It’s been just six years since Nortel Networks filed for bankruptcy, but the shock waves that went through the Canadian telecom industry are still rippling – and the fear that Canada is falling behind in its R&D efforts still remains.
At least, that’s according to Ritch Dusome, CEO of the Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks (CENGN). Based in Ottawa, the organization has a lofty goal – to help revitalize a weakening telecom industry striving to compete with China, Germany, and other countries where growth in telecommunications has been burgeoning in the past few years.
“We’ve lost our leadership position … It was very healthy to have that company that was hiring four or 500 students a year, creating that brand – Nortel – that everyone knew was Canadian. And I think that’s missing now. Everyone has lost a little bit of confidence, and it’d be nice to get that back,” said Dusome, speaking from an event in Toronto on Friday.
“We think that we have something that can get the model started.”
Over the past couple of weeks, Dusome and other members of CENGN have been touring parts of Canada, making stops in Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto before circling back to its home base in Ottawa. What it wants to promote is its new commercialization and research program, which was launched with the help of $11.7 million in funding from the federal government. The program encourages startups and small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) to work on developing solutions to common problems by using technology.
Essentially, these companies would be applying to work on a specific project, with an eye to bringing a solution to market in three to 15 months. Dusome said he’d love to see projects that creatively use technology to solve a societal problem – especially if it goes to the heart of a Canadian industry. He pointed to industries like oil or agriculture as examples.
“Using technology to solve a real problem – that’s what I’m talking about,” he said. “If we can touch on a few of those, that’d be absolutely awesome because then, as Canadians, we’d become leaders in areas that are relevant to us. And then we can go out and sell it to the rest of the world.”
For startups and SMBs, the other payoff would be getting to partner on these projects with large enterprise organizations like Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent, Telus, EXFO, Allstream, JDSU, Rogers, and Juniper Networks. For the program’s first year, CENGN is looking to help kickstart 12 to 15 projects, and at least one is already underway, Dusome said.
CENGN will also kick in either $50,000 or $100,000 in support, with a portion of that being actual money and the rest stemming from the support of CENGN’s engineering team, its experts in software defined networking and network functions virtualization, and access to multi-vendor commercialization, testing, certification, and validation. The organization would also help with business development, marketing, and legal support.
However, Dusome said one of the biggest benefits of the program would be to work with one of the aforementioned large enterprises that make up CENGN’s membership. Some of these startups and SMBs may well get acquired or acqui-hired, he added.
“I’m not going to say that we’re replacing Nortel, but it’s baby steps,” he said. “And who knows, maybe we will find the next Nortel … You’ve got to start somewhere.”
For companies that are interested in CENGN’s commercialization and research program, organization will be holding a series of webinars before the end of February.
Startups or SMBs that are interested in applying to CENGN’s commercialization and research program can submit their proposals through its website. Proposals are due Feb. 27.