The person at the heart of the Kanata North Business Association since its launch four years ago is leaving to pursue a new opportunity.
Jenna Sudds announced to friends and colleagues in a social media post on Wednesday that she will be stepping down as executive director of the Kanata North BIA. She wrote that she’ll be building a new organization “that will help business leaders across the country address the rapid pace of digital transformation and the challenges that this presents to Canadian business.”
Speaking to OBJ Thursday, Ms. Sudds says she can’t give any more details than that right now, but talked about her bittersweet feelings leaving the organization she helped to launch.
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“The BIA, I really considered it my startup,” she says.
Before the KNBIA was formed in 2013, Ms. Sudds was a public servant, working as an economist in the government. She had never formally worked in the tech industry, but nonetheless found herself curious when she would drive by the technology park everyday on her commute to work.
When she read in a local newspaper about the formation of a Kanata North BIA, she decided it was time for a change of pace.
“I had never done anything like this before,” she says. “It was so uncomfortable that it was awesome.”
Ms. Sudds says that from the outset, she knew the BIA would be a unique beast. The memberships of a majority of the BIAs in Ottawa are made up of retail shops and restaurants. Kanata North’s members are largely high tech firms, with little need for festivals or marketing campaigns to attract foot traffic to the area.
“It was very apparent that the programs and initiatives that you would put into place for a typical BIA weren’t what were needed in this circumstance,” Ms. Sudds says.
Instead, she sought out to tell the stories of Kanata firms, celebrating their successes and connecting them to one another. Her goal, she says, was to build a community that would make the more than 20,000 employees that work in the area happy to come to work, turning them into ambassadors for Kanata North.
“Personally, I am so thrilled to have been able to create that and be part of that.”
KNBIA’s departure from the retail-and-dining norms has caught on, with the Kanata Central BIA officially forming earlier this year. Ms. Sudds was on hand to provide input at meetings considering how non-traditional areas can benefit from a BIA.
Observers have held the KNBIA as an example of a successful economic development organization, and a booster to its tech community. It’s currently the city’s third-largest BIA, behind the ByWard Market and Downtown Rideau organizations, with 558 members.
Her tenure as executive director included many gratifying projects, but Ms. Sudds says there are a few “gold stars” that she looks back on with particular pride.
One of the earliest and most important projects, she says, was the economic impact study that the organization undertook. The study told the organization and the community “who and what they were,” and was an important tool in branding and defining exactly what Kanata North was about. Ensuing marketing campaigns would draw on these early foundations.
One of the more innocuous successes was a map of Kanata North that Ms. Sudds and her team published and printed in December. It’s a colourful depiction of the area with a calendar as well as the logos and locations of the numerous high-tech firms in the BIA.
Ms. Sudds says she made a post about the map on LinkedIn and was shocked by the level of attention it received. She says it had a positive impact on the sense of community in Kanata, and she has heard from commercial real estate brokers as far away as Vancouver interested in getting a copy.
“Everybody loves this map. It took on a life of its own.”
More recently, Ms. Sudds has been proud of the work the organization has done in branding Kanata North as a hub for autonomous vehicles. She was on-hand earlier this summer as Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne toured BlackBerry QNX and took a ride in an autonomous vehicle.
Run it like a startup
Since announcing her departure, Ms. Sudds says she’s been touched by the outpouring of support from friends, colleagues and members of her community. It puts in perspective what day after day of work has meant in the bigger picture.
“It’s hard to get a sense of how impactful the work you’re doing really is. So it’s been lovely to get such incredible feedback over the past few days.”
Her final day isn’t until Oct. 20, but one of Ms. Sudds’ biggest priorities before that date is to find her own replacement. The job has been posted, but there’s no timeframe on finding the right person to take the reins.
An entrepreneurial mindset may benefit the next executive director, whomever that may be. The characteristics that Ms. Sudds says she’s looking for in a new leader are remarkably similar to what you might find in the CEO of any startup: passion and adaptability.
“You never know what’s going to show up at your office, in your inbox, on your voicemail. You just have to have that desire to really strive to make Kanata North and this technology community as robust and strong as you can.”