The first choice for the Vancouver-based company, which has an Ottawa office, was the United Kingdom because of its vast, English-speaking population, its mutual commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its large defence and security market.
With the help of channel partner PulseLearning, which is headquartered in Ireland, Ngrain secured a contract with the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence in March 2011. The Canadian company supplied a virtual training tool for the SA80 assault rifle used by all soldiers in the British Army. The interactive three-dimensional simulation platform trains soldiers on the theory, maintenance and repair of the rifle in preparation for a handling test.
"Although a weapon is very small, it's very complex in its operation," said Ngrain CEO Gabe Batstone. "There are a lot of maintenance and operational issues, particularly in areas of the world where troops are today," such as Afghanistan and Iraq where British soldiers are currently stationed.
A year into honouring its first contract with the U.K. defence ministry, Ngrain landed another one, this time for software that teaches how to repair a diesel engine used by the British Army. The contract, announced on May 22, calls for Ngrain to provide technology to assist members of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (a subsection of the army responsible for equipment maintenance and repair) learn procedures such as how to change the starter motor or oil pump.
CROSSING THE POND
Ngrain's involvement with the F-35 helped the company get its foot in the door since the U.K. is the second-largest purchaser of the combat aircraft.
Ngrain is responsible for creating a three-dimensional representation of the F-35 post-flight to determine if anything has interfered with the stealth technology's ability to evade radar detection.
This experience gave the company marketability in the United Kingdom, which is a critical market in the defence space, said Mr. Batstone.
"As one of the world's superpowers, it's in its nature to be an expeditionary force," he said. "It's hard to travel the world and not run into Brits."
Partnerships such as the one between Ngrain and the British government are just what Bernadette Terry said she likes to hear.
Acting as a trade officer for the U.K. Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation, Ms. Terry acts as a matchmaker between companies in Canada and the United Kingdom. The organization was launched in April 2008 to handle business development between the two countries.
Although she works with companies all over Canada, Ms. Terry's office is in Ottawa where the defence and security industry is thriving.
"There are cluster areas and individual companies with strengths across the whole country," she wrote in an e-mail to OBJ. "However, as the national capital, Ottawa is a natural centre of excellence for companies providing technologies to keep Canada and other countries safe and secure."
Ms. Terry has facilitated hundreds of partnerships between companies - including some in Ottawa - since taking the position six years ago.
Matches are made based on needs and compatibility, and projects can easily be in the millions of dollars, she said.
The U.K. and Canada are natural trading partners because of historical linkages, shared values and similar business cultures, she said. The U.K. is Canada's second largest trading partner after the United States. Often, Canadians view the U.K. as their entry point into Europe, Ms. Terry added.
"We need to co-operate if we hope to be able to mitigate any potential threats or deal with any incidents, including those arising from natural disasters," she said. "We can all learn from each other. I have seen some very innovative technologies from both Canada and the U.K."
Ngrain was able to infiltrate the U.K. market without the help of Ms. Terry's organization, but Mr. Batstone said he can see the value of the program, adding that he knows companies stand to benefit from contacting international embassies and government programs helping to foster partnerships between global firms - especially now, during an age of austerity where budgets are being slashed worldwide.
"If you get the opportunity to go there to show you've got a solution to avoid costs or ... speed up the ability for people to learn, you're going to find a receptive audience," he said.
The Ottawa company plans to attempt entry into another English-speaking country that also purchases F-35s. Next up: Australia.
U.K. defence and security industry:
• Fourth-highest spender (in cash terms) on defence in the world (behind the United States, China and France);
• Second-largest military spender in NATO (behind the United States);
• Spends more than two per cent of its GDP on defence (a NATO commitment that only five countries honour).
Source: United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence