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Q&A: Catharine Gerhard on helping tech companies grow

Catharine Gerhard, Waterloo EDC's Market Development Manager for Business and Fintech, on how our organization helps tech companies expand and thrive.

Expanding into a new country isn’t easy. In fact, without help, it’s pretty hard. That’s why Waterloo EDC exists – to simplify the process.

We connect companies looking to expand with people who have a track record of making these expansions smooth and successful.

Catharine Gerhard is a Market Development Manager at Waterloo EDC. She has years of experience helping foreign companies set up shop in Waterloo and local companies expand their operations in our community.

We asked Catharine some questions about how she helps, who she has helped and why she’s so committed to helping international companies succeed in Waterloo.

Q: How do you help companies that are looking to expand to Canada? What sort of services does Waterloo EDC provide?

GERHARD: We provide personalized approaches for each company and expansion. Overall, though, the process is quite similar. As a first step, we provide companies with the information they need to evaluate our community as a possible expansion location. We typically share data and information around the talent pool, the ecosystem, the thriving clusters, the tax structure and the hiring practices in Waterloo.

After that phase, we invite them to come visit us and take part in an ecosystem tour. On this tour, they’ll meet industry peers, legal, accounting and recruiting experts, spokespeople from our universities, business leaders from the community and more. They’ll tour locations they could potentially call home and hear from other similar foreign companies on why they chose Waterloo.

Q: Do you help them once they’ve landed in Waterloo?

GERHARD: Once they’ve made the decision to come here, we support them with their launch in the community. We can help them plug into the ecosystem by raising their profile, supporting their press release and featuring them on our blog. We also host peer networking events and virtual meetups for local industry leaders to come together and connect.

Q: Can you give us a few examples of tech companies Waterloo EDC has helped expand?

GERHARD: A great one to mention is ESCRYPT and their expansion to Waterloo. This is a German embedded cybersecurity company owned by Bosch that was evaluating 150 locations globally for a new R&D location.

After we invited them to visit Waterloo to check out our ecosystem and meet with peers, they decided to set up a 100-person R&D office here. We helped them integrate into the community and raise their company profile in Waterloo.

Another company we’ve helped is global tech giant EPAM Systems. EPAM is a tech consulting company that services many major global brands. We helped them launch a 100-person tech delivery office for North America in Waterloo and relocate existing international talent.

We also helped raise their profile in Waterloo by connecting them with important local service providers and the universities for research purposes, as well as ensuring they’re part of collaborative community events.

It’s not just tech, though! We also helped local pharmaceutical company Novocol Pharma navigate various funding programs to support their expansion so they could increase operations to supply vaccines for future pandemics. As a result, they secured $32M from the Strategic Innovation Fund (a government funding program) as part of a $72M expansion.

Q: How do we help local tech companies that have already invested here?

GERHARD: Primarily, in the area of supporting their talent attraction. More often than not, local companies are not fully leveraging our local ecosystem’s resources. We take care of that.

We also help local companies connect with the broader ecosystem. Although they’re located here, they often don’t know who else is here, such as R&D centres, tech hubs, networking events, other ecosystem partners or similar companies. We’ve connected business leaders to industry peers, which leads to strategic conversations and potential partnerships.

Q: What’s the first thing a tech company should do if they’d like to consider an expansion to Waterloo? What’s next?

GERHARD: They should contact us! Seriously. We offer a personalized approach for business expansion or relocation and our initial conversations help us understand what’s driving their investment in the area and their expansion goals. From there, we can put together a really personalized plan and help them build a substantial business in Waterloo.

Q: How would you pitch Waterloo to a tech company looking to expand here?

GERHARD: Companies want to be in a tech region that’s growing, with a strong sense of community and most importantly with accessible talent. And Waterloo has got that in spades. We’re one of the fastest growing communities in Canada and our population is incredibly diverse and bright.

Our tight-knit community is open to newcomers, young families and millennials – we have the fastest-growing millennial population in all of North America – which gives us a really healthy pipeline of work-ready talent.

We also offer an incredible startup ecosystem, which is fostered by the University of Waterloo, one of the top tech schools in the world. As a result, it has produced a slew of unicorns like Faire and ApplyBoard.

Our tech ecosystem is rich with resources and adept at collaboration. And that collaborative nature promotes success and growth and an exciting sense of spirit. It’s a community that helps you raise your profile and inspires you to succeed.

Q: You’ve been helping tech companies expand in Waterloo for more than a decade now. What drew you to Waterloo EDC?

GERHARD: I came to Waterloo in 2006. I liked the location, the market was good and the cost of living was reasonable, but it was the business scene that really kept me here. Waterloo is a place full of ideas, and the community is so entrepreneurial and energetic.

I was drawn to Waterloo EDC because it’s governed by industry. I’m really interested in the business decision side of expansion and working closely with businesses and the industry. And the team at Waterloo EDC is always pushing boundaries, which I love. There’s no status quo – we are always trying to grow and help other grow, always seeking to be better.

Want to learn more about expanding to Waterloo?

Get in touch with Catharine today.