Inside, up a flight of stairs and down the hall, is the multi-level, brick-wall office of web-based software development firm Mercury Grove.
It was tough to move around that space on a snowy evening last month, when dozens of entrepreneurs, developers and interested onlookers came out for DemoCamp. That night, more than a half-dozen presenters showed their latest projects, which included an appointment reminder system for medical offices and an app that connects couples in long-distance relationships.
These developers received feedback from their peers, gained visibility and networked with professional service providers, freelance marketers and potential clients.
One of the evening’s organizers, Mercury Grove CEO Scott Annan, has a vision of using the Glebe office space as an everyday DemoCamp, where entrepreneurs could grow their businesses surrounded by free and paid advisers.
“I think that Ottawa has some of the greatest entrepreneurs, talent, and ideas in the world,” he wrote in a blog post last fall.
“But we don’t spend enough time together collaborating on ideas, discussing technology opportunities, or discussing ways we’re changing the world.”
In a recent interview, Mr. Annan said he and several business partners are considering a proposal to the provincial and municipal government to use Mercury Grove to disseminate seed funding to local tech firms.
“In Ottawa, I think we are best placed as a central community hub that could distribute it to startups and provide feedback on how (those) funds are being used,” he said.
Mr. Annan’s musings come at a time when the city is showing a renewed interest in economic development.
After approving a $2-million funding increase to $5.5 million earlier this month, city officials must now decide how best to spend the money.
There’s consensus within city hall and among some of Ottawa’s business leaders that the money should fund external organizations, rather than creating additional layers of economic development bureaucracy.
One model that’s worthy of attention is Montreal Start Up, a team that provides seed-level financing, as well as strategic and operational input, to individuals interested in turning early-stage concepts into software-based businesses in the Internet, wireless and media spaces.
Armed with a contribution of between $25,000 and $50,000 over a two-to-four-month period, entrepreneurs rapidly turn an idea into a beta service. Once it launches, Montreal Start Up looks at investing additional funds as the company continues development, gains users and prepares for a larger capital raise.
A Quebec fund, powered primarily by the provincial government, contributed $2 million towards the first $5-million pool, which was invested in 15 Montreal-based companies. Those firms attracted a total of $24 million in additional financing from other investors, mostly in the form of follow-on funding from outside the province.
With the private sector, rather than government bureaucrats, in the driver’s seat, Montreal’s startup community significantly leveraged a relatively modest sum of public dollars.
Given the local enthusiasm for building the next generation of tech companies through collaboration, Ottawa would be well-served if government officials explored similar partnerships with the startup community.