Nodding to the popular pro-tolerance tailgateadornment, CO-EXist "is no purple bumper sticker," says Sandi Moilanen, director of the OEDIT’s international division. Short for Colorado Export of Innovative and Sustainable Technologies, "It was designed to help Colorado’s cleantech industry."
The Governor’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) launched the CO-EXist program in 2010. Funded partially by a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, it has focused specifically on getting Colorado cleantech to buyers in China and Mexico, based in large part on existing trade ties with those countries. "We studied where there was real growth potential," says Moilanen. "We thought we could make a difference in those two markets."
Originally slated to end at the end of 2012, CO-EXist was extended through at least late 2013 in September and is in the process of expanding into Canada and Japan. The four-year budget: about $1.1 million, with federal money making up roughly a third of the funding. The money is used to help Colorado cleantech companies expand internationally by helping offset assorted export-related costs. Companies are eligible for up to $4,500 in matching funds annually. The program also provides technical assistance and support for trade shows and other events. But it’s hard to put a price tag on the networking groundwork that’s well-worn terrain for the OEDIT. "The value-add is we set up B-to-B meetings," says Moilanen.
The payoff has been huge. To date, 70 Colorado companies have exported about $31 million of cleantech goods and services with CO-EXist assistance. "We thought we would hit $36 million by the end of the program and we are well on our way to hitting it," says Moilanen, noting that a huge sale that could immediately more than double that total is "in the works." And the bang for each federal buck is even higher: Only $120,000 has been spent to date, making for nearly $250 in exports per federal dollar spent.
Jorge Diaz, CO-EXist program administrator, led a group of representatives from six Colorado companies to the Green Expo in Mexico City in September. "It is probably the most popular trade show in Mexico for cleantech," he says. Several companies closed deals at the Colorado booth; others developed "mid-term and long-term opportunities." In Mexico, OEDIT works with a consultant, Raul Arriaga Becerra.
Denver-based Coolerado worked with the CO-EXist program to find a distributor in Mexico, says Fabio Diaz, vice president of international sales. "CO-EXist has been a big help," says Diaz (no relation to Jorge). He describes the subsidies as "fundamental" in closing over $400,000 in exports with a sales pipeline of about $2.5 million.
Another CO-EXist client, the Strasburg-based Bio2 Solution, provides green wastewater treatment technology to livestock operations. When the company wanted to expand into Mexico, it utilized CO-EXist. "It’s a terrific way to leverage ourselves," says Tracy Woodward, the company’s director of international business. CO-EXist helped The Bio2 Solution to advance its international expansion by making two trips to Mexico, she adds, dubbing Arriaga Becerra "an incredibly well connected partner."
Tom Binet heads up OEDIT’s Asian initiatives, including CO-EXist’s program in China. "We make a point to engage in what we call commercial diplomacy," he says. "It helps the Chinese side to know that they are welcome here."
Craig Hoechstetter, director of sales for InDevR, represented the Boulder-based maker of instrumentation for microbiological analysis on two CO-EXist-subsidized trips to China in 2012. His March visit set the stage for a $100,000 sale in late September. "This is very impactful from a business perspective," says Hoechstetter, commending Binet and the OEDIT.
Another possible export from Colorado is particularly intriguing, Binet adds. "We’re working on exporting beetlekill to China for fuel," he says. "Negotiations are ongoing."