Prospectus: The kick in the ass that we needed

Kick in the ass
Editor's Note

In each issue of the OBJ newsmagazine, publisher Michael Curran shares his prospectus for the Ottawa business community. Read the winter edition of the newsmagazine here.

The COVID-19 pandemic is devastating on many fronts. Consider the thousands of Canadians who have perished from this terrifying virus, the countless lost jobs, the increasing number of business failures and the unending mental strain.

There is real hardship here.

I doubt anyone’s annual risk assessment at the beginning of 2020 predicted such a profound business disruption. Despite the extreme challenges, most entrepreneurs survived our “annus horribilis,” even if they crawled to its finish line.

As we enter 2021, let me make this admittedly positive and contrarian prediction.

Without discounting the real-world hardship created by COVID-19, the economic impact of the pandemic could eventually be viewed as largely positive when it comes to competitiveness.

I think that’s especially true in a city such as Ottawa, which is solidly planted in the knowledge-based economy.

My biggest surprise in 2020 was the number of business leaders who, often privately, shared with me that they’re experiencing record growth and profitability. It’s both astonishing and makes complete sense.

Look at Ottawa’s private sector, somewhat dominated by its technology enterprises – Shopify, Kinaxis, Ericsson, Nokia, Ciena, BlackBerry, Mitel and dozens of others. Let me put that another way: e-commerce, supply chain, network solutions, 5G, autonomous vehicles and cloud communications. This sounds like a solid bet to me.

I’m not forgetting about local providers of goods and services.

If you operate a restaurant, boutique or fitness studio, your immediate future is bleak. There is unfairness in this, given these businesses could have neither predicted nor prepared for a pandemic and related forced closures.

Still, how many restaurateurs and retailers are exploring new business models that might make them more resilient, more forward-looking and more profitable? Would these bold attempts at business innovation have occurred without a pandemic?

Here is the truth. Even the best CEOs have nagging business issues that go ignored. These issues are often tough to solve and require a deep rethinking or restructuring of the business.

If necessity is the mother of invention, hardship is the kick in the ass that many business operators need to make tough decisions and evolve.

I join the multitudes in cursing COVID-19, but I recognize it might bring significant good in this narrowest sense.

As we drift into a winter of discontent, hundreds of entrepreneurs are steeling their nerves, pooling their capital and preparing to use the pandemic as a springboard to stronger businesses and a more robust local economy.

Read the winter newsmagazine

In a devastating year for so many local businesses, Ottawa’s tech sector provided a ray of light.

While the pandemic ravaged the economy and took a terrible toll on lives and livelihoods in 2020, the innovators who have been an engine of growth for one of the capital’s most important industries continued to prove their mettle.

With a new year underway, OBJ's winter newsmagazine takes a closer look at four firms that have what it takes to scale up to a new level over the next 12 months as the economy continues to grapple with the coronavirus and begins to take tentative steps toward the post-pandemic reality.

Other features in this issue:

  • Ron Corbett explores how Mark Monahan is reimagining Bluesfest amid the pandemic;
  • Local hotels make their staycation pitch;
  • The Kingston shipbuilder manufacturing patrol boats for fleets around the world;
  • Iogen’s international ethanol push;
  • Full profiles of the Best Ottawa Business Award recipients.

Plus: Caroline Phillips' OBJ.social coverage, a rundown of top Ottawa executives on the move and a story of second chances in business.