OCRI is looking for a new leader.
This may be the most important decision its members and funders make because it will set the direction for the organization during the coming critical years where Ottawa’s tech sector will either finally revive or fatally flounder.
It’s a time for vision, inclusion, activism and leadership.
So what should they look for?
First someone who thinks regionally. Ottawa is a mid-sized city for Canada but tiny globally. The reality is that we compete with areas that measure their economic hinterlands in tens of millions of people – and we need to approach that scale to compete. It is this economic and geographic connection between producers and consumers that ensures needs definition and fulfillment easily link, creates ready markets for initial test, insures a large pools of investors and management talent, and guarantees a rich education and employee pools for specialized skills as businesses grow. If Ottawa’s tech sector is going to thrive OCRI must make Ottawa a central part of an economic partnership that extends from Windsor to Quebec City.
Next the leader must be inclusive and strategic. A smaller tech community means smaller budgets – but the amount of work actually increases if “the current weakening trend” is to be reversed. OCRI must become an instigator when necessary and a coordinator where possible. It makes little difference to the strength of the community if The Code Factory mentors start-ups or whether OCRI does directly – except if the Code Factory handles it OCRI can focus on advocating public policy changes that few can address otherwise. Same goes for the Innovation Hub. Its fine in times of plenty to replicate MaRS in Ottawa but the budgets won’t be there for a number of years so let’s focus on delivering MaRS programs at University facilities’ using the telecom expertise Ottawa is famous for. Linking tech entrepreneurs within a university setting also provides (with some program support) a framework to bridge the commercialization gap that keeps so much Canadian funded research in the lab instead of the market.
The next bit of inclusion is that OCRI must reach out and address the needs of the thousands of small tech companies that are not currently it members or risk seeing its public funding attacked as this group develops an independent voice and representation.
The new leader must also be an activist. The problem of start-up investment or talent pools is not just a function of our size. We need substantial changes in out tax structures if we are gong to compete with the rest of the world. I’m not talking about lower corporate rates but of correcting the putative options regulations that mean start-up can’t attract world class talent with promises of future gain, and the write-off rules that reward people for keeping money out of high risk/reward investments like tech. We also need to look at federal and provincial programs that are sometimes so rule bound as to be meaningless. Lets make sure that if other levels of government understand the problem that their programs address it effectively. It is in developing the expertise here, and using our proximity to the federal government – that OCRi cements its leadership role to eastern Canada’s tech community.
This is a defining moment for OCRI. I hope they will consider these issues as they evaluate candidates.