Hello Invest Ottawa, goodbye OCRI
Venerable organization gets a new name and a new mandate,
After three decades of advocating on behalf of the technology industry in the nation’s capital, the Ottawa Centre for Regional Innovation is expanding its scope with a new mandate and name.
As of Tuesday morning, the organization will be known as Invest Ottawa, dropping its familiar OCRI acronym and taking on lobby efforts for other areas of economic development including travel and tourism, film and TV and non-technical small business creation.
To help with the expanded focus, new spots have been created on the organization’s board, for Ottawa Tourism and another for an advocate from the TV and film industry, and Mayor Jim Watson has been added as the board’s co-chair.
“I wanted to put a stronger emphasis on economic development,” Watson said. “I knew, like so many other people, that we’d become over reliant on just the federal government for our economic well-being. I’ve always thought that economic development has been given a bit of a back seat over the years, almost a hands-off approach when it comes to the city’s involvement. ”
Along with expanding its role, Ottawa councillors have approved a $3.6-million annual budget for the agency that is up 53 per cent from last year. Of that, Invest Ottawa will get $2.2 million, and OCRI’S existing Entrepreneurship Centre and other programs will get the remainder.
The Entrepreneurship Centre and the Ottawa Community Loan Fund have been given space within Invest Ottawa’s new offices at 80 Aberdeen St. The idea behind the move is to create a one-stop shop for anyone looking to talk about business issues.
“If you get off the bus in Ottawa and say, ‘I want to start a barbershop’, we’ll help you out. The people in the Entrepreneurship Centre will have programs on basic business accounting, the Ottawa Community Loan Fund can help with funding. We can help them start that business,” said Invest Ottawa’s chief executive, Bruce Lazenby.
“It’s bringing together all of the economic development levers into one location,” Lazenby said.
He also said the retooling of the organization shouldn’t make OCRI’S supporters feel like they have lost a voice in the community. He plans to continue to push for Ottawa’s technology cluster and try to drum up new business opportunities for those in the sector.
Lazenby is a seasoned technology industry executive. He spent six years as chief executive of Freebalance, an enterprise software company, raising millions in venture capital while expanding the company significantly. Before joining OCRI late in 2011, he was acting as the regional vicepresident of Canadian operations for the Corum Group, a mergers-and-acquisitions consultancy firm.
“In town we already have a very deep telecommunications sector and we are going to continue to (support) that. Recently (Research In Motion Ltd.) revealed that they are going to do virtually all of their software development in Ottawa. That’s fantastic for the city, it’s good recognition of our engineering strength,” Lazenby said. “We are going to be investing more of our time and energy into places where we can get a bigger bang. If we’re going to be putting time and energy into a company, we are expecting a bigger return. What we are looking at is companies that can provide a bigger return.”
In order to better focus itself on issues pertaining to economic development, Invest Ottawa will do away with many of the initiatives it had spearheaded as OCRI. The organization will no longer support the OCRI School Breakfast Program, and it’s dropping its involvement with event management and planning.
OCRI was originally founded in 1983 as the Ottawa Carleton Research Institute, which was a collaborative economic partnership between 14 partners, including the National Research Council, the Communications Research Council, Bell Northern Research and the Regional Municipality of Ottawa Carleton. The organization expanded and changed over the years to include initiatives like public school learning programs. The change to Invest Ottawa marks the beginning of the next chapter of the organization’s story.
The official introduction of Invest Ottawa is expected to draw a crowd of more than 500 people to its Aberdeen Street offices Tuesday. The event will feature keynote speeches by Watson and his Invest Ottawa co-chair Jeff Westeinde, chief executive of Quantum Environmental Group.
Bruce Lazenby says the retooling shouldn’t make OCRI’S supporters feel like they have lost a voice in the community.