When you’re a busy startup founder with a small team and a seemingly endless to-do list, setting aside time to sort through report databases, compile findings and integrate your learnings into business operations can be overwhelming. 

That’s if you can find relevant research in the first place. 

Developing a deep understanding of your market can have a game-changing impact on a company’s success. Market research plays an important role in helping entrepreneurs build confidence when making decisions, and develop subject matter expertise in their industry. 

But knowing where to look and, more importantly, knowing what type of research you’re looking for is challenging even for experienced startup teams – especially those who are developing products for new or emerging markets. 

However, there are a number of organizations that understand how market research can set the trajectory of a startup and want to make the process of finding valuable market intelligence easier. Organizations, such as MaRS, partner with innovation hubs and incubators across the country to offer the MaRS Market Intelligence Program to early stage startups. Their mission is to empower startups with world-class market research to shape their growth strategies. 

Last month, Volta hosted a Market Intelligence workshop for our Resident Companies, led by MaRS representatives, Mei Burgin and Eric Fisher. Here are some takeaways from the workshop that will help you leverage market research to grow: 

Primary versus secondary research 

If you’re new to market research, understanding the difference between primary and secondary research is a fundamental first step to ensure you’re conducting research that will uncover the types of insights your company will benefit from. 

Primary research consists of data you collect first-hand, such as surveys, customer discovery interviews and focus groups. On the flip side, secondary research refers to data that has been gathered and published by someone else – such as reports and white papers with data compiled by government agencies, educational institutions or research firms. 

If your purpose for market research is to find out who the ideal customer is or how you should reach them, your best bet is to engage in customer discovery activities through primary research techniques. But, if you’re looking for data on market size or trends, secondary research – MaRS’ main focus – will be an important tool to have in your arsenal as you grow your business.

Finding the right research

When seeking research, it’s critical that you ask the right questions. Effective research questions aim to solve strategic problems or address knowledge gaps that your team is facing. In terms of secondary research questions, they identify industries or define a market’s geography, include relevant keywords and indicate a timeline. For instance, if you’re looking to learn about the ocean technology industry in Japan, your research question may be something like: ‘What growth has Japan’s ocean technology sector experience in the past two years?’

If you’re using market research services, such as the one MaRS provides or the federal government-run service Canada Business, it can be helpful to offer examples of specific research or reports you’re looking to access. It is a good idea to search online for sample reports that are specific to your industry before approaching one of these services. This will not only help you ask better questions, but it will also help guide the organization’s representative when they search through databases for relevant information. 

Using secondary market research to drive growth 

Market research can – and should – inform your company’s growth strategy. There are a lot of unknowns that come with growing a company, but market intelligence can mitigate risks by helping business leaders make more informed decisions early on. 

If you’re planning to enter a new geographical market, for example, you should review research about the location’s demographics, find out whether there are any trends that may impact growth in that location and see if there is any general information available about the projected market performance. 

By consulting market research before investing resources into executing a go-to-market strategy, you may discover that your suspicions are correct and the market you’re about to enter is undersaturated with an abundance of potential – or you could determine that the market is too risky to enter and avoid wasting a lot of time and money. Either way, market research is an essential tool that business leaders can use to make sound business decisions and drive growth in an organization. 


Whether you’re only starting out or you’ve just entered growth mode, it’s never too late to begin your market research journey. The benefits of having an in-depth understanding of your industry often extend beyond a growth strategy; the knowledge can help further position you as an expert in your field, demonstrating to stakeholders that you’re the right person to take on the complex problem your company aims to solve.

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