‘Ottawa 4.0’: Where Invest Ottawa’s CEO wants to take the capital in five years

Michael Tremblay

An expansion of Bayview Yards, a digital business-to-business marketplace and a narrower focus on supporting specific industries are part of a new five-year plan unveiled this week by Invest Ottawa.

CEO Michael Tremblay outlined his vision Tuesday to create more “sustainable,” high-value jobs in Canada’s capital and build greater global awareness that Ottawa is “the best place to live and work.”

Speaking before an audience of some 250 local business leaders, Tremblay said he wants to increase the number of globally competitive companies that graduate from Invest Ottawa’s startup incubator. He also wants to physically expand Invest Ottawa’s home at Bayview Yards as well as help local entrepreneurs tap into the R&D capabilities of the city’s post-secondary institutions and multinational companies.

One of the initiatives that Tremblay wants Invest Ottawa to tackle in the short term is building a “digital marketplace” that connects buyers and sellers. Specifically, it would allow a large company that’s looking to outsource the development of a product or fill some other gap to crowdsource solutions from a defined pool of smaller firms.

At the same time, Tremblay said Invest Ottawa needs to increase its efforts to address the perceived shortage of skilled workers felt by many local firms.

“If we don’t scale our talent pool in Ottawa, we can’t realize our full potential for the simple reason that we won’t have the talent to fulfil our dreams,” Tremblay said at Tuesday’s Mayor’s Breakfast speaker series, co-hosted by OBJ and the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.

Moving forward, Invest Ottawa will also concentrate its resources on specific industries. Tremblay said the organization hasn’t selected those sectors yet, but said autonomous vehicles and ICT are obvious areas of local strength.

“We have to define (our) areas of focus are and not let the market pull us along,” he said.

Fourth Industrial Revolution

The release of Invest Ottawa’s strategic plan comes nearly a year after Tremblay – a former Microsoft executive who also spent time at JDSU – was named Invest Ottawa’s chief executive. He officially started work in March 2017 and then spent several months gathering input and presenting drafts of his plan to some 1,100 people.

Tremblay said his thinking is heavily influenced by the theory that the world is entering a “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” an economic era broadly characterized by new technologies that combine physical, digital and biological elements.

Drawing on the writings of German engineer and economist Klaus Schwab, Tremblay said companies are operating in a time of “great promise and great peril” with virtually every business sector susceptible to rapid change and disruption.

Several Ottawa firms are already changing entire industries. Tremblay often argues that e-commerce firm Shopify is disrupting Amazon’s business model by empowering individual merchants at the expense of the Silicon Valley giant, which itself began to significantly erode the market share of traditional bricks-and-mortar retail barely a decade ago.

Elsewhere, MindBridge AI is developing tools to alert auditors to suspicious or anomalous activity in financial records – a move that’s virtually drawn directly from Schwab’s playbook, which, among other predictions, forecasts that 30 per cent of all corporate audits will be performed by artificial intelligence by 2025.

Show of support

MindBridge AI CEO Eli Fathi was one of more than a dozen local entrepreneurs and executives at local firms showcased in a short video played during Tremblay’s presentation containing testimonials of Invest Ottawa’s value as well as endorsements of the organization’s new strategy.

Eli Fathi
MindBridge AI CEO Eli Fathi

“What excites me about the strategic plan Invest Ottawa put together is the desire to make Ottawa big in technology and to create an ecosystem that will put us on the map,” Fathi said.

Others praised the organization’s efforts at fostering early stage companies.

“(Invest Ottawa) is the best place to start a business in Ottawa today,” said Fluidware co-founder Aydin Mirzaee, who now leads AI and machine learning startup Fellow Insights.

Expansion plans

As Invest Ottawa looks at new programming and areas of focus, it’s also preparing plans for a physical expansion of its headquarters at Bayview Yards.

“Bayview (Yards) isn’t big enough to facilitate the kind of growth and expansion plans I have in mind.”

Completed in late 2016, the 46,000-square-foot former public works garage was conceived as a hub for researchers, entrepreneurs and investors to collaborate through “happy collisions,” or impromptu conversations and networking that wouldn’t happen if all those people were located in separate facilities across the city.

Tremblay called Bayview Yards “a place where we come together and as a collective compete in the world, as opposed to acting as islands.”

He added that Invest Ottawa is already working with local developers to come up with concept plans for an expansion. Early ideas include creating multi-use space to support Ottawa’s cultural industries and connect the 14-acre property to the adjacent light-rail station.

“For a city of our size, I’d love to see us get to a half-million square feet,” Tremblay said. “Bayview (Yards) is fantastic, but Bayview (Yards) isn’t big enough to facilitate the kind of growth and expansion plans I have in mind.”