct result of their success. “Orders started coming in and we needed working capital to be able to fulfill those larger deals,” recalls Brendan Hance, G2V’s finance lead. “It can be a bit of a roller-coaster from a financial perspective. ATB (Financial) has been our primary lending partner, and they came through in the early days with an operating line of credit that was partially backstopped by Export Development Canada (EDC).” By partnering with EDC, ATB was able to extend G2V’s line of credit without tying up collateral to secure the facility.
Hance is thoroughly steeped in the world of startups and, in his experience, most find it challenging to secure working capital. Regrettably, with asset-light balance sheets, there’s typically little to lend against. That’s why ATB suggested they work together with EDC using the Export Guarantee Program. “We got together, then it was a done deal. That credit line was critical to our growth at that point,” Hance recalls. “Just knowing you have that capacity provides peace of mind. Having EDC play a part was an absolute necessity. We wouldn’t have been able to secure the loan without them.”
Ensuring new customers
As G2V continued to grow, they started looking for larger-scale manufacturing partners in the U.S. to offload some of the production processes they’d been handling themselves. But it’s difficult for early-stage companies to negotiate these types of deals without providing a considerable amount of upfront cash with an order.
The solution: A standby letter of credit issued by ATB and backed by EDC. In a case like this, the FI issues a letter of credit to the supplier, ensuring them that they’ll get paid for the order. Typically, an FI will require 100% collateral before issuing a letter of credit. But by using EDC’s Account Performance Security Guarantee (APSG), ATB was able to issue a letter of credit without a collateral requirement. In return, EDC provided a 100% guarantee should a call be made on the letter of credit.
“With that letter of credit solution, the supplier was totally on board,” says Hance. “It’s a big deal for a growing company. When you’re dealing with a half-million-dollar contract—where they want you to provide a $300,000 deposit—and we wouldn’t receive the goods for four or five months. Let’s just say the APSG is a valuable tool to have at our disposal.”
Broader border challenges
A cheer echoes throughout G2V every time another country is added to their growing list of export markets. But along with the victories come a few grey hairs, according to Tucker. One of their key challenges is tackling the import and export tax rules in each new jurisdiction—especially in a market as vast as the U.S., where rules can vary widely from state to state.
Recent “Buy American” initiatives are presenting their own set of hurdles, given G2V has defence and aerospace contracts in the U.S. Biden’s ‘Buy American’ Plan: An Overview of U.S. Government Procurement.
Dealing with myriad government and quasi-government agencies in countries around the globe can sometimes be daunting. Each one has different tendering processes with specific anti-corruption frameworks and other requirements, adding another level of complexity.
The COVID curve ball
COVID-19 has presented its own challenges. There’s a global shortage within a number of electronic supply chains that G2V deals with, resulting in stalls and strains on the availability of materials. With many projecting this will be the new normal for the next few years, Tucker remains stoic. “We’re kind of along for the ride with our entire sector supply chain,” he quips. “Still, we’ve made some smart moves in building up our inventory of key components, so we remain optimistic.”
The future looks bright
The growing team at G2V remains laser focused on their marketing efforts. From the beginning, they’ve published superlative web content in their areas of expertise. As a result, they’re the go-to authority in these domains of highly specialized research.
They’ve also put a strategy in place to identify, and have conversations with, every academic in the U.S. who works in their technology space. When they’re done in the U.S., they plan to replicate the same strategy in Europe—no doubt, with the same finesse and level of success that they’ve managed to replicate sunlight.