Macfab Reaches for the Stars
Our top take-aways from the 33rd Annual Space Symposium
How to not get lost in the crowd: Playing the Team Canada card
Anyone who’s attended a major trade conference for the first time knows that connecting with the right people can be a daunting challenge. Fortunately, when the Macfab delegation went last month to the 33rd annual Space Symposium, they had the support of some friends in very high places. High places as in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, where the conference was held. High places as in the regional offices of the Consulate General of Canada.
The result? Mission accomplished, says Joe Magyar, Macfab’s business development director. “This was a phenomenally successful event for us. We made contacts at a number of major aerospace companies, but also with many small and midsize ones, and they all look like a great fit for us.”
Macfab went into this event with an impressive track record in the space sector (see our feature article on Macfab’s work with the University of Toronto’s Space Flight Laboratory), but the company was still an unproven entity to most of the established global players. The assistance of the Consulate General was invaluable in getting past that hurdle, but there were other factors at play.
In this article, Consul General Stephane Lessard and Trade Commissioner Stephen Davis offer their thoughts on the key factors that led to Macfab’s success at the Symposium. Note that many of these insights apply not only to Macfab’s experience at this event; they’re relevant to virtually any small to midsize company looking to enter or expand into today’s global space industry.
How to not get lost in space: Three reasons Canadian companies are winning business
- We are preceded by Canada’s stellar reputation in the space sector:
Stephane Lessard: “Among the very large prime contractors in the US space sector, and also some of the very large systems suppliers, there’s a very high regard for Canadian technology. In Canada, we don’t typically try to cover the whole landscape of an entire supply chain. There are some larger companies, like MDA, that are integrators and prime contractors, but the bulk of the industry is really smaller companies that pick a niche, become the best in the world, and then they look to work with the large subsystem suppliers and prime contractors. There’s a huge track record of Canadian companies having hardware on satellites in orbit, dozens if not hundreds, and also the ground segment – the earth stations – and elsewhere, in the application sector. So that’s the approach that Canada has taken traditionally, and it’s been very successful.”
More than 11,000 people from 30 countries attended the 33rd annual Space Symposium, one of the global space industry’s premiere conference
The Canadian exhibit, sponsored by the Consulate General of Canada, included 10 Canadian companies. Shown here (left to right): Stephen Davis, Trade Commissioner, Stephane Lessard, Consul General, with Macfab’s Joe Magyar, business development director, and Charles Day, R&D manager.
- Niche specialists are welcome
Stephen Davis: “The space sector has so many moving parts, that it’s not reasonable to expect these companies – a Lockheed or a Boeing or Ball Aerospace – to make all of the components that go into satellites, rockets, you name it. Like the automotive sector, they depend on their first tier of suppliers, and then the suppliers in the second and third tier. So our companies have a lot of opportunities to get into that supply chain. It’s rigorous to be accepted, but once you’re accepted, you have a really good chance of staying in that supply chain.”
- Team Canada has a formidable ground game
The space industry – and the Colorado region’s Consulate General in particular – offer a prime example of how Canada’s federal government can play a major role in facilitating new business opportunities for Canadian companies. The Consulate General’s Denver-based region covers five states and several other industries, but it’s well known in the space sector – and in particular for its 10-year-long presence at the Space Symposium.
Long regarded as one of this industry’s must-attend events, the Space Symposium draws upwards of 11,000 people from 30+ countries every year. Attending the conference is a major undertaking, especially for a small company. Here’s Stephen Davis’s summary of how and where the Consulate General helps:
“Are you sure this is a good fit for you?” “One of the things that I tell companies is that if they’re just a me-too, there’s a dozen companies doing that right near the customer that they’re going for, and they’re going to have to have more than just saying, ‘Well we’re the best.’ They’re going to have to have a track record with other companies, other large companies, and if their expertise is not in the same sector, they’ve got to be able to explain how it translates into aerospace. So even in terms of putting them into a room, that’s part of what I have to evaluate. And it may not be in their best interest to put them in a room with a Lockheed or a Boeing. They may need to be in a room with someone lower down in the supply chain.”
10 small exhibitors, 1 giant-size booth. “Our booth is large enough to draw attention and draw key contacts, because we’ve branded it well for Canada. So that gathering of 10 companies in one booth really makes a statement that they couldn’t make by themselves.”
A roundtable event: “Every year we do this event with one of the prime contractors. Last year, it was with United Launch Alliance, before that it was Lockheed, the year before that, Ball Aerospace. These are each companies that our Canadian companies might not be able to connect with on their own, and if they could, they might not connect with the right This year, our 10 companies were in a room with the key people from Boeing, including the person who decides on where offset dollars are spent in Canada. That’s a really key person that all of our companies wanted to meet.”
Macfab’s Joe Magyar (left) and Charles Day at the Consulate General’s roundtable event
An invitation-only reception: “The idea is to put our Canadian companies into contact with about 100 to 200 key contacts in the industry. So again, it’s one more place where they can meet with these people and set up future meetings.”
Leveraging your market development resources
The Space Symposium was an unqualified success for Macfab, resulting not only in new contacts but also in an order for flight hardware from a prominent US firm two weeks after the event. “This is the first time we’ve attended the Space Symposium, but it’s going to be a regular event for us going forward. We could not be happier with the results, and with the tremendous support we got from our friends at the Consulate General.”
Opportunities like these would not have happened without the resources and support of the Consulate General team, but as Stephane Lessard is quick to point out, it’s still up to each company to demonstrate their ability to meet the customer’s needs: “Prime contractors in the US look for the most reliable supplier at the best possible quality and cost, and often they find them in Canada. They look elsewhere, too, but they find them in Canada often.”