Feature: What you need to know about Ottawa’s new Innovation Centre

The multimillion-dollar transformation of a 75-year-old city maintenance garage into a hub for entrepreneurship and innovation is nearly complete.

Later this year, the Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards will officially open its doors, bringing together many of the city’s economic development programs and business support services under one roof. Proponents hope it will also become a focal point for entrepreneurship that will create jobs and help startups grow faster.

Ahead of its opening, TECHOPIA spoke with the chair of the Innovation Centre’s board, former Nordion CEO Steve West, as well as managing director Richard Quigley about what the city’s business community can expect to see at Bayview Yards.

What is it?

In a nutshell, the Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards aims to be a one-stop business shop to accelerate and build companies. It’s aimed at being a collaborative place that houses startups, entrepreneurship experts, economic development programs, educational workshops and other business support services under a single roof.

“It’s different from anything that’s existed before in Ottawa,” West says.

Located inside a renovated and repurposed 46,000-square-foot former public works garage, the Innovation Centre is within walking distance of the Bayview Transitway station west of the downtown core.

The core premise is that having entrepreneurs, advisers, investors and professional service providers in a single building will lead to “happy collisions,” or impromptu conversations and networking that wouldn’t happen if all those people were located in separate facilities across the city.

What’s inside?

The Innovation Centre is a place where early-stage entrepreneurs can learn what information and assistance they need to grow. Some companies may need help developing a prototype of their product, for example, while others may need to sharpen their sales pitch or learn how to break into a foreign market.

An entrepreneur walking through the Innovation Centre’s doors for the first time will be greeted by a concierge, Quigley says. Much like a medical professional would triage a patient, the receptionist will ask key questions to understand an entrepreneur’s immediate needs and know where to direct them to their first point of contact.

In some cases, it may be an outside organization, such as one of Ottawa’s business improvement areas. However, the Innovation Centre is equipped to help entrepreneurs with several programs and workspaces, including:

MadeMill: An advanced additive manufacturing space and advanced digital media lab, this is a workshop for designing, prototyping, testing and production that allows companies to take an idea and see if it can be developed into a scalable product;

Incubation and meeting space;

Accelerator programs offering a suite of technical and business programs, services and support;

A global cybersecurity program and other sector-specific expertise;

Foreign direct investment, trade and economic development expertise, programs and resources;

Education and training opportunities.

Who will be inside the Innovation Centre?

The city’s lead economic development agency, Invest Ottawa, will be leaving its current home in Little Italy to become the Innovation Centre’s anchor tenant. Invest Ottawa will be bringing its core programs, including the GrindSpaceXL startup accelerator and its global marketing division, to Bayview Yards.

The city’s largest post-secondary institutions – Algonquin College, Carleton University, La Cité and the University of Ottawa – will have a presence, as will organizations such as the Ottawa chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) and the Ontario Centres of Excellence.

Industry associations such as Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters will also be represented and will draw on the Innovation Centre’s resources when their members need prototypes or certain forms of expertise.

Why it’s needed

West describes the Innovation Centre as a “beacon.” Even if an entrepreneur doesn’t know what exactly is happening at Bayview Yards, they know where to go.

“The city has many things going on, but they are often (geographically) disparate,” West says.

The Innovation Centre will also be a central focal point for international companies considering an expansion to Ottawa, says Blair Patacairk, Invest Ottawa’s managing director of investment and trade.

“When we go out and start talking about why (companies) should come to Ottawa, we (talk about our) great talent, technology and universities. Now, we’ll have all these things in one place,” Patacairk says. “That cuts the time for them to enter the market and get their product up and running.”

Who runs it?

The Innovation Centre is a non-profit agency with a board of directors that, in addition to West, includes Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, Windmill Development Group’s Jeff Westeinde, Deloitte’s Mike Runia, tech executive Jim Roche and development consultant Nancy Meloshe, among others. Quigley was named the centre’s managing director earlier this year.

How is it funded?

Some $38 million in public money and in-kind contributions have been pledged to the Innovation Centre, including:

$15 million from the City of Ottawa in funding and donated real estate;

$15 million from the provincial government for construction, design, engineering and other capital expenses; and $8 million from the federal government.

A spokesperson for the Innovation Centre said it’s too early to discuss its operating budget.

How can companies get involved?

Members of the city’s business community are welcome to attend events or grab a coffee at the Innovation Centre’s cafe to network. There is also space available to rent.

“It’s considered a public building,” Quigley says. “Companies that want to offer training or organize events should be calling and talking to us.”

As another example, he said that service providers could rent meeting room space at the Innovation Centre and offer business hours at Bayview Yards once a month.

Seasoned businesspeople are also invited to volunteer as mentors and coaches.

What are the measurements of success?

The Innovation Centre has several internal targets, including helping to facilitate 335 new jobs in the Ottawa region and assisting 1,200 “entrepreneurs, innovators and firms” through programs supported by the federal government by December 2018.

When will it open?

A soft opening is planned for late autumn.

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Entrepreneur’s view

Mona Hafez says she was listening to a venture capitalist’s presentation at Startupfest in Montreal this summer when she realized her business was missing something.

The investor’s key message to entrepreneurs in the audience was to build relationships with would-be funders before they start searching for seed funding.

“I haven’t spent the last few years cultivating relationships with investors,” says Hafez, the CEO of OrbitHub, which develops booking and registration software for sports clubs and community associations. Instead, her recent focus has been on developing a market-ready product.

However, Hafez says that the Innovation Centre can help her firm fill that gap.

OrbitHub was admitted to Invest Ottawa’s incubator in 2014 and will be moving to the Innovation Centre with the economic development agency this fall. Hafez says she’s optimistic that being located inside the new facility will help in her search for funding.

“The Innovation Centre is going to be generating traffic like Invest Ottawa, but it will attract a broader community of investors, potential customers and other advisers,” she says. “If there are investors passing through the facility, introductions are going to be happening a lot more naturally.”