I had an interesting discussion last week regarding OCRI with a few local entrepreneurs. The general issue being “What good is OCRI?” for entrepreneurs in Ottawa.
There was a lot of negativity about the lack of relevance and the fact that OCRI has increasingly become something of a joke around town due to its public fights with politicians (“The City does not own OCRI!”), lack of transparency and general lack of results. OCRI has serious issues, there is little debate on that point.
However, it is worth noting that OCRI does/has run some programs that, in the past, I have personally found of value and which are worth highlighting:
- OCRI Awards – The annual award program is a great help to local companies from a marketing perspective. It raises awareness of local companies in the region, and for the winners offers ongoing value for marketing as well as during fund-raising and talent recruiting.
- Market Research – It is not generally well-known, but OCRI can offer free market research reports (covering competition, market sizes, market trends) from major research firms. These research reports typically cost thousands of dollars per report and are out of reach for most entrepreneurs at the early stages. The OCRI membership fee alone is worth the value of the marketing reports that OCRI can offer for free.
- Trade Shows – In the past OCRI has co-ordinated international trade show participation where they have provided shared booth space at discounted prices for local companies. For an early stage company this sort of assistance is very valuable as trade show participation is generally costly to plan, execute and fund. In the case I was personally involved in, we were also able to receive partial re-reimbursement for our travel expenses from another government program OCRI was co-ordinating with.
- Venture Capital Forum – I have participated in two forums over the years. I found the preparation for the events and pre-screening coaching provided by OCRI to be constructive and valuable. While no financing came out of the events, there was value to the networking and experience in presenting. The resulting improvements to my pitch were helpful in subsequent VC pitches I gave.
- Entrepreneurship Center – Early on in my entrepreneurial journey, I used the online resources of this program extensively. The material was well-organized and practical… and saved me a ton of time.
- Events – In the past, OCRI has co-ordinated some very relevant, inexpensive and useful networking and educational events. In particular, the Bill Gates events were world-class.
- Job Board – In the past, I have posted jobs to the OCRI job board. Having a job board that is regionally oriented and which doesn’t have outrageous fees associated with it can be very useful to an early stage company when recruiting.