Made in Ottawa: An innovators dream city

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Ottawa. Home to the world’s longest skating rink, the bricks and mortar of federal government and quite possibly the next big idea if a slew of successful inventors has anything to say about it.

That’s right - Ottawa is ditching its image as a quiet public service city, and is becoming a creative core for every stage of the new product development game: from idea to design to engineering and manufacturing. People involved in the TIE CON event last week in Ottawa understand the new buzz in investor and entrepreneur thinking as we build on the effect of the internet and collaboration.

Not only does the capital have some of the best minds in the business, but these creative entrepreneurs can see their product from beginning to end in their hometown. No outsourcing. Just home-grown, grassroots talent combined with access to investors and mentors.

I’ve been in the business of product design for more than 25 years, and in the last two years I’ve seen a significant rise in the number of inventors from the Ottawa area approach Design 1st to help make their vision tangible. And even better, we’ve got more success stories to brag about.

Design 1st has deep experience and process built on the marriage of art and engineering, and just like many of our clients and suppliers, we’re made in Ottawa too.

We take that sketch on a crumpled napkin and make it a design destined for shelves around the world. We provide product solutions, market research on who really is the customer and help guide inventors through the next steps toward commercialization.

There’s a clear appetite and an even clearer industry for innovation in Canada’s capital. Angel groups are forming and examining, mentoring and taking the best ideas forward. Investors are rethinking how they participate in a tech world with crowd funding and local entrepreneurial incubators like Explorium and Invest Ottawa are accelerating startup business growth.  

Here are just three examples in the last year of inventors who have taken their product to market, with a little bit of help from Design 1st:


One of the more recent Ottawa success stories, the Rumidifier is a product that acts exactly as it sounds - with an eco-friendly twist. Unlike its competitors, this innovative room humidifier requires no electricity to operate. The Rumidifier sits on hot air vents and uses the dry air circulating from the furnace to moisten the room.

And it’s even got the mayor on board.

“I am so proud of this product,” said Jim Watson at the device launch in October. “When we (reorganized) Invest Ottawa, this is exactly what we had in mind. This is the kind of grassroots product that was thought of, designed and made here.”

Inventor Jeri Rodrigs came to Design 1st with an idea and left with a product design. And less than three years in the making, it’s ready for market, after being manufactured in Ottawa and dressed in an Ottawa company’s packaging design.

Easy-to-use and with no operating costs, it’s no surprise the Rumidifier has already been picked up by Terra20, Home Depot and Home Hardware stores.

NorthVu’s HD TV Antenna:

NorthVu Systems, using patent-pending technology, has the latest answer to the airwaves: compact antennas that bring free HD TV to your doorstep.

NorthVu created a smaller antenna, perfecting the technology without compromising the quality of signal. Its fractal antenna system borrows on the idea that makes cell phone signals reliable, but brings them to the screen.

NorthVu optimized access to digital broadcast TV signals to bring HD TV into apartments and homes in rural or urban neighbourhoods, regardless the signal strength.

As product development partners, Design 1st complemented NorthVu’s cutting-edge technology with a sleek black design. It gives the compact antenna the kind of look that fits in with any home entertainment system.

Bath and Play:

Ottawa father Jay Conohan turned a terrible scare with his infant son into a product solution by re-inventing bath time for toddlers.

His son smashed his face on the side of the tub after reaching for soap. With no solution on the market, Jay fixed the problem himself.

The four-walled Bath and Play yard makes it easy for rambunctious kids wanting to test their wobbly legs on its foam base while in the tub.

Less than a year after he walked into the Design 1st office, he has a working prototype, Kickstarter campaign and recently attended ABC Kids Expo (one of the largest trade shows in North America) to showcase his product and received an overwhelming positive response to keep going.

Get in the know

Ottawa has dozens of start-ups developing physical product ideas. A handful of these will be exhibiting and pitching their ideas at TechLinks Technology Company Showcase on Nov. 18.

Ottawa really has it all. And Design 1st has helped get these products ready to launch. Here are a few more from this year’s crop. There’s Nuraleve, which helps smoking addicts quit or SoloRolo, a product that lets you take the art of massage into your own hands in your office chair. And Heatstone, the innovative patio stones that keep your outdoor spaces warm even in winter or Wheel Nut Caddy, which stores your wheel nuts with the extra tires so they don’t get lost before the next season.

Design 1st is at the heart of physical product design and innovation, so if you’re a person with a product idea, we’d love to hear from you.

To access our expertise in design and engineering a ready-for-market product solution, give Design 1st a call and talk with Ian Kayser 613.235.1004 x228 and visit our website

For information on placing a sponsored blog on, please contact Terry Tyo at 613-238-1818, ext. 268.

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