Opinion: Jason Flick: Why I volunteer at Invest Ottawa

Once, while hosting an AccelerateOTT event, I asked the audience to define Ottawa’s business community in just a few words. I got a lot of serious-looking faces but few answers.

Of those answers, I think the one from Tobi Lutke, the CEO of Shopify, characterized Ottawa best: “We are the city behind all the things we use. We aren’t Facebook, but Shopify drives their e-commerce. We didn’t build the internet, but it nearly all ran on Nortel hardware.”

I’ll take it further; we have no big media companies here, but You.i Engine drives some of the world’s biggest TV apps. We don’t build cars here, but Kinaxis powers the systems that manage the just-in-time parts. We don’t build fleets of planes, but MXI Technologies manages the maintenance of the world’s largest airlines. And the list goes on and on.

I think that sentiment matches Ottawa’s humble yet audacious stance as a key player of the less showy business-to-business (B2B) world, which in turn drives the more flashy business-to-consumer (B2C) one. From my perspective, the evolution of Ottawa’s tech sector has been exciting to follow, both as a participant and a spectator.

I believe this success exists because our community has always rallied around each other. I started my first real business during the early days of the internet, selling used computer equipment. At the time, there was little support for local entrepreneurs. Our solution was to cram about 20 fledgling entrepreneurs into a small room at St. Anthony’s Soccer Club in Little Italy. The room was free for us to use, and you dropped a dollar in the case if you took a beer.

We talked about how our startups were faring and shared lessons learned, even our setbacks. There were no entrepreneurs-in-residence as there are in today’s business incubators. We were just a bunch of startup geeks creating a space to help and support each other. It was not a scalable approach, but we all benefited significantly from it. I’m sure I speak for this early group when I say that a lot of people gave up their personal time to help others be successful. I count myself in on both sides of that equation.

My introduction to Invest Ottawa was joining the innovation advisory committee back in 2012. It immediately became obvious that IO was on the path to scaling entrepreneurship in a meaningful fashion. Just as our tech community has evolved, IO represents the evolution of our small, cramped meetings in those early days.

Whether your head is percolating that next big idea or you are a seasoned tech entrepreneur with business abroad, IO has a way to help. I know this because the numbers speak for themselves.

At least 22,000 people have attended its entrepreneurship-related seminars, and its experts have delivered more than 35,000 hours of mentorship to startups. We’ve helped 500 companies grow globally and have facilitated 4,700 new jobs for the city. And if you time it right, drop by the incubator space for the late-night pizzas and watch our starving startups hustling to get product out the door; they’re just some of the 1,100 new companies that have done the same over the years.

I have also seen first-hand how masterfully IO can secure precious funding from the province, federal government and local service providers. It’s no easy job, but when it’s managed properly, their work is magic for the city.

Today, I am honoured to have a seat on IO’s board of directors and chair the innovation committee. Our volunteers are passionate about the community and driven to push Invest Ottawa’s reach across the entire functional landscape. We have CMOs, CEOs and university deans mentoring and even rolling up their sleeves for projects. They put in this time because they once needed that same help. The organization is filled with volunteers and staff who all share a passion for making Ottawa an incredible place to live and work.  

That is why I joined Invest Ottawa. That is why I volunteer my time with Invest Ottawa. That is why others do. This is a unique community that is dynamic and supportive. For those of you who’ve been on the receiving end, it’s time to give back and get involved.

Jason Flick is a veteran in the world of enterprise growth and management, having founded and scaled a number of successful software companies, most notably Flick Software, Eftia and N-Able. Jason believes in disrupting the status quo, which is what led him to start You.i TV with co-founder Stuart Russell. He is currently a sitting member of the board for Turner Ad Labs, Invest Ottawa and Flick Software.