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Waterloo’s Velocity accelerator is 5, and growing fast

By Francis Moran

student entrepreneurshipA little over five years ago, my attention was grabbed by an online news article that talked about a new incubation program being launched at the University of Waterloo for student-founded companies. Dubbed the “dormcubator,” a name that thankfully never really caught on, the program would see the university convert an existing student residence into an incubator for new companies, with company teams applying for residence and receiving a host of support and mentoring services.

I thought it was a brilliant idea and immediately reached out to then-program coordinator Sean Van Koughnett and offered whatever help I could from 550 kilometres away. My PR agency became an early sponsor of the program, and I travelled down to what was eventually called the Velocity residence a few times that next year to put on PR and marketing workshops and help mentor some of that first year’s teams. That level of involvement proved difficult to sustain over long distance but I never lost my enthusiasm for what Velocity was doing, and have kept a close eye on the program ever since as it has grown far beyond that original residence-based program.

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TiE holds first-ever Canadian conference, in Ottawa

TiECon Canada conferenceBy Francis Moran

TiE, one of the largest networks of entrepreneurs and business people in the world, is bringing its legendary networking conference, TiECon, to Canada for the first time ever next week. I’ve been to a couple of TiECon events in Boston and am looking forward to the combination of inspirational speakers and full-contact networking when TiECon Canada rolls into Ottawa on Thursday and Friday.

More than 45 speakers will make presentations over the two-day event, with Thursday’s activities taking place at City Hall in downtown Ottawa and Friday’s at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata, nicely catering to the two main centres of entrepreneurial activity in this city. Headlining the list of speakers are keynotes Vivek Wadhwa from Singularity University; Paul Singh, a venture partner at 500 Startups (and doubtless less profane than his colleague Dave McClure); TiE Global chairman Ashok Rao; Bluecat Networks founder Michael Hyatt; Brad Loiselle, Author of Keep Moving 4ward; and Montreal’s Julien Smith, founder of Breather.com, who will speak at the closing gala Friday evening.

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Are surveys the last great Potemkin village of media relations?

Fireworks_crimeaBy Francis Moran

Grigory Potemkin was a Russian nobleman who, in an effort to impress his benefactor, empress and lover, is supposed to have erected facades of villages throughout Crimea when Catherine the Great came on an excursion through the southern regions of her empire in 1787. The purpose was to suggest that there was something far richer and more substantial behind the facades, which is what people mean when they say something is a Potemkin Village.

Now, most scholars agree that Potemkin’s fraud on his lover was probably not anywhere near as extensive as was once commonly held. I wish I could say the same for public opinion surveys, that great Potemkin Village of media relations that persists into today.

You’ve read, heard or watched enough of these to know what I’m talking about. Indeed, it’s a rare edition of any major daily newspaper or newscast that doesn’t feature at least one story built around a survey commissioned by some corporation or association. The media gloms onto the survey’s easy numbers as well as onto the illusion of accuracy and authority associated with the supposed scientific methodology of public opinion surveying and, in the process, readily serves up the sponsoring organization’s agenda or point of view in a way that no self-respecting journalist would ever agree to do if the opinion was presented in any other fashion.

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Bringing the spies in from the cold: PR lessons for spooks

csec-crest-largeBy Francis Moran

Almost 20 years ago, I worked on a marketing and communications strategy for Communications Security Establishment Canada, the Department of National Defence surveillance agency that leapt into the headlines this week for allegedly snooping on a Brazilian government ministry. At that time — and probably still today — CSEC had two main functions, the signals intelligence, or SIGINT, stuff that is getting all the attention this week, and communications security, or COMSEC, which was responsible for making sure that the telephones and other communications equipment used by the prime minister and other high-ranking government officials was secure. It was the COMSEC side of the house that hired us because it was considering marketing its expertise to banks and other sectors in Canada that could benefit from the espionage-grade hardware, software and know-how it had available.

I believe it was the first time CSEC had contemplated lifting so publicly the veil that had shrouded its existence since its formation at the onset of the Cold War and that had earned it the moniker of “Canada’s super-secret spy agency.” To say it was a fascinating assignment is an understatement. In that pre-911 world, CSEC’s main headquarters across from Canada Post on Heron was a fortress. In a day when people could still drive their cars onto and around Parliament Hill and walk into the House of Commons public galleries without any security checks, it took 15 or 20 minutes to be processed through the security gate at the periphery of the compound. Once inside, red lights would be flashing everywhere to warn those working there that uncleared personnel were on the premises. I vividly recall that filing cabinets had huge red or green panels on them to indicate at a single glance whether they were still open — forbidden so long as we were in the house — or safely locked down.

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The only thing worse than not investing in marketing

By Francis Moranroulette

I’ve had more than a few conversations recently with startup and young technology companies — and with folks like me who try to get them to do marketing well — where the objection to hiring my services or those of other seasoned marketing strategists seems to come down to a question of affordability. It’s true, the services of an experienced technology marketing pro with a healthy track record under her or his belt do not come cheaply. But here’s the thing: Most of these companies are already spending considerable sums on marketing; they’re just spending them in a random and uncoordinated way with no coherent planning and no idea if they’re working or not.

The only thing worse than not investing in marketing is investing in the wrong marketing.

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