Posted by Liana Hovakimyan |

Paying it Forward with Toronto Global

Toronto Global works with international businesses with an interest in expanding operations into the Toronto Region. We refer to these companies as our clients, but our relationships go far beyond that – we become friends and support each other throughout their journey of expanding their business to Canada.

My client asked me, “Who has been your favorite client at Toronto Global so far?” We were wrapping up a three-day program of meetings in Toronto to support the company’s due diligence in evaluating the Toronto Region for expansion.  I paused briefly.

“You, of course!” We all laughed.

When our clients visit us in the Toronto Region, we set up meetings with various parties to help them understand all aspects of doing business in Canada. Conversations with legal, tax, accounting, recruiting, and other experts inform our clients’ decision making, but they get the most valuable intelligence from meetings with our local, growing, and thriving Canadian companies. These friendly chats are instrumental in understanding the region’s talent pool and opportunities, along with advice on best hiring practices and potential challenges. One can’t place a monetary value on those conversations; they are truly priceless and make our new market entrants feel welcomed here.

So back to this client, a software development company. In November 2018, I was in San Francisco for a week of meetings with Bay Area companies to pitch expansion to the Toronto Region. I usually take these meetings with my provincial and federal government colleagues that are on the ground in San Francisco, as they can maintain the valuable relationship with client companies in market while I am back in Toronto.
It was Chelsea Peet’s first day of work in San Francisco. Chelsea was the newly appointed Senior Economic Officer for the Government of Ontario, and she was housed at the Consulate of Canada in San Francisco. We met in the morning at the Blue Bottle coffee house in downtown San Francisco, discussed our program of meetings, and set out for the day.

The second company we met with on that day was People.ai, a developer of a revenue intelligence platform designed to accelerate enterprise growth through the power of AI. The company was in the process of moving into its new office building, so the office was almost empty with lots of packed boxes and a fresh paint smell. We met with Andrey Akselrod, CTO who told us that the company was growing, had exciting projects ahead, but international expansion was nowhere on its radar, so we agreed to simply keep in touch.

The next meeting was with Coursera, a developer of an online education and learning platform designed to offer courses to empower learners around the world. Coursera was in dire need of engineers and needed them “yesterday” – sweet music to my ears. Over the course of the next few months, we planned and facilitated a few visits for Richard Wong, SVP of Engineering and his team at Coursera to the Toronto Region to meet with service providers, take a look at office spaces, and participate in TechToronto events to spread the word around about its expansion. Coursera’s efforts paid off and they opened an engineering office in Toronto in May 2019. Together with our federal government colleagues, we facilitated an opportunity for Richard Wong to publicly announce about Coursera’s expansion to Toronto at the Collision conference, the fastest growing tech conference in North America, which is set to be held in Toronto in 2020 and 2021, following its first event here in 2019.


(Richard Wong, SVP of Engineering, Coursera, speaking at Collision 2019)

(From left to right: Daniel Silverman, EVP Investment Attraction, Toronto Global; Arunav Sinha, Head of Global Communications, Coursera; Richard Wong, SVP of Engineering, Coursera; Mark Cohon, Chair, Toronto Global; Ian McKay, CEO, Invest in Canada; Nathalie Bechamp, Chief Investor Services, Invest in Canada)

Coursera’s office in Toronto started with a small team, led by a few top performers who relocated from Mountain View to build a team in Toronto. Raghav Pasari, Engineering Manager at Coursera, was offered to relocate to Toronto from the Mountain View headquarters to build and manage the tech team here. He was very excited at the new opportunity, but also a little scared about facing the upcoming Canadian winter (which, I assured him, is never as bad as people say and offers an array of winter activities, from skating to skiing, and from snowmobiling to ice fishing!) I was happy to witness how the company successfully outgrew its first shared office space and was a strong team of 30 people in a matter of months with plans to further expand across many critical functions.

Still with me? Remember People.ai? We’ve kept in touch with the CTO, sent him our standard value proposition for tech in the Toronto Region, and flagged relevant events in town to attract them to visit.

In August 2019 People.ai advised they were ready for the company’s expansion move, and we connected them with a few service providers on tax, legal, and immigration issues. In November, exactly one year after our first meeting in San Francisco, Andrey Akselrod, CTO and Jose Muniz, Senior Director of Engineering visited the Toronto region for a series of meetings. In one of his previous emails, Andrey mentioned they had hired an experienced Engineering Director who had previously led engineering teams at other Bay area tech companies, but had a limited network in Toronto. We learned that Maz Mirabedini was a Torontonian who’d lived in San Francisco for seven years, and he has now moved back and would be building an engineering team in Toronto for People.ai. “Could you support him with connections?” asked the CTO.

When I hosted People.ai’s team in Toronto for a three-day program of meetings, the very last one was over a business lunch. Can you guess with who? It was with Raghav Pasari, Coursera’s Engineering Manager, who was now speaking confidently about the bold move that his company made with the Toronto expansion and sharing his experience of the unknown path he’d trotted along. He was paying it forward by giving out his acquired knowledge of the Toronto Region tech market and hiring challenges and opportunities. Isn’t this amazing? Two young and aspiring engineering leaders from two different client companies that I met on the same trip last year in San Francisco have now been chatting over lunch in Toronto about the same thing – expanding to Toronto and hiring great tech talent here. Raghav from Coursera was in the driver’s seat with his experience, while Maz from People.ai was eagerly catching every word of wisdom and, hopefully, would be paying it forward in the future when he is the driver himself.

So who was my favorite client: Coursera or People.ai? Or, perhaps, was it my chain restaurant client? Or my carrot processing client? Or maybe a life science company client?

I realized all my clients are my favorites because I simply love what I do. I love meeting with each new company, understanding their business and their product, learning about their growth trajectory, and figuring out how I can help them achieve that growth by expanding to the Toronto Region.

And since we are wrapping up this year and moving into the new one, it’s that time for quiet contemplation and gratitude. So I wanted to give my thanks. First and foremost, thank you to my dedicated teammate, Michael Keoshkerian, for the ideas we constantly bounce off of each other and hash out on our busy, scribbled white board; to our amazing and supportive investment attraction, research, marketing & communications and business operations teams. You are DA BEST! Thank you to the management of Toronto Global for this amazing organization, I feel privileged to be working here. Thank you to my clients that add spice to my job with all the new learning opportunities. I am having lots of fun here!

To all the people and organizations that have supported me in my work -- our legal, tax, recruitment, immigration experts, our amazing university and college talent producers and promoters, our great networking and industry organizations, our provincial, federal and municipal government colleagues – you are all our Canadian champions. Thank you!

And most importantly, a special thank you to all the companies operating in the Toronto Region who graciously agree to share their time and business experience with our clients. These new market entrants would contribute to the increased competition for talent, yet, our regional companies are there to support them, offering true Canadian warmth and hospitality, sharing their experiences of growing and thriving here, as well as warning of potential challenges and mistakes. Their insights are truly indispensable. And a huge thank you to Toronto Global’s former clients that have successfully established operations here and have become Canadian companies and champions themselves. Thank you for paying it forward.

About Author

Liana Hovakimyan

Liana HovakimyanDirector, Investment Attraction, North America

Liana works with U.S.-based companies interested in expanding their operations to the Toronto Region. 

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