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Championship: A rising tide floats all ships

This is the 26th article in a continuing series that examines the state of the ecosystem necessary to successfully bring technology to market. Based on dozens of interviews with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, business leaders, academics, tech-transfer experts and policy makers, this series looks at what is working and what can be improved in the go-to-market ecosystem in the United States, Canada and Britain. We invite your feedback.

By Francis Moran and Leo Valiquette

When we spoke back in June with Jon Bradford of Springboard, he made the valid point that the vision and drive of a few dedicated people is more important to the success of a startup accelerator than its location. Ottawa entrepreneur and community champion Scott Annan lives and breathes this philosophy. The founder of Mercury Grove and Network Hippo has set out to prove that, while location doesn’t matter, Ottawa nonetheless has significant advantages that can be levered to its advantage.

Last week, we spoke with Scott about his efforts to launch in Ottawa this fall a startup accelerator with a number of other private and public sector stakeholders. He talked about what this program hopes to achieve, the unique strengths of the Ottawa market and how the accelerator’s “hyper-local” approach makes it unique. Today we conclude with his thoughts on how this kind of initiative benefits everyone involved, what else it needs to be successful, and the roles its various stakeholders must play.

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Championship: Don’t count Ottawa out

This is the 25th article in a continuing series that examines the state of the ecosystem necessary to successfully bring technology to market. Based on dozens of interviews with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, business leaders, academics, tech-transfer experts and policy makers, this series looks at what is working and what can be improved in the go-to-market ecosystem in the United States, Canada and Britain. We invite your feedback.

By Francis Moran and Leo Valiquette

Scott Annan is no stranger to the Ottawa startup community. The founder of software development and web consultancy Mercury Grove and social utility Network Hippo fits the mould of what we describe as a champion. In addition to his regular involvement with various organizations and events around town that help nascent entrepreneurs get their technology to market, he hosts DemoCamp and opens up Mercury Grove’s HQ as a co-working space.

A couple of weeks ago, Scott announced that he and a host of other stakeholders in the Ottawa technology community will launch this fall a new incubator and accelerator fund that will provide up to $25,000 in seed financing to eligible participants. Five to 10 startups will be accepted into the first intake of the four-month program, which will operate out of the Mercury Grove office.

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Government: Tech companies need a hand up, not a hand out

As part of our ongoing series examining the ecosystem necessary to bring technology to market, we asked Andrew Fisher, executive vice-president at Wesley Clover, to share his insights on public policy issues and the culture of entrepreneurship. This is the first of his commentaries and we welcome your feedback.

By Andrew Fisher

Businesses in Canada have a lot going for them. From the SR&ED program, to other services provided by Export Development Canada, the Business Development Bank of Canada and DFAIT, Canadian technology companies are certainly not starved for choice compared to most other jurisdictions.

Still, there are tweaks that could be made to improve the system and enable those areas that offer the greatest potential gain for the country as a whole. Nor is a rich buffet of government support and subsidy paid out of the public tax base necessarily a good thing.

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Lean startup: It’s the Canadian way

As part of our ongoing series examining the ecosystem necessary to bring technology to market, we asked serial entrepreneur Jason Flick to share some of his insights on getting tech to market with lean thinking. This is the first of his commentaries and we welcome your feedback.

By Jason Flick

You would have to be living under a rock not to have heard about the billions in venture capital flooding into the Valley. Venture firms raised over $60 billion in Q1 2011 alone. Some companies are ramping from zero to billions in revenue in years rather than decades. Students fresh out of school are being offered six-figure salaries, four-month signing bonuses and iPads to come on board. (VentureBeat summed it up well in this recent story.)

Of course, these stories seldom report that for every company like this, there are 99 others that flounder and end up as large financial craters.

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From local consultancy to global service provider in two weeks

By Leo Valiquette

Communications strategist Caroline Kealey has, over the past 10 years, marched to her own drum as the founder and chief executive of Ingenium Communications.

Her consultancy has carved a niche for itself in the nation’s capital and across the country in the “art and science of communications and marketing strategy” providing, in addition to its strategic communications and marketing services, facilitation, training and organizational development.

As with so many other consultancies, regardless of their discipline, this meant that Ingenium’s intellectual property resided almost entirely within the grey matter of its people, and especially of its leader, Kealey herself.

Six years ago, Kealey decided to change that. Despite being a busy single mother with a full-time business, she set out to lever the insight and expertise developed over a 20-year career into an educational resource for professional development and training. The Ingenium team, with a substantial amount of goodwill and in-kind support from friends and allies, set to work. The outcome is the Results Map, deemed by its creators to be the most comprehensive online tool for strategic communications planning available in the world.

Kealey took the time to share her thoughts on the tenacity required to launch her new venture, the challenges of bootstrapping, and the strategic marketing that has turned a largely local consultancy into a global play within a matter of weeks.

Q: Where did you get the idea for Results Map?

A: I think the idea came from my experience in having written now close to 400 communications strategies across a wide range of sectors and clients. I realized that much of the process is quite repeatable and that we had quite a lot of expertise in this specialized area. I also realized that, while seemingly a bit odd coming from someone who makes her living as an external consultant, optimally this process is most beneficial if it’s done in-house. So, I came up with the idea to package what we’ve learned from experience and create a methodology that communicators can easily apply within their organizations, tapping into their unique knowledge and experience with their subject matter and audiences.

Q: How did you go about validating the idea?

A: This whole project has been bootstrapped on the back of our traditional consulting practice and therefore integrates hundreds of conversations as part of regular client engagements and workshops. We carried out extensive market research to establish if there is anything like this … we looked at comparable solutions for other disciplines and went through an extensive process of one-and-one interviews in 2008 with people in different facets of the industry – academia, public, private, para-public sectors. We used all this to map out a business plan and worked with a focus group of 30 people to validate the concept from both a business and marketing point of view.

Q: What key challenges did you face turning this into a commercially available product?

A: This was far and away the most significant and complex project I have ever managed. The process has been ongoing over a six-year period and has been self-financed. The sheer tenacity and the focus required was a major challenge since the project had to run alongside our regular work and business development. Stitching this together into something coherent with an end goal in mind was a very significant challenge. This is not for the faint of heart.

Q: Where did you turn for sources of funding and other support to develop and launch Results Map?

A: One of the most extraordinary experiences throughout this process has been the generosity of the community in providing expertise (and) resources and offering to make valuable connections. I was really moved to the extent to which people are willing to support an entrepreneur who has a dream. That was a big part of our success – tapping into a lot of local in-kind support, and connections. We wanted to self-finance as much as possible, but did call upon the BDC and a private investor, both of whom have been extremely supportive.

Q: How do you characterize your experience, as an entrepreneur, in trying to secure funding and other key pieces of the puzzle?

A: As is often the case, it’s hard to appreciate the sheer volume of work and energy that this has required. In terms of lessons learned, you can’t underestimate the time and effort that isn’t immediately visible when you set out – the complexity of translation to another language, finding an online payment solution that works, developing a marketing plan, and addressing innumerable technological challenges. It all takes deep consideration, analysis and quality decision-making to position the company for success, and adjust in real-time to dependencies and changes in the development plan.

Q: What key entrepreneurial lessons did you learn through this? What would you do different next time?

A: If you roll back the clock, this could have gone in many different directions. Early on I became concerned by time-to-market and that other people would come in and scoop us. But that was fairly short-lived because I had trouble imagining that there would be too many others who would have the passion to drive through such a difficult task … call it stubbornness or stick-to-it-ness, it was clear that it was the road less travelled.

Most of the development work I did on this was between 5 and 7 a.m. before I got my kids up to get ready for school; that’s obviously not everyone’s cup of tea.

The technical development of the product took place over six months. This was very aggressive and in hindsight could have been done more comfortably over a year or 18 months. However, we had committed to complete and present by June 2010 at the International Association of Business Communicators World Conference in Toronto. As a result, we licensed our training platform from Telesto, a local development firm. Again, my whole orientation was on niche expertise, not on developing a tool in-house, from the ground up. This proved to be a good decision because the time and cost required to create a platform from scratch would have been prohibitive.

Q: What has been the market response to Results Map?

A: A few weeks ago I was running a local consulting company. Now our technology is on four continents and we are writing proposals for Fortune 500 companies … We have reached into some spheres that would not have been possible two weeks ago. We even have the government of Tanzania interested in our methodology.

This is precisely what we wanted to do with this product, have a global impact, and so far it’s off to the races.

Q: How did you take advantage of your attendance at the International Association of Business Communicators World Conference to launch of Results Map?

A: We had a whole strategy to make a splash at that event to capitalize on the fact that there were 1,500 communicators there from around the world. We ran a Twitter contest, a guerilla marketing campaign, exhibited with a booth, and I was a speaker. We very much took our own advice on having a plan and executing against that plan on a shoestring budget. People told us we were one of the highlights of the event, and that is entirely the result of our careful planning in terms of marketing, planning and positioning.

Now the challenge is chasing down all of our leads. The scope of our business has exploded in the space of a couple of weeks so while I’d thought the product development was the end of a goal, it really is just the beginning.

Recent Comments

  • James LaPalme : Francis Would not say thrived - but close - in spite of geography. 15ish years ago - a group of similar skilled and experience and capable business folks (sales, channel, alliance, business development) all lived in Canada (Ottawa-Toronto-Waterloo). All except for one stayed - that would be me. Well the guys that went to Silicon Valley have thrived well beyond expectations. The others - Boston, Dallas and EU have done very well - thrived. My survival has been predominately based on CEO's from outside Ontario seeing my value. Best to move on to more receptive fertile ground if ambitious. A successful strategy is to move south do a few years and remove the pure northern business experience then come back - which my experience is very few will.

  • Francis Moran : I'm so glad to see you warming to this idea, Luc. Not that you were ever one of those mindless critics who automatically opposed the proposal; you were properly skeptical and demanding that it contain more of what folks like you and I believed was necessary for success. Looks like the city is listening.

  • Luc Lalande : Hi Francis, thank you for the steady and keen eye on the development of this important project for the City. I share your view that open spaces in the building’s design will be critical components for encouraging spontaneous interactions between people. Integrating such spaces in the Innovation Complex sends the right signals to the community-at-large and not just the local startup ecosystem: everyone is welcomed! With respect to Patti’s comments about the arts sector, it would be worth bringing back to light that the Hintonburg-Mechanicsville area has emerged as the first Arts District in the City of Ottawa, housing many artist studios, performing arts studios, and media groups. While the 7 Bayview located Innovation Complex may cater to the entrepreneurial set, there is still considerable property on these lands that could, one day, be developed and capitalize on the area’s sizable artistic community. But perhaps the open spaces at the Innovation Complex can be equally accommodating for anyone who embraces creativity and entrepreneurship: artists and innovators alike.

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