The CodeFactory Starts

Just in time for Christmas there is exciting news from Ian Graham – the Code Factory is a go.

If you’re not already familiar with the CodeFactory think shared facility offices meet BarCamp. It’s this mix of private office space, open work space and community events that set the CodeFatory apart.

Of course productivity is at the core of any shared office facility, and the CodeFactory provides this in spades. First the shared facility offices are all about concentrating on your business – without having to think about your office. Teams can start and grow without once having to worry about outfitting their offices or finding new facilities as they grow.

If that was all the CodeFactory did it would be useful – but it does the same thing for individuals and for groups providing an environment for permanent and occasional work and group meetings. It’s hard not to think that connections and knowledge will flow helping the entire community at the same time as it provides members  unique insights and opportunities.

It’s a new approach that recognizes that while business was always about relationships it increasingly will be from the quality of your network – because that connects you to people, ideas and opportunities outside your personal knowledge. The CodeFactory builds the network of every person involved benifiting the entire community.

If this sounds interesting to you contact Ian at ian . thecodefactory at gmail dot com. 

The Social Base of Competition

We are at a tipping point – technology has enabled us to shift our focus to organizational processes as the source of improvements for our corporate, regional and national competitive goals.

What’s happening is that online tools from social networks, to blogs, wikis and presence tools like Skype and IM are erasing geographic and temporal boundaries. At the same time these tools are enabling physical events like BarCamp to be easily and cheaply organized, making it possible for people to meet and discover shared interests and opportunities.

Inevitably what happens is new visions of what is possible takes hold. Look no further than the Leeds UK tech sector that is being redefined from the ground up. Here’s what Imran Ali had to say after their latest camp:

We had people from as far as Dundee and Brighton, but the greatest concentration came from Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield and the North East; right along the M62 corridor, home to 15m Brits, a quarter of our country. Could we make this Supercity the next Highway 101…the Pennine Parallel? … We think we can …

That’s a pretty bold claim – except that it’s entirely possible – because vision, connection, and self-interest all combine to provide a powerful incentive and platform that encourages experimentation and growth.

Here in Canada we could use these tools as a basis for international competition, because our geography won’t allow tight physical connection that Leeds can, with 15M people within 2 hour of each other. The inklings of that are already with us as Alec Saunders points out when he contrasts US and Canadian adoption of FaceBook.

As individuals we are quick to jump on these tools and as Alec’s post shows that adoption is leading to organizational adoption in places like CATA. We need accelerate this – because these tools will alter the way organizations are structured and how information flows within and between them.

Our opportunity is to discover the organizational processes that let people develop a sense of group identity at distance and make them part of our legal and cultural framework. Initially this enables our companies and innovators to find, and work, with the local people, partners and technologies to create competitive technologies. Over time it enables more of our companies to do this throughout the world. A powerful strategic tool for a multi-cultural country as technology is making the world very flat.

In the mean time the opportunity is for BarCamp’s to connect and create opportunities that give participating companies a competitive advantage – because they already understand the social base of competition.

International DemoCamp & the value of virtual connections

One of the tenents of social media is that it fills an unmet need – the desire of people to connect in communities and explore common interests.

It’s no surprise then that the BarCamp community – an international movement of tech enthusiasts who connect locally discuss to technology and trends – would want to use collaborative platforms to connect multiple BarCamps together into one big event.

That’s what’s happening this weekend Ottawa and Leeds UK BarCamps are going to connect for a couple of hours of demo and discussion.

It was great fun working with Jim Courtney of Skype Journal and Dominic Hodgson of Leeds UK putting this together. Jim was instrumental in introducing us to Convenos a conferencing platform that lets us share desktops and applications.  Jim also connected us with HighSpeed Conferencing, a professional conference service that supports Skype calls – meaning even if the demos require a lot of processor cycles the audio quality will still be great. Thanks Jim!

It will be exciting to see  this in practice – and to see how people connect during and after the event.

If it’s successful I hope that we see more of it locally – given the strong Camp communities in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto and the huge advantages of connecting these communities into a single entity – from a talent, funding and company partnership perspective.

In fact Mars seems to have this idea already, web broadcasting their multi-month entrepreneurship program Entrepreneurship 101 throughout the province (has anyone from Ottawa signed up?) and linking it to a FaceBook page for connecting far flung students. 

We could take this further though. Toronto is on their sixteenth DemoCamp, Montreal on their fifth. These are great events because they make it easy to identify companies doing interesting things – that may augment your own work.

Extend this through Canada’s central corridor, and link more events, and gradually we’ll develop into a single tech community of international scale.

Update: Things didn’t work as planned, but that hasn’t detered us. We learned wired connections help, we really liked the Leeds audio and the HighSpeed conferencing – which made both the speaker and audience clear.  After some testing locally and in Leeds, where we hope to try it again.

Ottawa – Branch Plant City or New Model Time

Back in the days of strut and bluster Ottawa called its self Silicon Valley North. That seems a little hollow now, as one more Ottawa tech company, its largest – Cognos – surrenders control of its destiny to IBM.

What this latest sale makes clear is just how little depth the Ottawa tech sector has. Unlike our perceived rivals we lack diversity in company size which provide the customers, partners and mentors that grow small companies into large ones. We also lack the head offices which train mangers into visionaries and leaders.

Scratch below the surface and something else become clear – the cities current OCRI focused economic development model isn’t working. 

Whether that is due to fuzzy vision at OCRI,  who’s mission statement is all things to all people, or equally fuzzy vision from the city which sole sources most of its economic development dollars to a “member-based … corporation” somehow believing that the memberships interest is synonymous  with civic interest. 

What ever the reason it’s time to try something else – because what we’ve been doing seem to be leading us to an economic destiny as a branch plant city – churning out code and research and shipping that, and value it creates, out of town.

The answer I believe is not more funding – but more diverse funding. What’s needed is more organizations vying with each other to develop more and better programs.

This democratization of economic development does several things – First it encourages groups to have clearly defined targets and measurable outcomes. But is it does more – buy spreading funding among a multitude of groups the city benefits by being able to test multiple approaches simultaneously – a tremendous competitive advantage during times of change such as is happening both in Ottawa and globally.

Unlike the current central planning approach diversity works best at discovering new models and approaches – in part because it organizes and leverages more relationships to build on broader strengths and connections within the community– and those very connections also spread to knowledge that helps everyone become slightly more competitive.

One needs to look no further than the tremendous resurgence in small software companies whose needs are largely met by volunteers – first through Venture Creation Group and latter through an evolving network of BarCamps and Meet-ups. These groups could be significantly more valuable as engines of economic development if they were able to implement more ambitious programs, using the same technology and enthusiasm that connects them to address systemic issue they face as companies and economic contributors to this city. 

My vote is for a new model.

Ottawa’s not Silicon Valley

Paul Graham wrote recently about start-up hubs.

Paul’s central points are Silicon Valley has:
– investors who understand start-ups and are not risk adverse
– world leading experts in key technologies
– relationships with the markets for products

It’s hard to argue with those points. Density and specialization have advantages. That said there are disadvantages (and with them opportunities). As he pointed out US immigration law opens an opportunity for another city to challenge it (Bangalore anyone).

What’s needed to be a successful start-up is access to talent, advise, investment and markets.  All of these can be gained through population density/diversity, cultural processes or specialization or a combination of them. From the start-ups perspective the issue is the likelihood of connecting with the right resources at the right time – and each of these factors make that more likely.

Let’s take these individually. First density/diversity. Jane Jacobs argued that cities are innovative because they increase the opportunities for ideas to cross social/occupational boundaries and as a result be created anew based on the influences of the new group. So it is with innovative start-ups. This may not appear true because Silicon Valley is not a large a London – however while London may be a hub for Great Britain – Silicon Valley is the hub for the world.

For smaller municipalities, like Ottawa, part of the solution has to be in increasing the opportunities for interaction with other tech communities – increasing the idea and expertise flow. I’ve long argued that from a government perspective Ottawa /Toronto/Montreal should be seen as a single economic region. Strategies need to be developed to increase interaction between the people in these communities (because the benefit happens at a personal level). The BarCamp movement presents some opportunities – and similar things need to happen with investors and to a lesser extent, corporate advisors. It’s through interaction that ideas and expertise are exchanged. Here I question the value of OCRI’s constant fee/event practices. These simply serve to exclude many start-ups and both decrease their visibility while slowing the spread of knowledge and connections. Is the purpose of Zone5 to raise money or to raise marketing awareness?

Cultural processes are important for smaller municipalities as well. One of the things I know about Silicon Valley is that they meet a lot to discuss aspects of business, markets technology etc. We must do the same. I take heart in the number of events that are springing up that allow individuals to self identify the networks that are the most use to their start-up and stage – from VCG to BarCamp, Social Network Theory Think Tank, Third Tuesday Ottawa etc there are more opportunities to connect than their once was. But we need to bridge this to include events in other cities (and need the support to ensure this connection becomes a cultural pattern). In fact the ability to influence culture is one of the reasons I am so supportive of the CodeFactory – by setting up a site were network events can occur and people can gravitate we increase the opportunities for people and ideas to connect. We could go further and equip this site with telecom infrastructure to connect with our sister cities – further developing this ability.

Paul talks about the ability of Silicon Valley investors to understand an opportunity and support it. Clearly that type of insight comes from experience – and that can only be gained by doing. Here tax policy is important. Austin Hill, and a number of Montreal angels, have developed a proposal to improve the rewards for angel investing by offsetting the tax burden on reinvestment. We need to review this and support if appropriate – using the advantages of our location.

Specialization is another way to compete – though I personally believe we are not at the point in the cycle where that is appropriate for Ottawa. For years Ottawa used its knowledge and understanding of telecom to its advantage. That served us well while telecom spending was exploding. The market has changed and we too need to shift with it – and become more general in our investing and support in the process. We are developing some expertise in social web applications. ECommerce and SaaS businesses though the start-ups lead investors and government in seeing the influence and opportunity.

Fostering a vibrant start-up community is in the end about knowledge – and knowledge is in the end a function of the cultural processes that exposure and integration into people businesses and lives. 

If Ottawa, or London, is ever going to rival Silicon Valley we need to focus on the cultural processes that facilitate people and ideas connecting. Do that and the rest will follow. 

The Psychology of Participation

This slideshow is a good overview of the psychological approaches that apply to the design of social media sites.

At its heart it’s an eloquent argument for building on the millions of hours of social science research to design sites that motivate and engage. It also is chock full of thought provoking insights like the illustration of social engagement tools on an Amazon page or the observation that:

Personal Value Precedes Network (Social) Value!

And that design has to be both personally useful while enhancing ones social status, reputation or knowledge.

It’s a set of themes that I hope to explore during the upcoming BarCampOttawa4 in November.