By Leo Valiquette
In an earlier post, Francis Moran shared some highlights from the International Startup Festival in Montreal, which of course raises the obvious question, why do we not have these kinds of events in Ottawa?
After a false start, serial entrepreneur and all around community booster Scott Annan has launched his Mercury Grove startup incubator. Over at Exploriem, Bruce Firestone and the team are ramping up the scale of their operations. And then there’s the whole reincarnation of OCRI as Invest Ottawa.
There is no shortage of activity in this city in support of early-stage and growing technology ventures. Isn’t it time to knit this all together with a signature event that would feature the best and brightest from locally and abroad sharing their insights with the Ottawa community?
It’s not like there isn’t a local appetite for something like an International Startup Festival. I can’t speak for last week’s event in Montreal, because I wasn’t there, but in March of last year I attended Accelerate Montreal and I was running into familiar faces from Ottawa at every turn. And not just startup entrepreneurs, but senior executives too from established, mid-sized technology firms — companies that are already active in overseas markets and understand the need to export or die.
We’ve blogged in the past about whether a growing tech company must have a presence in Silicon Valley or if it simply needs to have something of that culture embedded in its own DNA. At a local networking event for startup entrepreneurs last year a guest speaker from the Valley talked about the dynamics of being a small fish in a small pond versus being tossed into a large one. His view was that truly talented and innovative small fish are not going to be devoured in the big pond. Instead, they would flourish like never before given the resources they would have close at hand.
In other words, this esteemed speaker from down south was telling his audience, “stop screwing around in this backwater called Ottawa and go where there’s real action.”
There is certainly some truth in what he said. On the other hand, my first response (which I kept to myself), was “Bulls**t!” If we subscribe to that school of thought, we might as well hammer the final nails in this city’s economic coffin and be done with it. If Radian 6 could build a compelling value proposition from a home base on Canada’s east coast and still maintain that Canadian HQ even after its merger with Salesforce.com, then world-class companies can certainly be built from Ottawa.
Or look at Shopify, an Ottawa-based company that has reeled in $22-million in VC at a time when most entrepreneurs continue to lament the lack of funding. Not only is it on a steady growth track, it has launched its own Build-a-Business program to foster other e-commerce startups.
In a recent study of the success and failure rates of more than 10,000 startups, professors Olav Sorenson of the Yale School of Management and Michael Dahl of Aalborg University found that startups perform better when they launch (and keep) their startups in their hometowns.
No. Our bright lights don’t have to pull up stakes and flee Ottawa to find entrepreneurial success, but they do need to tap into the expertise and insight of those who “have been there and done that.” They must go after the resources that will help them succeed, regardless of whether those resources are found in Boston, New York, Silicon Valley or Bangalore. Sometimes that means getting on a plane, or getting involved with an organization such as the C100. But other times, it requires a few enterprising individuals to step up and work together to bring the world’s best to our own doorstep.
Montreal has Phil Telio to pull together signature events like the International Startup Festival. Who’s going to be our Ottawa equivalent?