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Small is beautiful in Ottawa’s tech sector

Thank you to the Citizen for the recent three-part series on the city’s prospects as an ongoing magnet for knowledge-based industries. Now I’d like to take the opportunity to engage Ottawa’s business community and Citizen readers on where we have to focus our efforts.

A hint: It’s not on a game-changing boost in government programs or procurement policies. Our game changes with a laserlike focus on Ottawa’s entrepreneurs, their startups, and our ability to rapidly accelerate the success of those young companies.

Today we have 1,944 knowledgebased businesses spread across several high-growth sectors. This compares to 900 in 1997, and 1,000 companies in 2000 when tech employment was at an all-time high, but hugely concentrated in a single (telecom) sector that had – especially after a 30-per-cent-plus appreciation of the Canadian dollar – too many easily outsourced low-skill manufacturing assembly jobs.

Among our current record crop of companies are hundreds of small, new, nimble startups that rely on highly trained product development talent. They are the essence of the creative economy and a key reason why professor Richard Florida, the award-winning author of Who’s Your City?, currently rates Ottawa as the “Best Overall” city in Canada on a “Creative Class Index” based on the 3Ts of economic development – Technology, Talent and Tolerance.

Every day I meet the entrepreneurs who create Ottawa’s newest companies as they stream through the doors of OCRI’s Regional Innovation Centre for Ottawa and Eastern Ontario and any of the three branches of our Entrepreneurship Centre. Next month we’ll be adding an Accelerator to house and mentor dozens of new companies in our new, expanded headquarters on Aberdeen St. These companies have names like BlackCherry, Gazaro, Giatec, PatientWay, Wedding Republic and You i Labs, and I can tell you, they are exciting.

They’re also our future, and not in 10 or 20 years either. There’s a popular myth in Ottawa that says if only we had more large “anchor tenant companies” like we used to have in telecom’s heyday, all will be well. It’s a 1990s notion based on our successful history, but it’s high time to revise our thinking and let go of dangerously outdated myths.

The U.S.-based Kauffman Foundation is the world’s largest institution devoted to entrepreneurship, and has done exhaustive research on the true sources of sustainable job creation. In 2010, Tim Kane, a Kauffman senior fellow, analyzed a U.S. data set called Business Dynamics Statistics.

His conclusion? “Startups aren’t everything when it comes to job growth. They’re the only thing.”

Continue reading at the Ottawa Citizen

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