‘The stars are aligning’: New KNBA executive director Kelly Daize has high hopes for tech park

Kelly Daize headshot
Former Invest Ottawa executive and CENGN co-founder Kelly Daize is the new executive director of the Kanata North Business Association. Photo courtesy KNBA

The incoming executive director of the Kanata North Business Association needs no introduction to many of the group’s 500-plus members.

Kelly Daize, who begins her new role as leader of Canada’s largest tech park on Monday, has been a fixture of Ottawa’s technology scene for decades.

After earning a bachelor of arts degree in law at Carleton University in the early 1990s, Daize took a job at Corel Corp. (now Alludo), then one of the city’s best-known software companies. 

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That experience working under Corel’s legendary founder, Michael Cowpland, spawned a love of technology that has endured ever since. 

Over a 30-year career, Daize has held senior sales and business development roles at a variety of organizations, including QNX Software Systems, the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation and its successor, Invest Ottawa. 

In 2014, she helped launch the Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks, an Ottawa-based consortium of industry, academic and government organizations dedicated to developing advanced networking technologies, serving as its first vice-president of business development and marketing. 

Those roles have given Daize a deep appreciation for Kanata North and its wealth of tech talent – knowledge that will surely benefit her in her new job. 

The longtime tech executive spoke with Techopia earlier this week about the opportunities ahead as she tackles her latest career challenge. Here is an edited transcript of that conversation.

OBJ: You’ve had a very successful career in tech. How did it all begin?

KD: I started working at Corel, and I just went, ‘I love this.’ Michael Cowpland was still there back then and he was already thinking about the cloud and (asking) why do we need computers at everyone’s desk. It inspired me, and I never went back. I fell in love with technology.

The next big, amazing opportunity that shaped me was I worked on the cluster development program for the City of Ottawa (at OCRI). It was a three-year program, and I got to really catalogue the tech companies in Ottawa, and that was it for me. I was all in.

OBJ: What is it about the executive director’s job at KNBA that attracted you?

KD: I learned early on I like to partner and collaborate with industry. I think that’s the real core of the work I hope to do in Kanata North. We’ve had some amazing executive directors in Jenna Sudds, Veronica Farmer and Jamie Petten. They’ve put in these amazing building blocks, and I just think there’s so much opportunity to use my economic development background, my foreign direct investment background, to put together really innovative, strategic, industry-led initiatives.

OBJ: With more than 540 companies and 33,000 employees, Kanata North is Canada’s largest tech park. What do you see as its biggest strengths?

KD: I’ve had the privilege of travelling to a lot of tech hubs around the world, and one of the unique things about Kanata North is it’s got this amazing blend of small companies, multinational anchor companies, investment opportunities with the Wesley Clovers of the world, L-Spark, Hub365 … the post-secondary (schools). You don’t see that everywhere.

OBJ: Kanata North was designated a special economic district a few years ago, clearing a path for mixed-use developments like the one Nokia has planned for its campus on March Road that will see thousands of residential units constructed near its offices and R&D facilities. What opportunities do those sorts of projects open up for Kanata North?

KD: It’s on trend – this idea of live, work, play, all in one area. For example, at Area X.O (an all-weather autonomous vehicle research complex on Woodroffe Avenue spearheaded by Invest Ottawa), I worked with the Kanata Research Park to develop a living lab inside of that area. And a living lab, ideally, has all of those components that you just mentioned. It’s got the industry players, it’s got investors, it’s got post-secondaries, it’s got talent, it’s got government. It’s got all of the mix, and I think that is what’s really exciting for me about this opportunity – seeing all of that actually come together. I think the stars are aligning.

OBJ: Some local entrepreneurs and industry leaders argue that Ottawa’s tech sector is too segmented into distinct ecosystems – downtown and Kanata specifically – that speak to the world as different voices, hindering our ability to develop cohesive marketing and talent-attraction strategies. What’s your view on the situation? 

KD: That’s a big topic. The one thing I would say is if you look at me and my background, I’m a collaborator and a facilitator. We can always do things differently or better. I am open to working with all of the different groups and aligning ourselves as best we can. You’re not wrong. When we go outside of Canada, it’s difficult sometimes to differentiate different areas (within tech communities). It’s good to always brand (as a single) commonality. I’m very willing to sit down and address these things. We have to collaborate, and I look forward to working with everyone to build that consensus. Come back to me in 100 days, and I should have some more goals and objectives clearly outlined.

OBJ: The KNBA recently devised its latest five-year strategic plan. Where do you see the organization heading over the next half-decade?

KD: I’m planning to spend, I call it the listening and learning tour of my first 100 days, better understanding the thoughts behind all that, talking to the past executive directors, meeting with the members, the board, all of the stakeholders, and better understanding everyone’s needs and concerns. 

I just really want to make sure that I understand all the members. Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many of the companies in Kanata North, but not all of them. I need to really spend the necessary time to ensure that I’m representing and advocating on behalf of those members in the way that they really want me to.

OBJ: Your former colleague at Invest Ottawa, Sonya Shorey, was just permanently hired as the organization’s new president and CEO. How would you describe the relationship between the KNBA and IO?

KD: I think that they’re a critical partner for the KNBA. Having that breadth of knowledge on Invest Ottawa and knowing what they’re really amazing at and what Kanata North is really amazing at, I’m looking forward to working with them. One of the things I think Sonya and I have been able to facilitate is colouring outside (the lines of) what is possible and looking at strategic initiatives that will advance not only Kanata North but the City of Ottawa. I think together we can do amazing things.

OBJ: You’ve worked with some highly accomplished leaders over the course of your career, including Michael Cowpland at Corel and Gord Bell and Dan Dodge at QNX. What stands out about them and what did you learn from them?

KD: Their passion. I can’t oversell it. Being at Corel when Michael Cowpland was there, I remember it was the end of the quarter and we were all packing products – this is when you were putting the disks and the manuals in the boxes. Michael Cowpland was right there beside us. He was just so approachable. He was hands-on, and we were all working to deliver (products) on time. While I was at Area X.O, Gord Bell came out of retirement to work on their autonomous vehicle program, and I got to work with him again. Gord Bell did not need to come out of retirement. It’s because he believes he’s got more to contribute. These people – their passion, their innovation, the way they think – it’s just really shaped my career.

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