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What Ottawa must do to brand itself as a true national tech hub

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For most of the past 15 years — ever since Nortel began hemorrhaging jobs — the morning rush hour traffic in Kanata has largely been outbound, heading into downtown Ottawa or other parts of the region. Office buildings had floors of unused space.

That’s changed in the past few years. Both office space and talent are scarce in the Kanata tech park and, if there’s still traffic heading east, there’s an equal amount of it heading into Kanata, says Jenna Sudds, the outgoing executive director of the Kanata North Business Association.

There are now more than 500 companies in Kanata — the highest concentration of tech companies operating within Ottawa’s 2,778 square kilometres.

“It’s the full parking lots, it’s the full restaurants, it’s the traffic on our roads, it’s the congested buses,” Sudds says. “All of those may sound like a negative, but they’re actually the biggest positive indicator of the health of what’s happening here.”

Kanata has started rebounding from the decline of Nortel, thanks in large part to the telecom multinationals that eventually moved in to scoop up the pieces of that company.

Those companies — Ericsson, Nokia, Cisco — have name-brand recognition, but most of Kanata’s other tenants do not. In fact, the average person has likely never heard of many of Ottawa’s most successful companies. That’s because they’re mostly B2B (business to business) companies that make components of other, more famous technology, such as the sensors, software and networks that make autonomous vehicles and space travel possible. They’re unsexy stories to tell in a consumer-driven news market, and media real estate is assigned accordingly.

As we’ve seen from other tech-heavy cities, though, narrating your own story — and doing it well — is essential to attracting investors, entrepreneurs and tech workers. Toronto has positioned itself as the nation’s tech capital. The University of Waterloo is the MIT of Canada. Montreal has a young, edgy energy with European flair that attracts risk-takers.

So what is Ottawa?

It’s a beautiful city surrounded by greenspace with a pretty good housing market, decent entertainment options and a nice quality of life — a perfect mix to attract out-of-province and international talent.

But if you ask other Canadians, it’s The City That Fun Forgot; a government town where things are mostly predictable and boring. This general lack of awareness of and appreciation for what’s really happening in Ottawa’s tech scene is one of the biggest barriers the city faces when trying to compete against other Canadian ecosystems to get onto the world stage.

Over the next four weeks, the Citizen will take a deep and honest look at the city’s tech scene, its strengths, weaknesses and ambitions in a special series dubbed The IT Factor.


Jenna Sudds, outgoing Executive Director of the Kanata North Business Association, says the tech sector in Ottawa is strong and good luck finding a parking spot along the March Road complexes in the morning.

JULIE OLIVER /

Postmedia

In many ways, Ottawa’s tech scene is its own best-kept secret: You need to know what you’re looking for in order to find it.

Mayor Jim Watson, in an interview for this series, pulled out a map showing that Ottawa is geographically larger than Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver combined. But that size doesn’t always work to Ottawa’s advantage; in fact, it makes it harder for investors and entrepreneurs to locate the heart of Ottawa’s tech sector.

Certainly, Kanata has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to tech talent, but it’s also out in suburbs, mostly hidden away in office towers inside of a tech park. Then there are small gatherings of startups in the ByWard Market and in downtown Ottawa.

Meanwhile, other tech communities around Canada tend to have a reasonably concentrated presence of startups, accelerators, universities and investors in their respective downtown cores.

Invest Ottawa, at the recently opened Bayview Yards Innovation Centre, is trying to become that hub for this city. It has a startup incubator, a makerspace for product prototyping and an airy and flexible event space. But even that’s in a semi-industrial dead zone outside the downtown core.

So while there may be a lot going on behind closed doors and throughout the city, Ottawa’s tech community has very little drive-by appeal — and that makes it tough to get pinned to an investor’s map.

The innovation centre is part of an attempt to reform Ottawa’s reputation as a government town, but it has its work cut out for it. “I think the one challenge Ottawa has, is that Ottawa will always have a duality for the city’s brand,” Klipfolio CEO Allan Wille says. “Ottawa’s got tech and it’s government, and it’s more difficult to build a singular brand.”

Part of the difficulty in building a singular brand may be because Ottawa has seen what happens when you put all of your tech eggs in one industry basket. In turn, it’s almost over-diversified to compensate. There’s a sprawling information and communications technology (ICT) industry here, but there’s also autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, video gaming, cleantech and software as a service (SaaS).

This diversity is great for the economy, but from an image perspective it makes Ottawa look a little confused. Let’s use an analogy: If government is a solid and recognizable half of the pie, and a quarter of the pie is Shopify, the remaining quarter is sliced into a hundred little pieces, turning it into an unidentifiable mishmash. In short, Ottawa would need more unity in its tech sector to compete with just how large and all-encompassing its government identity is.

To be fair, Shopify has attracted some interest from outside of Ottawa, and it’s frequently upheld as the city’s proudest startup success story. But it’s also become a point of fixation that has been hard for Ottawa to look past. The truth is, Shopify likely would have succeeded no matter where it was founded; that its founders decided to stay in Ottawa should be viewed as a lucky break.

There is some progress being made, however, in getting Ottawa’s tech scene its own unique identity.  

But there are broader issues that make starting a business here challenging in a way that it just isn’t in other cities. There are many government funding programs and angel investors to get a young firm on its feet, but a lack of mid-range investment — particularly of the venture-capital persuasion — makes it incredibly tough for young companies to scale to profitability and beyond. Some founders are beckoned to bigger cities, where they may have an easier time finding the right collaborators, mentors and investors.

And, when it comes to Ottawa’s talent pool, most people interviewed for this series agreed that while there’s a lot of junior talent coming out of the schools as well as a lot of senior tech-sector veterans, the middle ground of talent — e.g. those with between five and 15 years of experience — is a little sparse. That kind of talent is essential to scaling startups and turning them into profitable and mature businesses.

Over the next four weeks, The IT Factor will explore what the city does well, what it could do better and what it will take for people across Canada — and around the world — to think of Ottawa when talking about tech and innovation. We hope you’ll follow along.

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Independent Consultant Beginner – 6 Should Have Pieces Of It Technology And Software

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Prima Wireless Earbuds Reviewhttps://primawirelessearbuds.net/.

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What Make Sure You Really Know Right Anyone Decide To Travel

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When traveling with children advised plan your route in advance. Do a little research and see as relevant and fun places to stop such as parks, museums or other attractions. Once you take breaks every non-chemical hours so everyone maybe even including the children probably get out and stretch their legs.

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Majority of Canadian workers willing to take less pay for a workplace pension plan: survey

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A majority (70 per cent) of Canadians say they’re willing to forgo a higher salary in exchange for a workplace pension plan, according to a new survey for the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan by Abacus Data.

The survey, which polled more than 2,000 Canadian adults in April, signals an opportunity for employers to build back the post-coronavirus pandemic working landscape better by expanding access to good retirement plans — whether they’re defined benefit, defined contribution or group registered retirement savings plans, says Steven McCormick, senior vice-president of plan operations at the HOOPP.

According to the survey, a secure retirement remains of greater concern for Canadians than concerns about their health, debt load and job security. McCormick says this has been a consistent worry the HOOPP has seen in survey results over the past couple of years. Nearly half (48 per cent) of respondents said they’re very concerned about having enough money in retirement, while 31 per cent were highly concerned about their personal debt load and 26 per cent cited their job security. Close to half of respondents expressed high concerns for their physical (43 per cent) and mental (40 per cent) health.

In addition, the pandemic has harmed the finances of more than half (52 per cent) of Canadians’ surveyed and it’s had a particularly disproportionate affect on the finances of younger adults. Adults aged 44 and younger said they’re twice as likely (25 per cent) to have had their finances greatly harmed, compared to those over the age of 60 (12 per cent).

Generally, younger adults tend to work in roles that may have been impacted most by the pandemic, says McCormick, whether in service industries that were shut down or frontline health care that have been busy but don’t always come with access to a pension plan. “Affordability is an issue, so I think their worries increased during this time.”

And while almost half (46 per cent) of Canadians surveyed said they’ve saved more money than they would have since the onset of the pandemic, among these respondents, over half (52 per cent) didn’t put any of their savings toward their retirement. Overall, most (63 per cent) Canadians surveyed haven’t set aside or saved anything for retirement in the past year, a five-point increase since 2019.

McCormick says this may be due to uncertainty or hesitancy about whether people’s immediate needs outweigh longer-term needs. And with 55 per cent of respondents noting they were very concerned about the cost of day-to-day living, he adds that rising prices have fuelled insecurity and worries so people are creating their own emergency funds right now.

While there’s a segment of the population who’ve saved more and, for them, the pandemic has created wealth, he doesn’t see this as a common narrative in the survey data. “If you don’t have access to a workplace pension or the opportunity to have things like automatic enrolment, the uncertainty of the time may have you holding onto money,” says McCormick. “In Ontario, we’re more optimistic about the pandemic than we were maybe a month ago, but there are still people worrying about whether there’ll be a fourth wave.”

In addition, more than two-thirds (67 per cent) of respondents said a retirement crisis is looming and 65 per cent said saving for retirement is prohibitively expensive. It’s a common and shared dream for many people in looking forward to a secure retirement, says McCormick, noting for many, making that dream a reality remains elusive.

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