An extraordinary week for Ottawa start-ups

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By Francis Moran

Last week was quite an extraordinary one for Ottawa’s start-up community.

Wow. When was the last time over the past six or eight or 10 years that I could make a bold statement like that and not have the guys in the white coats start measuring me for a jacket that buckles in the back?

And no, I’m not referring to a spate of product launches or company foundings or even venture capital funding announcements that would have been the basis of such enthusiasm in the past when Ottawa’s technology sector was dominated by capital-intensive efforts to invent a better telecom system or new semiconductor.

Instead, my enthusiasm today comes from a series of events we attended last week, all of which we blogged about and all of which contributed to a subtle but undeniable sense that something very exciting is afoot.

On Monday, I joined a warm and standing-room-only crowd at DemoCampOttawa9, where developers from six companies demonstrated their applications and received scads of intelligent, creative and constructively critical feedback from their peers.

Tuesday night, several generations of Ottawa technology entrepreneurs helped Ian Graham celebrate the official opening of his novel and creative co-working and collaboration space, TheCodeFactory. A series of short speeches was book-ended by veteran Denzil Doyle and emerging company founder Scott Lake. We here at inmediaare such big fans of what Ian is doing that we’ve signed on as founding partners of TheCodeFactory and we’ll be watching with more than passing interest as he builds a facility that is much needed in this town.

Wednesday night was The Ottawa Network‘s regular monthly Start-up Drop-in at LaBarge Weinstein and this was when the penny really dropped for me. As I wrote here Friday, every speaker was, among other things, sounding the consistent notes that Ottawa’s start-up community is focused on exciting new opportunities in the online world, is actively supporting its individual members and is building a broadly collaborative and globally minded ecosystem that may just yet spit out the next Facebook.

Thursday night I took a pass. But my colleague Leo Valiquette attended an event that in many ways emphasised one of the key realities of this exciting new world. In a session titled, “Buddy, keep your million, but buy my product,” The Ottawa Network in collaboration with the city’s various technology clusters came to the inevitable next stage of its now three-year-old series on how to tap into venture capital.

The first year, the title was, “Buddy, can you spare a million,” emphasizing the traditional route to building a company — beg for whatever venture capital you can lay your hands on.

The second year’s title, “Buddy why should I give you a million,” betrayed the fact that most of the begging was going wholly unanswered as VCs shut their wallets and became unyieldingly skeptical about the business plans they were seeing.

Last week’s title brought the whole thing full circle. If you can’t beg funding from VCs who either don’t have it or won’t invest it, then you have to build a company the old-fashioned way — develop a product and find someone who wants to pay you money to buy.

What a concept.

Fortunately, this reality now aligns with what Ottawa’s startups are doing anyway. Exciting and promising new ventures really can be launched on a shoestring. When a budding entrepreneur needs help, there is a wealth of events to attend, or many willing peers in the community who will contribute counsel or even hands-on support. When the venture grows a bit larger, places like TheCodeFactory will give it an affordable home. And by the time the VCs come calling, they really won’t be needed very much.

Hold the buckled jacket. It really is an exciting new day here in Ottawa.

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