Despite some hurdles, many observers say Ottawa’s tech sector has had a banner year in 2014. We’ve seen major deals and significant growth, both in numbers of tech employees and tech companies.
By Alexia Naidoo
Steve Langford, vice-president of marketing at one of Ottawa’s leading high-tech incubators, Wesley Clover International, says he is seeing occupancy rates “as good, if not better, than what some people might think of as the glory days of high tech.”
So what will 2015 bring for the sector? Here are six trends to watch for:
‘TSUNAMI’ OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Ottawa is a city full of up-and-coming business stars who are likely to build entrepreneurial momentum in 2015.
“This whole idea of entrepreneurship is a tsunami that is flooding across the world. And entrepreneurship as a career choice is something that we’re starting to see get a lot of traction in Ottawa,” says Bruce Lazenby, president and CEO of Invest Ottawa.
Ottawa’s post-secondary institutions now offer entrepreneurship programs, and incubators and accelerators such as L-Spark, the HUB and the Code Factory all support the creation of new tech enterprises.
“Ottawa is really waking up to this idea that entrepreneurship is a career choice,” says Mr. Lazenby.
Jason Flick, CEO of You.i and a board member of The Ottawa Network, a local organization aiming to foster innovation among entrepreneurs, academics and government agencies, thinks one of the big trends is going to be the evolution of B2B businesses.
“But the new norm,” he says, “is going to be the Ubers (the San Francisco-based ride-sharing service that debuted in Ottawa last fall), where they go into a market that is arcane, that has sat on its laurels for 10, 20, 30 years, and not innovated.”
Ottawa can excel at B2B companies because of the earlier revenue and the validation from selling a product in stages.
“I think you’ve got a bunch of really cool companies in town that are going to be able to take their technology and disrupt some of the traditional B2B stuff,” says Mr. Flick.
“When I talk about cloud computing, I talk about all that goes into that from the monstrous big shared server farms to the software companies and service companies that offer these software-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service (products),” says Mr. Langford.
Cloud computing will remain a big focus in Ottawa, certainly in 2015 and likely beyond as more and more companies begin to embrace it.
“A lot of the things that once upon a time IT groups were tasked with bringing in, building and maintaining, and housing are now available from best-in-class suppliers,” says Mr. Langford. “That will absolutely continue with the momentum it’s gained.”
VIDEO: ‘THE KILLER APP’
“If you think about one of the biggest things people do, it’s watch content, and that’s all going to change,” says Mr. Flick. “Everybody knows that Netflix is changing the world and the whole way people are going to view content.”
Now U.S. cable giant HBO is also planning to go direct with its content. Meanwhile, there are billions of TV advertising dollars out there.
“If you look at video as the killer app, how can you use it to sell, promote, and push ad content?” asks Mr. Flick.
“So I think that’s going to be a big piece. You’re going to see video show up everywhere,” he says, adding that Ottawa has a history of excelling at this kind of development and is well positioned to take it to the next level.
EVOLUTION OF MOBILE
The year 2015 is likely to see the emergence of ever more powerful smartphones and tablets while developers continue to push the boundaries of mobile.
“The phones are getting bigger, they will support more applications, they’ll have more horsepower, and the applications themselves will likely access servers that are hosted up in the cloud, whether it be for messaging or for individual productivity applications – anything from banking and payment apps to sales management and engagement,” says Mr. Langford.
The big communications companies in Ottawa are investing heavily into R&D for the network architecture that enables these technologies. Around these big companies are more and more application firms and startup companies that are seizing the new opportunities.
“People are working on some bigger opportunities, thinking about how to do things differently, and coming out of their shells,” Mr. Lazenby says, adding entrepreneurs in the city are showing a “bold spirit to innovate.”
He cites the innovation complex slated to open at Bayview Yards next year and the Centre of Excellence for Next Generation Networks that launched in November as examples of cutting-edge initiatives designed to cultivate more creative thinking in the city’s business community.
He also sees a growing move toward “massive collaboration” among post-secondary institutions, the private sector and the public sector.
“I think it’s very exciting times for Ottawa to be able to leverage the fact they know how to build things and they can do it cost-effectively,” says Mr. Flick. “It’s scary for some, but it’s going to show who can innovate and who can’t.”