What Good is OCRI?

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.
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Lead to Win Reception

Lead to Win held a reception on Monday evening for participants and supporters.   Special guests included the Mayor of Gatineau and the acting Mayor of Ottawa.  Both expressed their support for the Lead to Win program and new businesses the participants are hoping to launch.

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Mayor of Gatineau, Marc Bureau

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Acting Mayor of Ottawa, Michel Bellemare

Participants at the reception commented on the strong and growing support from the community for the Lead to Win program.

Past Lead to Win Alumnus David Vicary, CEO of Weyes Eyes and past CEO and founder of Nakina Systems announced that he had secured seed funding for Weyes Eyes, his second start-up venture.  For more on this, please read the related Ottawa Business Journal article.

David Vicary, CEO Weyes Eyes
David Vicary, CEO Weyes Eyes

Photos from the event are available online.

The reception was hosted by Développement économique – CLD Gatineau (DE – CLDG).

Broadband Infrastructure Projects for Economic Development

A recent report from OECD advocates government policy makers deploy stimulus funds and investment into broadband infrastructure –

Broadband infrastructure, in particular, can be a good target for economic stimulus spending because  many projects can be initiated relatively quickly, are labour-intensive, can minimise economic leakages, and may promise stronger marginal impacts on supply and productivity than investing in established networks such as electricity, gas, water and transportation.

The full report is available here and in interesting to read.   A wealth of related data on broadband deployments current as of December 2008 (including pricing, policies, penetration, etc) is available from OECD in detailed excel spreadsheets here.

My sense is that Canada’s economy would certainly benefit more from advancing communications infrastructure projects than it would by having another government building or public works project.

Lead to Win Program Update – April 25th

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CTV Ottawa News Coverage This Sunday!

Tune-in to CTV Ottawa TECH NOW with Paul Brent on April 26th at 6PM for a special report on Lead to Win!

City of Ottawa, Carleton University and Business – United in Leadership for the Community

Recent press releases on the Lead to Win program:

Media Coverage

Visit the Lead to Win website to see all the latest media coverage on the Lead to Win program.

Free Re-use of Lead to Win Materials for Other Canadian Communities

All Lead to Win program materials (e.g. online tools, learning materials, processes, network) will be made freely available to other communities who would like to re-use, or adapt,  the materials, procedures and network for their own regional benefit. Contact us at lead@leadtowin.ca if you are interested.

Spread the Word!

Please spread the word on the Lead to Win program to prospective candidates, community organizations and sponsors.

Can you Help?

If you know politicians or government leaders in agencies who want to join the City of Ottawa, the Chamber of Commerce and Carleton University in taking a strong, visible leadership position to help make a difference – please make them aware of Lead to Win and ask them to contact Dr Bailetti at 613 829 8885, bailetti@sce.carleton.ca

Canada is Potential Leader in Global Technology Revolution

A recent Rand report , “The Global Technology Revolution 2020”, looks at 16 upcoming key technologies and the ability of 29 countries to acquire and to implement.  The following chart identified the key technology applications –

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Only three of the 29 countries examined by Rand were identified as being able to acquire and implement all 16 key technology applications  – the United States and Canada in North America and Germany in Western Europe.

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The Current State of Canadian and Ottawa Business Incubators

Business incubation has been identified as a means of meeting a variety of economic and socioeconomic policy needs, which may include:

  • Creating jobs and wealth
  • Fostering a community’s entrepreneurial climate
  • Technology commercialization
  • Diversifying local economies
  • Building or accelerating growth of local industry clusters
  • Business creation and retention
  • Encouraging women or minority entrepreneurship
  • Identifying potential spin-in or spin-out business opportunities
  • Community revitalization

Business incubators typically provide a range of services to clients that may include:

  • Help with business basics
  • Networking activities
  • Marketing assistance
  • High-speed Internet access
  • Help with accounting/financial management
  • Access to bank loans, loan funds and guarantee programs
  • Help with presentation skills
  • Links to higher education resources
  • Links to strategic partners
  • Access to angel investors or venture capital
  • Comprehensive business training programs
  • Advisory boards and mentors
  • Management team identification
  • Help with business etiquette
  • Technology commercialization assistance
  • Help with regulatory compliance
  • Intellectual property management
  • Facilities (e.g. office space, specialized lab space) and associated business services (e.g. security, receptionist, meeting rooms, phone service, photocopiers, printers,  internet service)

Stats Canada released a report in late 2008 “The Business of Nurturing Businesses” which takes a look at business incubators in Canada based on survey data taken in 2005.   Some key findings from the report include:

  • Almost all business incubators are sponsored by economic development organizations, governments, academic institutions, i.e. tax money
  • 1 in 6 incubators offer facilities and on-site support services
  • Almost half of all incubators were focused on professional, scientific and technical services businesses
  • The top three most used services of incubators were: legal consultation, management guidance and assistence in obtaining financing

There are various lists of incubators in Canada, unfortunately none up-to-date, including:

In Ottawa, we have the following business incubators:

Unfortunately, with the exception of Carleton University’s Tony Bailetti, there is little/no information available on the public incubators relative to return on investment of the tax money in the operation of the incubators – which would lead me to believe that compelling results do not exist.

From the perspective of efficiency, it appears that our tax money is being spent a bit recklessly relative to overlapping mandates and services.    The Ontario government and Ottawa Municipal government have both being doing a review of how they are funding and delivering their economic development programs.   I hope that as part of this review, they look towards stronger collaboration and reduced overlap of services between Provincial and Municipal programs.

A future blog entry will examine how business incubators role will evolve/change in the context of Business Ecosystems.

References:

Ottawa Already Has an Innovation Hub – It’s Name is Tony Bailetti

It was great to see the article from Peter Kovessy of the Ottawa Business Journal today entitled “Innovation Hub in Stagnation”.  We need more public oversight, debate and analysis on how our local political leaders have and  are proposing to spend our tax dollars to spur innovation and economic growth for our region.

Relative to the Innovation Hub idea – there have been very negative public comments made about the plan  from Ottawa tech leaders and entrepreneurs right from the beginning. The father of local high tech, Denzil Doyle, was straight to the point:

It is discouraging to see the idea of an Innovation Hub being run up the flagpole. On a scale of one to ten, I would rate it at minus five as something that is going to solve the region’s high tech problems. About 20 years ago, we were told that if we invested in a life sciences technology park, we would grow a life sciences industry that would rival the telecom industry. We all know how that turned out. We seem to forget that Mitel started in the basement of an office building in Kanata and that a combination of its working capital and outside investment financed its real estate requirements thereafter. DY-4 started in a very ordinary building on Laperriere Ave – and so on.

Entrepreneur John Oligvie called it out:

I have spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley and in Boston and these two global high-tech centers have managed so far without building “innovation hubs”. This is discredited, “big government” thinking. Technical and business innovation can only be done by entrepreneurs, not by government. If you asked local VCs and tech entrepreneurs what they needed most in order to succeed, I doubt that anyone’s first answer would be “a big shiny new building”.

From my perspective, I have yet to talk to a local entrepreneur who is supportive of the Innovation Hub.  When it comes to high tech and innovation driven economic development – most do not feel the City of Ottawa is coupled into reality.

I personally believe we need to have less of our tax money being spent on “overheads” such as buildings and associated staff and instead direct the tax money to programs that directly support the needs of regional entrepreneurs and the important local economic development they produce.

People like Tony Bailetti and the Talent First Network are on the right track

“To innovate effectively, small and cheap is big; big and expensive simply doesn’t work” says Bailetti. He adds: “What we need to drive massive innovation in Ottawa is many small innovation hubs like TheCodefactory, all linked to early buyers worldwide. Mechanisms that enable our innovators working anywhere in Ottawa to collaborate with early buyers at the start of the innovation cycle can produce significant benefits for our community.”

Tony Bailetti is one of the few people around that truly understands what it takes to foster innovation and deliver regional economic development.   His actions and results as one man have exceeded the results of any local organization or initiative when it comes to developing entrepreneurial activity and results for our region.  He is motivated by the desire to “Do the right thing” and “To make a difference” for his community and his students.   Tony is one of Ottawa’s (if not Canada’s) most valuable resources when it comes to economic development and technology innovation.

As an example – in 2002, Tony Bailetti ran an entrepreneurial training course called “Lead to Win”.   The course was free to the participants.  Of the 29 participants – over 50% launched a company in the Ottawa region.  The resulting entrepreneurial activity, innovation and  companies – launched by that one initiative, by that one manresulted in the creation of over 300 local jobs and the influx of over $90M into our local economy.

That is exactly the type of  community-based leadership and grass-roots economic development activity our governments should be encouraging, learning from and backing.

Ottawa already has an Innovation Hub and its name is Tony Bailetti.