Invest Ottawa expecting biggest AccelerateOTT turnout yet

Nick Quain

Next week’s AccelerateOTT conference is shaping to be the most well-attended yet as organizer Invest Ottawa makes changes to deliver a more engaging entrepreneurship conference.

The local economic development agency expects 500 people to attend the annual conference at Lansdowne Park’s Horticulture Building. It’s the seventh year for AccelerateOTT, which aims to “fuel Ottawa’s entrepreneurial fire” by connecting students, startups, scaleups and investors in between a full-day of high-profile speakers and panels. Invest Ottawa says last year’s event sold 460 tickets.

One change from last year might help keep the networking and educational aspects of the event separate. The dedicated section for refreshments – where connections are often made over cookies and coffee – will be moved to an outdoor tent area. Also in the tent will be a returning favourite, the Startup Expo, which will see nine local companies on display showing off their solutions.

Nick Quain, Invest Ottawa’s vice-president of venture development, is stepping into his first year as an organizer at AccelerateOTT and says the decision to separate the networking area from the speakers allowed the organizers to fill the space with more seats.

The other benefit, he says, is reducing the “distraction” for speakers onstage. Invest Ottawa heard in feedback from previous years’ attendees that the energy and volume of networking could at times overpower the content onstage.

Scale or fail

This year’s theme, “scale or fail,” speaks to a common challenge facing both Ottawa-based startups and Canadian firms in general: an inability to take a strong start and grow it into a world-class company.

“The companies that get to $1 million or $2 million aren’t getting to $10 million, $20 million, $30 million,” Quain says.

There are plenty of reasons why companies such as Shopify are the exception rather than the standard in Ottawa, and AccelerateOTT hopes to address a few.

One of those reasons, Quain suggests, is lack of access to capital. This year’s conference will feature two investor panels: one aimed at early-stage financing, the other at female founders and funders.

Learning the ropes is one thing, but with so many investors in town to attend AccelerateOTT, the conference also opens up the door for a chance to pitch. The day after the conference, Invest Ottawa will be hosting a number of investors for a pitchfest at Bayview Yards. Some may even stick around for L-Spark’s Cottage Pitchfest next Friday.

Part of what’s keeping Quain busy lately is orchestrating these pitching opportunities, turning AccelerateOTT into a full-week event for local startups.

Emboldening entrepreneurs

The other side of the “scale or fail” coin is largely psychological. Quain says entrepreneurs working in the trenches often need to hit pause and find a little inspiration to continue the grind. He believes AccelerateOTT can be the boost Ottawa entrepreneurs need to carry on growing their startups. Speakers such as Assent Compliance CEO Andrew Waitman, who’s firmly in the midst of scaling his own company, can provide valuable insight and perspective to founders hoping to breakthrough to the next stage.

“It’s really meant to embolden our entrepreneurs to begin to think in this mindset,” Quain says.

Ticket sales and LinkedIn likes aside, many of Invest Ottawa’s measures of success for AccelerateOTT are anecdotal. Quain brings up the example of Ottawa-based FarmLead, which, after months of searching for someone to lead product development at the growing startup, found that person at a recent AccelerateOTT.

“Those are the types of things we look at,” Quain says.

This year’s AccelerateOTT conference takes place on Wednesday, June 13 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with an afterparty following. Tickets are still available here.