Invest Ottawa opens doors to mayor, councillors

David Sali
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After years as an executive with some of the world’s biggest high-tech outfits, Michel Paquet finally decided it was time to unleash his inner entrepreneur.

Aetonix CEO Michel Paquet

Last February, Mr. Paquet ventured out on his own, hitting up family and friends for cash to launch a new firm called Aetonix. The startup based at Invest Ottawa makes software that allows seniors and people with special needs to hold video conversations simply by touching a person’s picture on a screen.

Its product, aTouchAway, hit the market in early November. Aetonix now has about 20 clients, including retirement homes and palliative care facilities in Ontario and Quebec, and employs nine people in Ottawa, Quebec and Texas.

But Mr. Paquet said that is just the beginning. With the number of seniors in North America expected to grow from 45 million today to more than 80 million by 2030, he is already projecting Aetonix will hit eight-figure revenues within a couple of years.

His mid-life career change, he said, was really years in the making.

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur,” said Mr. Paquet, 46, whose previous gig was vice-president of engineering at Intel subsidiary Wind River Systems. “I always dreamed of having my own business. Having said that, it’s an extremely difficult task, but extremely rewarding. Doing it in Ottawa is absolutely fantastic.”

Mr. Paquet’s company was one of several fledgling firms based at Invest Ottawa that pitched their products to an audience of city councillors and staffers during an open house at the economic development agency’s Aberdeen Street headquarters on Monday.

Invest Ottawa is home to about 40 companies in various stages of development that employ a total of nearly 200 people. Monday’s visitors were given a tour of the facility and an overview of the services and programs offered there, including accelerators such as GrindSpace XL.

Mr. Paquet praised the agency for providing an environment where he can find kinship with other budding business owners and receive advice from experts such as Keshet Technologies co-founder Andrew Moffat, who serves as one of Invest Ottawa’s six entrepreneurs-in-residence.

“For a new entrepreneur, having the chance to have a mentor who has run several companies, that’s fantastic,” he said. “There have been a lot of good things about being part of Invest Ottawa.”

Mayor Jim Watson said the agency, which operates at arm’s length from the city and is celebrating its third anniversary this year, is a major reason why Ottawa actually has more startups than places such as Calgary that have a bigger corporate presence.

“We have to do a better job of working with Invest Ottawa to ensure that the public and potential investors in this city know full well what we have to offer,” he told the visitors at the open house. “We want to take a more holistic approach to economic development and ensure that when people come to invest here, we’re not operating in silos. Everyone is working not at cross-purposes, but in a co-ordinated effort to roll out the red carpet and welcome businesses who are going to expand and create jobs in our city.”

As part of his successful re-election platform last fall, the mayor pledged to boost the city’s annual funding to the agency by 10 per cent to a total of $370,000.

“Whether it’s the entrepreneurship centre, entrepreneurs-in-residence, mentor programs, incubation space, you’re bursting at the seams,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re investing in the innovation centre (slated to open next year at Bayview Yards), which will give you more space and entrepreneurs more space to be creative and create the jobs of the future.”

Invest Ottawa president and CEO Bruce Lazenby pointed to Mr. Paquet as a prime example of the kind of businessperson who can benefit from the agency’s services.

“I think the message to city staff and councillors is if you’re talking to somebody who’s maybe been a long time with the government or with somebody else and they’re in their forties or fifties and they think it’s too late (to start their own business), it’s not,” he said. “They can come here and we can help them accomplish their aims.”

Organizations: Intel, Wind River Systems, Keshet Technologies

Geographic location: Ottawa, Quebec, Ontario Texas North America Aberdeen Street Calgary

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