Invest Ottawa program looks to sell foreign firms on benefits of setting up shop in capital

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David Sali
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A local company with roots in China is hoping its natural antioxidant supplement takes off with a little help from Invest Ottawa’s “soft landing” program.

Dr. Chengzhi Yang, general manager, Jianwei Health Products

Jianwei Health Products, which set up at Invest Ottawa’s Little Italy headquarters about a year ago, is planning to market a compound called taxifolin, a natural antioxidant found in the bark of trees such as larch and red elms.

The company says taxifolin can aid in staving off the effects of diseases such as diabetes and some cancers, although those claims have yet to be scientifically proven in humans. Backed by China’s Jilin Jianwei Natural Biotechnology, the firm has been marketing its product in that country and hopes to eventually sell it in North America and around the world.

Jianwei general manager Dr. Chengzhi Yang first met with Invest Ottawa officials in May 2013 during their visit to China, where the agency explained the benefits of the “soft landing” program.

Under the program, Invest Ottawa works with international entrepreneurs looking to set up operations in Canada, with the goal of helping them set up shop in the capital. The agency provides legal advice with incorporating in Canada and helps companies connect with business leaders, government agencies and industry associations in the city.

In the case of Jianwei, the pitch paid off. Dr. Yang said the capital’s proximity to major U.S. and Canadian markets was a major selling point, as was its status as the home of government departments such as Health Canada and world-renowned research facilities. Ultimately, those factors helped give it the edge over other potential North American locations.

Dr. Yang said his firm has spent about $250,000 so far on research and development and marketing. If research eventually proves that taxifolin could be effective as a prescribed medication, he believes the company could invest as much as $10 million to $15 million in its Ottawa operations, he said.

“We’ve benefited a lot from Invest Ottawa,” he added, noting the agency offered the company, which has two employees, office space at a reasonable price, helped it navigate legal red tape and provided marketing advice.

Invest Ottawa president and CEO Bruce Lazenby calls firms like Jianwei – one of three companies currently in the soft landing program – a “harbinger” of things to come. As the nation’s capital, the city is ideally positioned to welcome international businesses hoping to establish a foothold in North America, he said.

“All the organizations you need to work with are here,” he said. “Those kinds of proximities do make a difference.”

Having relatively easy access to government officials is particularly beneficial for a company such as Jianwei, he said. The firm is hoping to eventually attain Health Canada’s approval to manufacture and market taxifolin as a pharmaceutical product.

“A made-in-Canada product has value,” Mr. Lazenby said. “If you can get your product with a Canadian certification on it, that made-in-Canada antioxidant has all of a sudden got more value having passed very rigid, very strict, very controlled Canadian standards.”

The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute is currently studying taxifolin to see how effectively it alleviates the symptoms of heart disease in laboratory mice. The results of that project, which should be released within a year, will determine whether it’s worth studying taxifolin’s effects on people.

“There’s got to be a pretty good market out there for (a government-approved taxifolin) pill,” said Dr. Michael McBurney, a senior scientist at the institute and the lead researcher on the project. “I think that has been the hope of people working on these kinds of compounds.”

Organizations: Jianwei Health Products, Health Canada, North American Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

Geographic location: Ottawa, Canada, China North America Little Italy U.S.

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