In a memo sent out to volunteer event organizers this week, Invest Ottawa president and CEO Bruce Lazenby explained that the programs were no longer attracting the numbers or the demographics it desired. At a recent event with 80 attendees, no one was under the age of 35, Mr. Lazenby said.
The organization’s mandate is to create jobs in Ottawa, he said, and the best way to do that no longer seems to be with physical events.
“Obviously things have changed,” he said in an interview with OBJ, adding that when the some of the programs were created, the Internet looked nothing like it does today. “There are all kinds of ways to get together.”
The cancelled programs include Dollars and Sense; 45th Circuit; Government Opportunities; Health, Innovation and Partnerships; and Zone Five.
Not cancelled but on ice is the organization’s annual awards ceremony that honours local companies, executives and students in 11 categories for their contributions to the city’s knowledge-based sector.
Last year’s program states that a call for nominations for the 2012 awards would be issued last fall, but it never came.
Mr. Lazenby said Invest Ottawa realizes the need to celebrate local successes, but that it hasn’t figured out the right model to continue running the event.
The agency’s new marketing director, Jennifer Chorlton, will help to create a virtual space to exchange information and ideas online instead. More matchmaking will be done with individual Ottawa companies and larger foreign corporations. And if the right opportunity presents itself, Invest Ottawa isn’t ruling out all events.
“We’re still going to get the community together from time to time,” Mr. Lazenby said. “If we find a compelling topic and compelling speaker, we can do that. But if we can’t put 250 people in the room, it might not be worth doing.”
Invest Ottawa events run on a break-even basis, and sponsorships are only used to lower ticket prices, he said. Some made money and some lost money, but events were not a revenue-generator that Invest Ottawa will miss, Mr. Lazenby added.
Volunteers that previously lent time to organize events can join various working groups at the agency or become a mentor to local entrepreneurs. Currently, Invest Ottawa has 40 mentors and hopes to raise that number to 100, Mr. Lazenby said.
The program cancellation coincides with the do-away of Invest Ottawa’s focus on membership. Previously, around 600 members paid modest dues to the organization. Now, Mr. Lazenby said, Invest Ottawa will recoup greater revenues by recruiting a few dozen organizations, such as accounting firms and banks, that can provide “material advantage” with cash or contributions in kind. The first partner to come on board with the new partnership program is Logan Katz, a local accounting firm.