Tech an­chors

How es­tab­lished com­pa­nies can help build the next gen­er­a­tion of Ot­tawa busi­nesses – and bol­ster their own bot­tom line

Ottawa Business Journal - Techopia - - News - WRIT­TEN BY PETER KOVESSY

M att Whit­teker says some of the best busi­ness ad­vice he ever re­ceived came while train­ing in­side a box­ing ring.

As one of the or­ga­niz­ers of Fight for the Cure, he says he was help­ing DNA11 co-founder Adrian Sala­munovic pre­pare for the pop­u­lar char­ity box­ing event.

The con­ver­sa­tion turned to busi­ness, and Mr. Whit­teker told him about his tran­scrip­tion and trans­la­tion com­pany, NoNotes. Mr. Sala­munovic asked about his pub­lic re­la­tions strat­egy, and later gave Mr. Whit­teker ac­cess to a data­base of jour­nal­ists’ con­tact in­for­ma­tion and helped him re­fine a pitch that was sent to thou­sands of re­porters.

The strat­egy re­sulted in sev­eral news­pa­per and ra­dio in­ter­views, as well as features in For­tune Mag­a­zine and on MSNBC.

“It was one of the first big PR cam­paigns we ever did,” Mr. Whit­teker re­calls.

“That con­ver­sa­tion ( with Mr. Sala­munovic) made me $20,000. I need more con­ver­sa­tions like that,” he jokes.

Mr. Whit­teker says pro­vid­ing tac­ti­cal busi­ness ad­vice – sug­ges­tions such as spe­cific mar­ket­ing chan­nels – are among the most valu­able con­tri­bu­tions es­tab­lished com­pa­nies can give to star­tups.

An­other Ot­tawa en­tre­pre­neur, Ja­son Flick, adds that ma­ture firms can help men­tor an early stage com­pany as it at­tempts to val­i­date its ideas, de­vel­ops a com­mer­cial prod­uct and makes an ini­tial sale.

“No one wants to be your first cus­tomer,” says Mr. Flick, the co-founder and pres­i­dent of YOU i Labs and Flick Soft­ware.

It was with that in mind that Ot­tawa Tech­nol­ogy set out to find the most im­por­tant tech­nol­ogy an­chors in the city. In an un­sci­en­tific sur­vey, dozens of en­trepreneurs were asked which Ot­tawa com­pa­nies help star­tups get started.

The most com­monly cited re­sponses were fel­low star­tups and com­pa­nies less than a decade old. Many re­spon­dents also high­lighted the con­tri­bu­tions of in­cu­ba­tors such as Mer­cury Grove, Ex­plo­riem, TheCodeFac­tory as well as the city-funded eco­nomic devel­op­ment agency In­vest Ot­tawa.

With a few ex­cep­tions, ma­jor multi­na­tion­als and large lo­cally head­quar­tered com­pa­nies were ab­sent.

De­pend­ing on one’s def­i­ni­tion, the sheer size of such com­pa­nies’ em­ployee head­count could qual­ify them as an­chor firms.

How­ever, Mr. Flick is adamant that es­tab­lished com­pa­nies have an ac­tive role to play in nur­tur­ing star­tups, and says it makes good busi­ness sense for big com­pa­nies to in­cu­bate early stage firms.

Large or­ga­ni­za­tions will see a bet­ter re­turn by sup­port­ing a startup than spend­ing the same money on R&D, he ar­gues. Mr. Flick says a team of en­trepreneurs, armed with fund­ing and a de­gree of au­ton­omy, of­fers a su­pe­rior method for es­tab­lished en­ter­prises to de­velop and bring new tech­nol­ogy to mar­ket.

Star­tups can gen­er­ally move faster and are free from the en­trenched cul­ture, bi­ases and as­sump­tions that can hin­der in­no­va­tion in­side large, es­tab­lished com­pa­nies, he says.

The Terry Matthews-backed Wes­ley Clover in­cu­ba­tor in Kanata is one vari­a­tion of this model. Its com­pa­nies fre­quently fill the gaps in the prod­uct port­fo­lios of es­tab­lished firms founded by Mr. Matthews, such as Mi­tel and March Net­works.

Nev­er­the­less, Mr. Flick says com­pa­nies with an Ot­tawa pres­ence can still do more.

As an ex­am­ple, he notes that YOU i Labs and Flick Soft­ware are lo­cated in the same Terry Fox Drive of­fice build­ing as Chi­nese net­work­ing and tele­com gear firm Huawei.

Mr. Flick – who has founded half a dozen com­pa­nies in the past 19 years – was work­ing on a video con­fer­enc­ing app and had to travel all the way to China to make his pitch, which he said was pos­i­tively re­ceived.

How­ever, back home – where he could have per­fected his app by us­ing the video con­fer­enc­ing tech­nol­ogy con­tained in Huawei’s Kanata of­fices – Mr. Flick says he was met with re­sis­tance.

“The ( Huawei) peo­ple in China want our stuff, and the peo­ple here are ac­tu­ally hin­der­ing us,” he says.

One lo­cal hur­dle is Ot­tawa’s rel­a­tive lack of cor­po­rate head of­fices. This means de­ci­sion-mak­ing author­ity to pur­chase new tech­nol­ogy, for ex­am­ple, is of­ten lo­cated out­side the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.

While Mr. Flick ac­knowl­edges the chal­lenge, he says it is no ex­cuse. There are enough se­nior man­agers in Ot­tawa who can send sug­ges­tions up the cor­po­rate lad­der to take a chance on promis­ing lo­cal tech­nol­ogy.

“They could make a dif­fer­ence, but choose not to. That’s what we need to change,” he says.

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