A conversation with Vincent Finn, Trade Commissioner at Consulate of Canada in New York
I first met Vince Finn, known widely as Canada’s Trade Commissioner for Health IT, working out of their Philadelphia Consulate (since closed) nine years ago, when he reached out to me in my role of Executive Director for the Pennsylvania eHealth Initiative. He was interested in discussing ways Canadian health IT firms, particularly early-stage ones, could better position themselves and their solutions in the U.S. marketplace. Canada then, as now, was way ahead of the U.S. in using technology to apply telehealth, and there were a number of compelling emerging healthcare technologies coming out of Canada which weren’t available through American companies, so we agreed that the launch of a national conference in Philadelphia – what would become the annual U. S. – Canada Health IT Summit – could be a win-win for our two countries, and our work in partnership began.
Fast forward, Finn remains a Trade Commissioner for Canada, but with offices now in New York, a broadened geographic focus, new Prime Minister at the helm, and long “To Do” and “Accomplishments” lists to his credit. In addition to his trade-related responsibilities, he also supports the Foreign Policy and Diplomatic Services through ongoing monitoring and analysis of local political and economic issues and their potential effect on Canada-US relations, conducts outreach activities and events to promote Canadian political and economic interests in the region.
Prior to joining the Trade Commissioner Service, he held a variety of senior management positions in Europe and the United States in strategic sourcing, product development, sales and marketing for such companies as Marks & Spencer and Milliken & Company and Sprint. Finn has a Master of Science in Technology from Manchester University, and he currently sits on the board of the Welcome Center for New Pennsylvanians.
The following is our recent Q&A…
Stevens: You are a Trade Commissioner for Canada focused primarily on health IT and Life Sciences. What does that mean in terms of your day-to-day work and responsibilities? What are some of the things Canada does to support its health IT entrepreneurs that the United States does not do for its start-ups?
Finn: I work for the Canadian Consulate General in New York City which oversees Canada’s political, economic, cultural and immigration interests in the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
As a trade commissioner my job is to advise innovative Canadian life sciences companies on how to create, develop and expand their business in the United States. I also provide expert advice and problem-solving skills both to Canadian exporters and to American organizations interested in R&D partnering, commercialization, sourcing and investment in Canada. Part of my role is also to support the Canadian Foreign Policy and Diplomatic Services through ongoing monitoring and analysis of local political and economic issues and their potential effect on Canada-U.S. relations, conduct outreach activities and events to promote Canadian political and economic interests in the region.
The Consulate General in New York runs three technology accelerators that target high-potential early-stage companies in three sectors selected through a competitive process. The companies receive international business acceleration from partners in the private sector, working closely with Trade Commissioners of the International Business Development section of the Canadian Consulate. The three accelerators we run are:
- CTA Digital Media: Ad Tech, Data Analytics, FinTech, E-Commerce, SaaS and on-line Content selected through a competitive process.
- CTA CleanTech: Green chemistry and advanced materials; energy/water data, analysis, management & control; clean energy; clean transportation and mobility, clean web, consumer engagement and smart grid.
- CTA Health IT: Focus on patient-centered solutions using health information technology including mobile devices (mHealth) and telemedicine (eHealth).
The Canadian Technology Accelerator for health information technology (CTA Health IT) is based in Philadelphia and helps connect innovative Canadian tech companies to American investment and market growth opportunities. The CTA Health IT program gives these SMEs access to the largest healthcare services market in the world – connecting them to new markets and financing, and helping create partnerships with U.S. healthcare providers such as hospitals, insurers, research centers, and medical companies. Their products and services can help prevent chronic diseases, reduce health care costs, and improve systems management and more.
Stevens: What are Canadian heath IT firm’s greatest strengths in terms of their ability to have a positive impact on healthcare provision in the America? What are their biggest challenges in doing so?
Finn: Although there are many differences between the United States and Canadian health systems, physicians, patients, caregivers and others in both countries face similar challenges. Some of these include preventing sickness and death from heart disease and other conditions, improving patients’ quality of life and delivering cost-efficient, effective care. Canadian health technology innovators have developed novel solutions for these problems that could greatly benefit organizations, consumers and others in the Philadelphia region and beyond. One example of this would be in telemedicine where Canada – specifically in Ontario, a province the size of California and Texas combined – has created probably the largest and most successful telemedicine program in the world. As the U.S. healthcare system struggles to do more with less, the United States could learn from the Canadian model in the provision of remote medicine and monitoring services.
I am continually impressed by some of the great ideas coming out of Canada which has a really outstanding educational system and a remarkable R&D capability. Where Canada tends to be challenged is in commercialization. Despite a strong global reputation for scientific research, well-established life sciences clusters and Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCEs) Canada’s Life Sciences companies continue to suffer from limited financing and funding. Lack of venture capital or other investment sources impacts Canadian Life Science industry at every level, including early stage start-ups, and more mature companies that have successfully developed an export market both are unable to scale up their business to take full advantage of business development opportunities. Many U.S. investors are starting to see the extraordinary opportunities in their backyard with Canadian government financial support at all stages of company development including non-dilutive funding, a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, lower business costs (5 percent less than United States), and a highly skilled workforce. I believe there are some great opportunities for cross-border co-investment particularly in life sciences and health IT.
Stevens: What can the United States learn from Canada which would benefit healthcare provision here? What Canadian missteps should the United States avoid?
Finn: Canada has managed to control healthcare costs whilst still delivering better health outcome measures and providing universal access to health care for all its citizens. It is a balancing act between providing access to appropriate care and practicing cost containment and, according to its critics; the Canadian healthcare system can be conservative and slow to innovate. Many Canadian health entrepreneurs express frustration that they have to come to the United States to find a ready market for their innovations.
Stevens: You are a bit of an innovator and entrepreneur yourself with your 2013 founding of a Health IT CTA. What has that experience taught you, and what was your motivation?
Finn: I have over 25 years’ private sector experience in international trade having working in Europe, North and South America, Africa and China. I have brought that private industry experience to the public sector to try to champion small business and the value of disruptive innovation. For over a decade I have been an advocate for efficient and imaginative ways to reduce the burden of rising health care costs utilizing health IT, mobile communication devices and telemedicine.
In 2007, I founded the eHealth Innovation Summit an annual four-day/three-city event in New York/Philadelphia/Washington DC which promotes Canada’s considerable, and exportable, experience in the field of digital health. In 2013, I founded the Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA) for Health IT to help Canadian clients in the early-stage Health IT sector who can benefit from access to unique resources in the Greater New York/Philadelphia Region to grow on a global scale. The CTA enables companies to create relationships with U.S. prospects, generate sales opportunities, and connect to investor networks.
The CTA experience has taught me how crucial government support can be for early stage companies in providing coaching, contacts and access to capital. It has also taught me how difficult it is to truly innovate in a healthcare system that is highly regulated and risk adverse. Navigating the complexity of the U.S. healthcare system is extremely challenging for Canadian entrepreneurs who are daunted by the long sales cycles and have to rely on “boot-strapping” to make ends meet. The nature of sales has also been radically changed by new technology and entrepreneurs need to recognize the value of thought leadership in promoting their brand through social media and the internet as well as more traditional sales tools.