Equity Crowdfunding Comes to Ontario – finally!

Canadian-100-dollar-billsThis could be big, really BIG! For entrepreneurs and startup founders this could be a monumental change, potentially opening the floodgates onto the dry and barren land of seed funding. At the very least it should offer new options for cash-starved startups and early-stage businesses. The recently proposed (as of March 20, 2014) Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) new set of regulations provides for

“a crowdfunding exemption that would allow businesses, particularly start-ups and early stage businesses, to raise capital from a potentially large number of investors through an online platform registered with the securities regulators.”

More specifically, this ‘Crowdfunding Exemption’ would allow startups and SMEs to raise up to $1.5M per 12 month calendar year with investors being able to invest up to $2,500 per deal and up to $10,000 per year.

Why is this so important, then? The issue is that under the current Canadian securities laws, startups can only raise money by selling equity in their business to so-called “accredited investors,” who are strictly defined and typically include family members, angel investment firms or venture capitalists. Should you wish to raise funds from a broader circle of individual investors, your company needs to go through a process of stock listing on a publicly traded exchange that is normally prohibitive to a startup.

The advancements in internet technology, however, make it possible these days to approach and raise the required capital in small amounts from a much broader group of individuals. Why is this approach relevant? It all has to do with risk management and sharing. To illustrate the issue let me quote from my article recently published in The Ottawa Citizen.

“Let’s say I need to raise $0.5M for my startup. I go to you and ask you for the whole sum or just a $100K chunk. Even assuming you have the means, you are going to agonize at length over your decision. However, if I ask you to invest $10-15K, you will spend far less time worrying and be much more predisposed to take the chance. By employing this tactic, an entrepreneur will likely raise her $0.5M because the risk is shared among many investors and each of them does not risk that much.

This is exactly how I raised, some time ago, angels financing for ATMOS Corp. I brought in about 20 private investors, with each contributing between $10K and $25K. The beauty of this approach is that nobody is going to loose sleep and the entrepreneur gets his objective accomplished. In fact, this is the same principle in action that powers the IPOs and syndicated VC rounds albeit in a smaller scale. It works, therefore, use it.”

The key to increase seed financing in this country is to implement some practical systemic initiatives. People respond to incentives. If we want to encourage seed funding to enable entrepreneurship and startups we need to create incentives which reward financial risk taking. The OSC proposal is a good step forward to create a viable framework enhancing options for seed investing. The Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) led by John Reid should be congratulated for spearheading the industry lobbying effort. Not to rest on laurels, the Angel Investment Incentives initiative should be advocated, advanced and implemented next. With these two in place we would have a really strong system platform to support the entrepreneurial startup culture in Ontario.
Nevertheless, some folks are concerned about a potential for fraud and taking advantage of un-sophisticated investors. Would you agree that the advantages outweigh the risks? What do you think?

The Notice and Request for Comment is available for public consultation on the OSC website www.osc.gov.on.ca and the comment period runs until June 18, 2014.

Innovate, Adapt, or Die

Innovation“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you lead them, and how much you get it.

This quotation from S. Jobs was floating through my mind as I perused the enjoyable read of the recently published “Adventures in Innovation: Inside the Rise and Fall of Nortel” by John Tyson. The book is a fascinating personal account by one of the key R&D executives who has been there for most of the ride since 1966 until 2001, almost the end. There are many facets to his story but at the heart of it is one of universal interest to anyone in the high-tech community: the eternal tension between creativity and innovation on one hand, and the need to maximize revenue and profits.

It does not matter whether you are a start-up or a billion dollar company. All for-profit organizations powered by innovation experience this built-in tension. There is nothing wrong with it, quite the opposite. Its existence is healthy and helps to right the ship as it sails through turbulent waters of the forever changing business seas – as long as it is constructive, kept in balance and supported by the trust and mutual respect of the members of the crew.

This tension, between, as Tyson calls it, “pinstriped executives driving sales and white-coated lab engineers pursuing ideas for products a decade away”, is not difficult to maintain in balance as long as both camps talk to each other and the top leadership listens. But it is easy to stop listening as sales grow through the roof, the stock price is exploding and you are in the midst of a wild binge of acquisitions and hiring waves.

Putting R&D spending under the control of the operating businesses focused on immediate products and profits carries a huge risk that research will become just another cost, rather than an investment in the future. In the battle between the operating, money-making arm of the organization and the R&D operation, the scales are tipped towards the former. At the end it will win this unless there is a strong structural protective cocoon around R&D and the enlightened top leadership which does not waiver. Arguably, Nortel collapsed because the conversation stopped  between the two camps.

In one of his recalled stories, Tyson asks Scrivener, Nortel’s CEO at the time, about managing business strategy and tactics. It is instructive, that as CEO he owned the strategy and the vision, and considered the operating and marketing plans to be tactical. Consequently he advised aspiring executives to learn to manage the strategy and delegate the tactics. Even more memorable, when asked for his planning horizon, he answered: “10 years.”

Now, this is truly mind-boggling stuff in today’s business environment when very few business leaders have the guts to think that way without quickly giving up to the pressures of short-term expediency. In terms of planning with 10 years horizons, well…, possibly, just possibly the Politburo of China might be able to afford it 🙂 And yet, one feels this inner itch, a tiny voice whispering that he was right and that’s the way to do it…

When a CEO loses it and falls prey to the short-term expediency rather than viewing R&D as long-term investment, that delicate tension balance will break-down and the internal fighting will start over marketing as an expense versus an investment. This leads to a waste of a lot of money, resources, and time. Ultimately, the collapse will be in sight.

Under these circumstances, there is only one more potential saviour: the enlightened, competent Board of Directors which takes seriously its fundamental responsibility to proactively set the strategic direction of the company. However, if the Board allows itself to become too remote from the corporate culture, shielded by executives who consider the directors a necessary evil, it will turn itself into ineffective caretakers as in Nortel’s case towards the end when “Board members were little more than well-meaning, part-time sophisticated  contractors who were well compensated to meet the minimal legal requirements.”

There are many valuable lessons from Nortel’s story – the biggest tragedy in Canadian high-tech – which are worth pondering to help other tech organizations, Blackberry and re-modeled NRC come to mind, avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. After all, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Angel Investment Incentives – Blueprint for Ontario

There is no point in re-inventing the wheel. The existing time-proven British Columbia Equity Capital Program (BCECP) provides excellent blueprints to be adopted by the  Government of Ontario following its election promises (see this post).

The program provides individual investors (angels) incentives by way of a refundable tax credit when they invest in eligible small business. The highlights of this program include:

  • 30% refundable cash credit (good as cash) with a maximum of $200,000 investment for a maximum annual tax credit of $60,000 per individual investor
  • Ability to invest directly, or in a holding company known as a Venture Capital Corporation (VCC), which in turn can invest in one or more eligible businesses
  • RRSP eligibility for VCC shares which can drive max tax savings up to 74% !
  • Hassle factor – low; apparently administration of the program is fairly smooth with a minimum of red tape

More details on the BCECP program can be found in this succinct overview.

As a support document for the policy-makers there is an excellent recent study published by the Ministry on the effectiveness of the BCECP program.

A program like this implemented in Ontario would do wonders to re-invigorate our stagnating high-tech ventures, resulting in great economic benefits for everybody. There was an initiative earlier this year involving Terry Matthews of Wesley Clover and Bruce Lazenby of Invest Ottawa to have this included in the last provincial budget but it fell through. Now is the time to try again.

So, what are we waiting for? Let’s push our elected politicians to fulfill on their promises and provide support for startups, small business, and new ventures.

Impressed by Matthews and his Tech Lobbying Efforts

Canadian high-tech has always struck me as politically naïve and immature. Perhaps it is due to the nature of engineering work requiring a bit of an introvert personality, focused on hard data and attention to details in a narrow technical field. It could be that the mantra “If you build it, they will come”, the ethos of “Building a better mousetrap”, the frontier-like spirit of fierce independence and self-reliability, all by themselves admirable characteristics,  make it a bit short-sighted if not isolationist when it comes to the realization that their industry is not an island and it makes sense to pay attention to a broader world around advocating, advancing, and protecting its interests in the larger society.

 Whatever the reasons, the fact is that the tech community or so-called knowledge workers in Canada do not have a formidable political lobby  of the likes of the infamous Maritime fishermen, automotive unions, or the Prairie farmers. Arguably, organizations such as CATA or ITAC are supposed to provide the industry representation and advocacy, but the overall sense is that they are only partially effective.  As a result, not only is the country’s knowledge economy, competitiveness, and productivity not advancing as fast and reaching a desirable height on the world scene as they should, but, even more worrisome, when the trouble comes – as it inevitably does, even the flagship companies of the likes of Nortel and BlackBerry are left out in the cold without the support of our own government.

Nortel’s disastrous fiasco often provokes heated debates and I am sometimes asked what I think about it. Not going into the complex details of the underlying decisions that led to Nortel’s collapse, my answer as to the reasons for the ultimate failure in the end-game is that this was primarily due to the own doing of the company senior management, their hubris or political inexperience and naivety. Here we had a Canadian-headquartered flagship tech organization which routinely imported CEOs and executive management primarily from the US, with little or no loyalty and connections to the country. Even worse, the corporate culture was more of a contempt for politicians and government bureaucracy than an astute realization of potentially useful value of cultivating such relationships. No wonder when the trouble came, there was no one in the government willing to throw you a lifeline!

Having recently attended the Tech Tuesday meeting run by Wesley Clover (Terry Matthews organization) at The Marshes Club in Kanata, I am happy to report that finally we see some serious effort to mount a broad grassroots high-tech political lobby. There was a lively crowd of 50-80 high-tech folks doing a little networking by the bar followed by a serious discussion and a debriefing on the voluntary run efforts to bring the tech industry agenda more to the federal government’s attention. Here are the highlights of what’s been achieved so far:

  • After a couple of years of efforts, the infamous double-taxation of US investors in Canada was abandoned
  • Most of the senior government officials at the minister (Flaherty, Kenney, Moore, etc) and DM level were briefed about the tech industry issues and are open to take action given industry input
  • The current efforts resulted in the inclusion in Harper’s recent “Speech from the throne”, a remark to the effect that “The government will release an updated Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy”, which apparently is an important first step for further specific action

Matthews was instrumental in most of the above efforts and it was really heart-warming to see his eager involvement, initiative and leadership. This is exactly the kind of leadership that Ottawa high-tech needs. 

Some of the specific issues and initiatives brought up in the discussion included:

  • Support for the purchase of Canadian tech companies’ products by government, its agencies but also large Canadian organizations such as banks, telecom providers (Telus, Bell, Rogers), etc
  • Angel investment tax credit modeled on the highly successful BC program
  • The issue of more and more restrictive SRED practices by the CRA
  • A need to make IRAP grants non-deductible from SRED claims

 The voluntary task force will keep working at it  over the next 2-3 months, to distill a number of such proposals down to three major initiatives that will be presented to senior federal government officials for inclusion in the government economic action plan i.e. the next budget.

Overall this is a great initiative  and Terry Matthews needs to be commended for spearheading it and providing a very much needed leadership. The ironic part though was that the audience was a totally high-tech crowd and it was pitching to the converted. Nobody thought about inviting local MPs to let them hear directly what their voters need and would like to see happen. And the brutal truth in the world of politics: only votes count!


The battle of crowdfunding in Canada

There is a fierce battle going on right now in Canada’s high-tech sector, lobbying for the legislative changes in the country’s security laws to enact, so-called crowdfunding” or “crowdsourcing” legislation, which would permit Canadian entrepreneurs to raise up to $1M for their startups in small chunks solicited (often over the Internet) from a fairly large number of individuals.

What is the problem, then?
 The issue is that under the current Canadian securities laws, startups can only raise money by selling equity in their business to so-called “accredited investors,” who are strictly defined and typically include family members, angel investment firms or venture capitalists. Should you wish to raise funds from a broader circle of individual investors, your company needs to go through a process of stock listing on a publicly traded exchange that is normally prohibitive to the startup. More details on that is available in an excellent and succinct six-page document, “General Overview of Canadian Securities Laws Relating to Raising Capital By Early Stage Companies” prepared by FMC Law, members of the CrowdSourcing Advocacy Committee of CATA and available through their office.

The advancements in internet technology, however, make it possible these days to approach and raise the required capital in small amounts from a much broader group of individuals. Why is this approach important? 
It all has to do with risk management and sharing. To illustrate the issue let me quote from my article recently published in The Ottawa Citizen.

“Let’s say I need to raise $0.5M for my startup. I go to you and ask you for the whole sum or just a $100K chunk. Even assuming you have the means, you are going to agonize at length over your decision. However, if I ask you to invest $10-15K, you will spend far less time worrying and be much more predisposed to take the chance. By employing this tactic, an entrepreneur will likely raise her $0.5M because the risk is shared among many investors and each of them does not risk that much.

This is exactly how I raised, some time ago, angels financing for ATMOS Corp. I brought in about 20 private investors, with each contributing between $10K and $25K. The beauty of this approach is that nobody is going to loose sleep and the entrepreneur gets his objective accomplished. In fact, this is the same principle in action that powers the IPOs and syndicated VC rounds albeit in a smaller scale. It works, therefore, use it.”

As is often the case, our American friends are much faster on their feet and have already kick-started the required changes by the U.S. President Obama enacting the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act
 on April 5, 2012. The act includes provisions to relax rules around online equity crowdfunding and will allow businesses to raise up to $1-million  via online “funding portals”. There is a real risk of Canada falling behind on the legislative side but also, more importantly, of having Canadian startups falling behind their competitors in the US.  Recently, Andrea Johnson, Partner with Fraser Milner Casgrain, summarized nicely the risks of falling behind the U.S. in this video interview with BNN.

Given that, unlike the US, Canada has no federal securities regulator and
 instead, securities are regulated at the provincial  level, we are likely looking at a rather fragmented approach to this problem –  with some provinces taking the lead and others a wait-and-see approach. In a typical fashion, it will likely take about 2 years for Canada to get its act together and catch up. The only bright side and some hope is the energetic lobbying campaign currently underway conducted by  the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) led by John Reid, president and chief executive officer. They deserve our strong support so take action today by writing and talking to your MPP or MP!

In a broader context of supporting and fostering entrepreneurial culture, why do we often
 have to be so reactive and lackadaisical in Canada? We need to create conditions in this country which encourage and make it easy to pursue new, especially knowledge-based, business creation. How about Canada as a startup nation? We already have a reasonably solid R&D infrastructure, we have system incentives, through the SRED mechanism, to encourage innovation. What we do not have are strong financial incentives that support risk- taking and capital raising for early-stage companies. This is not rocket science, a number of attractive measures have been put forward, including the proposed angel financing tax credit or these crowdfunding ideas. We need to lobby our politicians to take action now!

Ottawa start-ups suck?

Out of the 20 winners of the “CIX Top 20” competition at the recent Toronto conference (www.canadianinnovationexchange.com) there was only one, bitHeads – not exactly a young start-up, out of Ottawa this year. Most of the presenting companies were from Toronto, Waterloo or Montreal area. What’s wrong with us, guys?

Here are some of my observations and impressions from this event which covered most of high-tech, focusing on ICT and Digital Media, but without clean-tech.
·         There is still an acute sense of a shortage of capital pools for high tech investments in the country. 2010 data shows ~ $1.1B VC capital deployed in Canada versus ~$6B spent in the year 2000. In comparison, this year, US-based VCs will invest ~ $26B.
·         There is a growing pressure to push the governments to institute policy-based incentives, such as angel investment tax-credit and even a corporate VC tax credit, to help address the shortage of risk capital.
·         The times, they are a-changing… It is much easier now than ever to get a start-up going. 10 years ago it used to be $0.5M to start plus $5M and 2 years to see if you got anything. Now it is $50K to start plus $0.5M and 6 month to sell for $3-5M.
·         For high-tech veterans like myself, there is a remarkable shift in the composition of start-ups from 10 years ago and even from 2008 when I pitched my last time – winning the “CIX Top 20” for KABEN. Practically all the companies this year are from the internet and mobile apps space. I have not spotted a single hardware-oriented start-up. As an example of what folks are doing these days, here a sample of some of companies which caught my attention:

Wave Accounting – online, banking integrated accounting software for SMBs (<9 staff)
TribeHR – HR software for SMBs
Recoset – mining data for ads
Vanilla Forums – weeding out “bad” comments and users from online forums
Massive Damage – location-based mobile gaming
Achievers – rewarding employees web-based software
NexJ – CRM software
Polar Mobile – publish to mobile media apps
Quick Mobile – mobile event apps for smartphones
Shoplogix – real time manufacturing data software

Going back to the lack of Ottawa-based start-ups presence, perhaps the reason in the above context, is that the former strength in telecom and hardware, due to the presence of Nortel, Newbridge, etc is no longer in vogue while at the same time Ottawa high-tech has not yet developed software, mobile and internet critical mass to spin out new-style innovative start-ups.

The Jenkins Report – risks for refundable SRED

Recently, the so-called Jenkins Report, “Innovation Canada: A Call to Action,” was released by the Independent Panel on Federal Support to Research and Development (R&D). Its purpose was to provide “advice in respect of the effectiveness of federal programs to support business and commercially oriented R&D, the appropriateness of the current mix and design of these programs, as well as possible gaps in the current suite of programs and what might be done to fill them.”
The full report is available on line and in various summaries as well as commentaries such as this one:
Of particular interest and concern to start-ups, early-stage companies and small business, is this innocently sounding recommendation of:
“simplifying the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax credit and redeploying funds from the credit to direct initiatives that support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)”.
Apparently, what’s behind this recommendation is an idea of replacing or reducing the “refundable R&D tax credit” by direct “initiatives” (read: grants, investments, etc). This is a huge RED FLAG and RISK for early-stage companies which often rely on cash from SRED refunds as a substitute for the shortages of venture investment funding in the current dismal climate. We can only applaud the idea of simplifying the existing system, but reducing or replacing the “refundability” aspect of it would be a killer and the serious blow to many high-tech startups which rely on this cash to fund their R&D work.
Direct funding initiatives, such as the popular IRAP program, are much more finicky, uncertain, bureaucratic, and frequently run out of money. In truth, we need both programs: refundable SRED and direct initiatives.
In any case, we can not afford to allow for the cancellation of  the refundable SRED credit – This would really hurt innovation and the creation of knowledge-based companies.
We need to lobby our politicians hard to improve the existing system but with an utmost care of not hurting the cashflow of newly-born fledgling enterprises.

Seed funding and Ontario politics

No matter what your personal political convictions or choices are, if you are a technology entrepreneur you need to be paying attention to what is being proposed, if anything, by the major parties in the current provincial elections in Ontario. What is at stake here is the dismal state of capital funding for high-tech startups which has dropped down by a factor of 10 over the last decade.
What is the essence of difficulty with seed funding? It all has to do with risk and risk management. It goes without saying that at the seed stage risks are enormous and, what is worse, they are hard to mitigate. For all practical purposes, it means therefore that the risk will stay high and is unavoidable. Now, on the other hand, many, though certainly not all, innovative early-stage companies hold an allure of “changing the world” and bringing high financial pay-offs to their investors.
Certainly from the societal standpoint it is a good thing to create and invest in innovative companies. In fact, there seems to be some hard economic data for Canada, which indicates that “40% of new jobs is created by young companies which make up about 4% of businesses.” Clearly, finding a workable mechanism which would ease the pain of raising seed funding and provide practical incentives to investors, should result in increased new business formation and therefore significant economic benefits which would contribute to the prosperity of all of us.
So, what is happening on the political stage in Ontario in this context? Well, it appears that just about the only proposal to address these issues is coming from the Liberals. Glen Murray, the Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation, recently proposed
the “angel investment” incentives program which would offer tax credits for individuals contributing seed capital to fledgling startups. The details are somewhat vague and will need to be worked out but, as an example, someone investing $100,000 in a startup could get a 25-per-cent tax credit.
Apparently, this plan is modelled on a similar one which has been in operation for 10 years in British Columbia and has proven to be successful while costing the province something like $30 million a year.
If implemented sensibly and within a reasonable time this plan could really make a difference and help immensely. It would provide incentives to people willing to take a risk – and seed funding new companies is all about risk management and sharing.
To illustrate principles, let’s say I need to raise $0.5M for my startup. If I go to you and ask you for the whole $0.5M or just a $100K chunk, even assuming you have the means, you are going to ponder this and agonize over the decision endlessly. However, if I go and ask you to invest $10-15K, you are going to spend far less time worrying about it and will be much more predisposed to take flight. Thus by employing this tactic, an entrepreneur will likely raise their $0.5M because the risk is shared among many investors and each of them does not risk that much individually.
This is exactly how I had raised angels financing for ATMOS Corp by bringing in about 20 private investors, each of whom on average contributed anywhere between $10K and $25K. The beauty of this approach is that nobody is going to lose sleep and the entrepreneur gets his/her objective accomplished. In fact, this is the same principle in action that powers the IPOs and syndicated VC rounds, albeit in a smaller scale. It works, therefore, use it. Of course, there are some pitfalls to watch, such as government regulations, accredited investors requirements etc., but these can be navigated around.
The key in seed funding is to incentivize and reward risk taking. It is disappointing that other political parties are not paying attention to this important issue. The current Ontario Liberals proposal is addressing this need well. Let’s hope we shall see it implemented without much delay.

OCRI Leadership

 It has been with relief that many of us in the Ottawa high-tech community greeted the recent appointment of Bruce Lazenby as a President of OCRI (currently re-named Invest Ottawa). Bruce is an experienced entrepreneur, a doer, an action man, and not yet another bland bureaucrat who never took any risks, never had to worry how to meet a payroll, or build a business from scratch. Bruce becomes, by my count, the 6th President of OCRI    (of which history goes back to 1983).
I recall with particular fondness and nostalgia the first OCRI President, Mike Caughey (1983-1984, but present and active way beyond that). Before Mike moved into management, he used to be a researcher at the Department of Electronics at Carleton University – we are talking about the 70s here. At that time I had been working overseas on my Ph.D. in semiconductor technology and as part of this endevour I had been using a well-known Caughey-Thomas mobility model which was employed widely in device modelling and simulation.
After moving and settling down in Ottawa I bumped into Mike, and not knowing who he was, I asked half-jokingly if he heard about the famous Caughey-Thomas equation.  To my embarrassment and delight it turned out that this was his achievement. Since then, it became a constant tease each time we met but I think Mike was pleasantly tickled by my referrals to his work from his younger days. It has been a fairly specialized piece of work in a rather obscure field, so not very many people were aware of Mike’s role in its discovery. As a side note, “Thomas” refers to Raye Thomas, a professor at Carleton University, who became one of the early pioneers of the solar cell engineering and was a founder of such companies as TPK Solar Systems, Megasol and others.
Mike Caughey, currently retired, has always been a very pleasant, if not jovial, gentleman and a pleasure to deal with. His background includes stints with Mitel, BNR and the founding of Cadence Computer Corp, which after several re-incarnations became WebPlan and currently is known as Kinaxis. Mike’s background with its combination of researcher-manager-entrepreneur experience set the right foundation for OCRI and his colorful personality was instrumental in attracting attention to OCRI in its early days.
It was apparently Mike’s initiative to start what became a very popular event – the so-called Technology Executive Breakfast (TEB) meetings. I remember some of the early TEB meetings held at Rick’s Pizza and Pasta Restaurant on March Road. The TEBs became so popular that, rumour has it, once the coat racks crumbled to the floor under the weight of excessive number of coats, it had to move to a larger venue – The Palladium, later on known under much more prosaic names such as Scotiabank Place or a truly awful Canadian Tire Centre.
Later on, during the exhilarating high-tech boom years around 2000, Mike ran monthly Technology Venture Dinner (so called TVD) meetings which were a highly exclusive affair, hosted in the famous and prestigious Rideau Club in downtown Ottawa. These dinner meetings provided an ideal platform for intermingling between early-stage companies’ CEOs and venture capitalists. There was a fun and glamorous characteristic to that era, but regrettably it all fell victim to the bust that followed. I have to admit I miss those events.
Gerry Turcotte (1984-1998), was the second and the longest serving President. His pedigree goes back to Algonquin College and its Electronics Department. Gerry was a very approachable man, full of unbridled enthusiasm, and a bit of a hustler in a positive way. He presided over the longest period of OCRI stewardship from which he was parachuted to the presidency of the Communications Research Centre (CRC) down the road at Shirley’s Bay.
Bill Collins (1998-2001) used to be Turcotte’s sidekick – I remember both of them having fun working closely together out of the office in the Gateway building – so it was natural for him to take over from Gerry after his departure in 1998. Bill was a true operator, an enthusiastic marketer, networker and salesman. He had the good fortune of presiding over the glory days of Ottawa high-tech and was ideally suited for those heady times.
Jeff Dale (2002-2009) got the un-envious job of running OCRI following the tech bust. Times were tough and he tried to do the best under the horrendous circumstances, which involved among other elements, a precipitous drop, by a factor of 10, of available venture capital. His personal style was different –more reminiscent of city hall managers than a flamboyant entrepreneur.
When Claude Haw (2009-2011) took over, there was a scent of expectation in the air. His background is appealing: a long and financially successful stint in Terry Matthews stables (Mitel, Newbridge) followed by starting his own venture capital fund Venture Coaches and the subsequent plethora of activities with ‘investee startups’. In addition, he is one of the founders of Mindtrust, a Kanata-based kind of CEO Club. What could be a better profile for a champion of Ottawa high-tech? And yet, it still remains to be seen if all of this did  translate into a spectacular success or a memorable term? I have known Claude for over 12 years and he still is a bit of a puzzle to me.
So now, what about Bruce Lazenby? He holds an ample promise but, as he wrote back in response to my congratulatory note, he “will need all the help he can get” to fulfill the renewed high expectations. And there are many coming from all sorts of stakeholders with different agendas. Here is my short wish (dream) list:
  • Revive the Ottawa high-tech to its glory days from a decade ago
  • Re-kindle the culture of entrepreneurship with its sense of anything is possible, opportunities abound and tomorrow we shall win the world
  • Lobby hard with local politicians to bring high-tech into focus as the future of the region
  • Build a financial foundation (risk capital, investment incentives, grants, etc) to leverage and support entrepreneurial efforts
Tall order? Unrealistic? Maybe, but inspirational! 🙂
I wish you good luck, Bruce. We are all behind you: some with the energy of young blood and some with the wisdom of grey hair. If you reach out, we shall be there for you. All the best and enjoy the ride!