A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of taking part in a trade mission to Toronto and Chicago, hosted by the Mayor’s International Business Programme (MIBP) and London & Partners (L&P). The aim, along with my trade mission brothers and sisters, was to scope out North America and see whether our fast-growth start-ups (with turnovers of £1m or more) see value in expanding across the pond. Fourteen UK-based businesses, on a mission to take over the world… well, not quite, but you get the point. These businesses were split between the two broad categories of Edu-Tech and B2B-Tech. Nucco Brain doesn’t fit specifically well into either of these, from a tech point of view, but we certainly work with clients in both sectors to produce content for their platforms, apps, experiences or general marketing. Broad scope, for Nucco then, to see whether there are North American partners we could collaborate with in the future. The sun was out, the skies were clear and the people (as expected) were extremely friendly and accommodating – all things looking bright to kick off what would be an eventful week!
We started off at Toronto Region Board of Trade, where we heard what Toronto had to offer as a city for startups – excellent talent pool, easy trade throughout Canada and only a hop, skip and a jump from the US border. Canada has some great incentives for businesses who are innovating (with things like the SCHRED tax incentive for R&D) and trade agreements with the US means that the border is pretty invisible when it comes to providing services. There was a panel discussion with the leading Edu-Tech businesses in Toronto, as well as key stakeholders within the education sector, giving their views on the pros and cons of the Toronto market as a whole. Needless to say, there were far more pros than cons!
We went to one of the WeWork’s in Toronto, to investigate one of the sites where startups have flourished already in the Toronto scene. We then headed to our respective airports to catch flights over to Chicago, the second stage of our mission. After arriving and checking into our hotels, we went to a lovely evening soiree, hosted by the British Consul General, at his residence in Chicago. All I can say is WOW – his residence was amazingly impressive and it was truly an evening where great connections were made (I won’t go into too much detail about the amazing Friday night I had with someone I met here… maybe for another blog that 😉 )
Our final full day on the mission started with a trip to 1871 – Chicago’s very own center for technology and entrepreneurship. Here we were given similar treatment to that of the Toronto Region Board of Trade – this time from World Business Chicago. Speakers told us the major benefits of expanding to Chicago: there are a large number of Fortune 500 companies HQs in Chicago, it’s in the Midwest so connected easily to both the East and West coasts, there is already a mature startup scene with open doors to newcomers. All sounds good to me! Next stop? The Motorola HQ and the Google offices, to see the space they had both developed in Chicago – super impressive spaces, for sure! The final stop of the day – WeWork Chicago: this time to pitch in a ‘Shark Tank’ style environment (Dragon’s Den for any UK readers). It was somewhat nerve-wracking to pitch your business to a panel of 3 successful entrepreneurs (as well as attendees of the networking event that followed) but everyone on the mission did an excellent job. If nothing else, it was a great experience to be a part of (and I think we’d all spieled about our businesses enough by that point to be pretty clear on what we needed to say). Another great day in another great city…
Another colleague and I traveled to a film, media and entertainment incubator called 2112. This was an awesome part of the trip for me, as a big fan of music and film production – it’s 160,000sqft of filming, audio recording, mixing and production studio space, with a startup incubator at the heart of it. Words can’t describe this place (it took us about 3 hours to get the full tour) but the sheer scale of it blew my mind. They’re doing awesome things at 2112, facilitated by the founder Scott Fetters (who is a great mind and took me on the unforgettable Friday night out I mentioned earlier). Worth checking them out, for sure, if you’re ever in Chi-town!
The trade mission was a great explorative experience, where I met loads of businesses Nucco Brain could collaborate with in the future. Chicago, particularly, left an impression on me and made me think it would be a great place to expand our business into North America, eventually. The guys at L&P were a great help and organised an awesome week of activities. On top of that, the people I was on the mission with were a great bunch of people and I hope to see them at some point in the future on that side of the pond, expanding our businesses together – here’s hoping that’s sooner rather than later! 😀
By Mark Kershaw
Client Engagement Director at Nucco Brain
(photo by Pedro Lastra on Unsplash)