Blogging from Silicon Valley: Top 10 things Ottawa can learn from Silicon Valley

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As our Class of 2017 Executive MBA candidates of Telfer School of Management tour of Silicon Valley comes to an end, I am coming out of this experience with a better appreciation for why Brandon Lee, Consul General of Canada called Silicon Valley the “Olympics of start-ups.”

University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management Executive MBA annual class trip to the Silicon Valley wrapped up recently.

by Amanda Dwyer

With help from the cohort, I was able to pair down the ever-growing list to a "Top 10 things Ottawa can learn from Silicon Valley:  

 1. Radical collaboration: Silicon Valley exemplifies an ecosystem fostering open innovation with a willingness to pay it forward. Quite the contrary, Ottawa is viewed as a conservative government town, with the need to step back and let innovation happen. The conservative nature of the city fosters a less collaborative ecosystem and culture, impeding the desire to transfer lessons learned and knowledge from others.

2. Create a corporate culture with excitement for work: Create an environment where innovation is part of the atmosphere, where outside the box thinking is encouraged.  An office space that is conducive to innovation would provide onsite perks, transparency in communication and collaboration. In this environment, you can tackle and overcome issues as a collaborative entity. Removing the sheer competitiveness fosters a more cooperative unit as people are not just looking out for themselves.

3. Fail fast: Ottawa culture does not accept failure as a necessary passage to success whereas the SV fail fast model dictates failure as an ability to take risks. Learn to fail fast. To become effective and efficient in start-ups, it is necessary to make mistakes, learn from them and pivot.  Not pivoting quickly enough whether away from a bad idea or a different direction, can be the reason the idea or product fails. We heard throughout the week that Canadians take things too personally and get emotionally tied to ideas, which can be a limiting factor. 

4. "High confidence is more exciting than false modesty" - Bill Reichert, Managing Director Garage, VC: Canadians are too often concerned about coming across as arrogant.  However, based on the experiences of the week and the views of SV professionals, in most cases an aggressive, high confident Canadian rarely comes across as arrogant. VCs will not invest in your start up unless you deliver a concise and confident competitive advantage.

5. Networking is critical to success:  Throughout the week, we heard that generosity is the key to success. With an established network within the ecosystem, there will be an ability to utilize current entrepreneurs, leveraging their knowledge as mentors, allowing innovators to build their brand.

6. Adapt education to industry needs: Industry and technology are moving faster now than ever before.  Education needs to align with this innovative style, educating students with relevant case studies, setting up students for success. Partnerships within Silicon Valley are prevalent between industry and post-secondary education, producing an exceptional talent pool.

7. Perpetual sense of urgency:  In Ottawa, being predominantly government, there is a lack of urgency. Marvin Liao, Partner at 500 Startups, stated that in his opinion, Canada has a remarkable talent pool with an inability to get to market quickly. Innovation is taking a problem that is common, finding a solution, and getting it to market as quick as possible.   

8. Customer first: The product does not have to be perfect, but it does need to be the minimum viable product (MVP) to meet the needs of the customers. MVP enables the product or idea to get to market as quickly as possible generating cash flow and gaining the necessary user feedback.  Feedback allows for revisions of the product for a continuous improvement cycle.

9. Take risks: Canadians are risk adverse, typically looking for a stable job, yet industry and society change fast.  According to PWC, the challenge in Canadian start-ups is funding.  Mr. Reichert relayed the most efficient way to gain support is to engage three body parts, the head, the heart and the gut, with the most important being the heart.  Stop over analyzing, go with your heart; it will result in high success.  

10. Stop trying to be Silicon Valley: That was a refreshing statement from Richard B. Dasher, Ph.D., Director, US-Asia Technology Management Center at Stanford University: One of the most enlightening presentations, Dr. Dasher explained it is impossible to replicate the Silicon Valley ecosystem elsewhere.  An ecosystem is a complex interdependent system that cannot be reproduced. Ottawa’s approach should be to begin to understand what works for Ottawa.

The Telfer Executive MBA journey to Silicon Valley was advantageous to anyone considering becoming an entrepreneur or wanting to gain an appreciation for all that is Silicon Valley.   As the week progressed, I observed a spark ignited within my colleagues, discussing potential investments or start-ups, the desire to become more openly collaborative and the endless possibilities that await us all.

This article is part of a series on the University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management Executive MBA annual class trip to the Silicon Valley. The recent trip was part of the EMBA curriculum on "Innovation and Entrepreneurship."


Organizations: US-Asia Technology Management Center, Stanford University, University of Ottawa Telfer School of Management Executive MBA

Geographic location: Silicon Valley, Ottawa, Canada

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