Jessie Pierre mingles among the buzzing crowd at the Heart & Crown pub on Preston Street. She came to celebrate the launch of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW). It’s a week of events and activities celebrating successful entrepreneurs – with the aim of inspiring more people to start their own businesses.
Pierre wants to start a business that will organize events, festivals and fundraisers. During GEW, she hopes to meet other novices like her and be advised by experienced entrepreneurs.
“I want to make some connections and find future partners,” Pierre said. “For example, I am looking for a website designer; maybe I will find one and we can work together.”
Pierre has just returned from attending one of the week’s events that left her more than satisfied. “It’s called ‘Mentor Madness’ – it is speed-dating for entrepreneurs. We’ve spent seven minutes with each mentor explaining our business and getting advice from people who are established in the city.”
Launched in 2008, GEW is the world’s largest celebration of innovators and startups. In Ottawa, the week is organized by Invest Ottawa in collaboration with the city’s business community.
“GEW celebrates entrepreneurs and those people who take risks and believe they are better off creating their own job than getting a job,” says Invest Ottawa’s communications manager Alex Pugh.
Ottawa has a strong business community that is open to collaboration, Pugh said. Invest Ottawa has 200+ mentors who volunteer to help out fledgling businesses. The only thing Ottawa lacks, says Pugh, is a strong capital funding environment.
“We have to take our companies to where these venture capitalists are – we need to put Ottawa on the map,” Pugh noted. “What we are hoping is, Global Entrepreneurship Week will help change people’s perception of Ottawa as a government town, and help them understand that there is a very strong, thriving business community here.”
Technology is warming Ottawa’s business climate
Ottawa’s business climate is getting hotter. Each year, temperatures rise with the appearance of another high-tech company on Ottawa’s business map.
Franco Varriano speaks for Startup Ottawa – a not-for-profit, grassroots, volunteer-run organization that provides startups with resources and advice to foster further growth. He says digital, technical and mobile companies dominate Ottawa’s business scene.
“It’s because of history. It’s because of older entrepreneurs in Ottawa who have those connections within the city and in other cities. They were all software and hardware companies. Kanata is a huge tech area, and it’s got translated into a new generation of startups downtown.”
There is a large concentration of young founders between the ages of 18 and 25 in the mobile scene. Varriano explains this phenomenon by low-cost, low-barrier entry, and availability of technology.
“Everybody has got a smartphone, so it makes sense: that if you are going to start a new company with almost no experience or limited resources – you would start at the lowest-costly barrier, which is mobile.”
Varriano says startups face many challenges, from receiving funding to attracting talent. As a result, many founders end up leaving for Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver where they pursue accelerator programs.
“This is the nature of startups: figuring out where we can get the best resources, and how we can overcome these problems in order to make something that people want, and hopefully, make enough money to keep the lights on.”
Last year, GEW hosted 65 events in Ottawa with more than 2,500 people attending. The nation’s capital was the most active city in Canada, GEW-wise.
This year, according to Kathryn Moore, the executive director of GEW Ottawa, the week was “an unmitigated success”, with about 7,000 participants at 83 events across the city.
“What we are hoping to do is really shine the entrepreneurial spotlight on Ottawa,” Moore says. “We want to be the number one city in Canada for entrepreneurism.”
Mayor Jim Watson and Bruce Lazenby, the CEO at Invest Ottawa, joined Ottawa’s entrepreneurs at GEW’s kick-off party.
“The only career you can’t get fired from is entrepreneurship,” Lazenby said. “Your business might fail – you just start another one. It can be a surprising job security and a lot of fun too. Entrepreneurship is a career choice and that’s what people should understand.”