Cheers, jeers for In­vest Ot­tawa

Re: “Leave in­no­va­tion to busi­ness com­mu­nity, exIn­vest Ot­tawa startup men­tor says” (OBJ, Aug. 29)

Ottawa Business Journal - - COMMENTARY -

Peo­ple who are not a part of Ot­tawa’s tech­nol­ogy com­mu­nity prob­a­bly haven’t no­ticed that Ot­tawa doesn’t have a tech­nol­ogy com­mu­nity any more. It used to have one called Sil­i­con Val­ley North. It’s a bit odd be­cause com­pa­nies founded on tech­nol­ogy cre­ate more jobs in Ot­tawa than any­thing ex­cept the fed­eral govern­ment, just like when there was a Sil­i­con Val­ley North back at the end of last cen­tury. There are lots of lead­ers in Ot­tawa lead­ing tech com­pa­nies. They just don’t make up a com­mu­nity any longer. The one they used to have, stirred by an or­ga­ni­za­tion called OCRI, was dis­mem­bered five years ago. That’s when the city cre­ated In­vest Ot­tawa. They don’t talk tech­nol­ogy so much at IO. It’s “knowl­edge-based busi­ness” they’re con­cerned with, which when you get down to it is just about any busi­ness. As IO’s first chief fa­mously said, “If you get off the bus in Ot­tawa and say, ‘I want to start a bar­ber­shop,’ we’ll help you out.” Tech, of course, would be in­cluded in its man­date but there would no longer be mem­bers. Net­work­ing events were sharply cur­tailed. Born in the 1980s, sup­ported by tech com­pany mem­bers, OCRI was the heart of a tech com­mu­nity that grew to be known as Sil­i­con Val­ley North. For decades it was the builder of net­works, ap­plaud­ing suc­cess, fea­tur­ing lead­ers, en­cour­ag­ing men­tors, fa­cil­i­tat­ing part­ner­ships and do­ing a wide range of things to bring peo­ple to­gether. Monthly break­fast meet­ings for hun­dreds were held at the Corel Cen­tre. Ed­u­ca­tional and net­work­ing events from Kanata to down­town were com­mon. There was even a time when pre-com­pet­i­tive, com­mer­cial, joint re­search projects were man­aged (OCRI was orig­i­nally the Ot­tawa Car­leton Re­search In­sti­tute, later the Ot­tawa Cen­tre for Re­search and In­no­va­tion). OCRI in­spired and was model for a num­ber of tech sec­tor growth en­gines. – Tony Pat­ter­son, via obj.ca

I think there is some­thing about not over­think­ing or over­plan­ning this sort of stuff. Hard stuff to swal­low in a govern­ment town. Hav­ing a space where technophiles, cre­atives, mak­ers, solvers and peo­ple who build stuff for a liv­ing can mix it up I think is pow­er­ful. Ot­tawa is not so big and dense to have this hap­pen nat­u­rally. So an open and friendly space may well work. Or not. Won’t know un­til we spend the money and do it. Hav­ing been part of In­vest Ot­tawa a few years ago, it is just a bit too well or­ga­nized for me. Too re­stricted in ac­cess. Ster­ile. A big govern­ment and big busi­ness feel. Not a crazy, eclec­tic, au­thor­ity and sta­tuschal­leng­ing place. Oh well. – Mike, via obj.ca

I have worked with a few city eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment groups, and In­vest Ot­tawa is one of the best. City should be proud of its achieve­ments. – Ger­ald Kut­ney, via obj.ca

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