As part of its repertoire of COVID-19 solutions, BDC launched an ongoing campaign of virtual roundtables designed to simultaneously add value to Canadian entrepreneurs and to demonstrate the expertise of BDC’s advisory services.

The VRTs targeting large companies have been used at networking events with break out groups for smaller discussion.

Organization implementing and funding the solution

Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)

Start & end date of the solution

It started in March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although an end date is still not planned, the model of the initiative has shifted from being merely a tool to help entrepreneurs to becoming one that brings value and performs a business development function.

Target group

The virtual roundtables are accessible to Canadian entrepreneurs from all segments (small, medium, and large companies are welcomed).

Main aims of the solution

  • Offering a knowledge sharing and networking opportunity to Canadian entrepreneurs.
  • Clarifying expectations and attracting future clients by demonstrating the expertise of BDC’s advisory services.

Mechanisms of the solution

  • Topics are chosen monthly based on the rising needs of the targeted audience and on BDCexpertise.
  • Then, BDC leverages its internal subject matter experts on the chosen topic to develop content that is used for the roundtable.
  • Current and prospective clients in the identified segment are marketed with an invitation to register online.
  • The session is facilitated by an internal host and it showcases one of BDC Subject Matter Experts. The goal of the session is using the prepared content to get the discussion going. The value of these roundtables is created both by the SME and by the peer-to-peer interaction.
  • At the end of the roundtable, every client is invited to fill out a survey.
  • Following the session, the team at BDC offers medium and large clients a 1-on-1 free coaching session with its experts.
  • BDC also follows up with the rest of the clients in order to identify clients that require further non-financial support

Results achieved so far

  • 3,000 people participated during the 2020 year. Interestingly, some of the participants are known to have connected individually “offline” to do business together, indicating that networking beyond the roundtables did occur.
  • BDC gained many business opportunities both in terms of advisory services and financing from this initiative.

Key challenges in implementing a COVID-19 solution and steps taken to mitigate them

  • BDC’s advisory services were forced to accelerate the implementation of COVID-19 measures with only half of the resources, as part of the NFS team was seconded to help process extremely high volumes of financing applications.
  • Some challenges arose due to the incremental offering in the market and the clients’ virtual fatigue. BDC successfully managed to refine their strategy and their processes to be able to improve the ratio of BDC efforts to participants’ value.

Main lessons learned

  • BDC is capable of responding and acting quickly, even though sometimes a crisis is required to trigger this response. They are capable of adapting and pivoting their offering and they have capable staff who are really empathetic about the clients’ hardships.
  • REACH seems to be far more important than they thought.
  • Being there for entrepreneurs in times of need and continuing to position themselves as experts has allowed them to sustain BDC’s positioning in the market and to build on the funnel (sales) activities.
  • BDC clients have become more resilient, have more faith in themselves and are more confident in their ability to withstand the future.

Sustainability of the solution and potential to be replicated  

  • Early indicators seem to show that virtual round tables are of value to current and prospective clients and that they help in filling the top of the sales funnel and in supporting sales.
  • BDC said that further cost/benefit analyses need to be made and processes need to be continuously improving to be able to fully evaluate the long-term sustainability of this solution.
  • With this in mind, BDC believes the model could be replicable by other organizations that have the expertise and hosts needed to launch an initiative of this sort.