Video: How Ottawa firms can move up the list of Canada’s most successful tech companies

The 2017 edition of the Branham300, an annual list of the top Canadian public and private ICT companies ranked by gross revenue, is a Capital bummer. While the names “Toronto,” “Montreal” and “Waterloo” pop up regularly, you might be disappointed in Ottawa’s showing.

Techopia Live sat down with Wayne Gudbranson, CEO of the Branham Group, to talk about the advisory firm’s annual list and why Ottawa representation is few and far between.

Gudbranson told Techopia Live that much of the inspiration for starting the Branham list came from his experience at Ottawa firm Cognos, which was acquired by IBM more than a decade ago. While working at Cognos, he observed a trend in Canadian companies: We were shy about just how Canadian we are.

“Canadian tech companies had an inferiority complex. They believed they needed to look American to be successful,” he says. While today he believes our firms exhibit a “Canadian bravado,” the Branham list hoped to lead the charge when it first launched 24 years ago.

“It very much started from the standpoint of raising our flag.”

The Ottawa flag in particular, though, does not fly especially high on the Branham300. Sure, local companies such as Telesat, Mitel and Shopify crack the top 30, but only 32 Ottawa firms make the top 250 Canadian ICT companies, as compared to, say, Toronto which has nearly double that on the list (63).

Indeed, Gudbranson is not shy about calling Toronto Canada’s tech capital in terms of talent and the density of strong firms located in the city.

On the bright side, he says that while Ottawa used to proudly hold the “Silicon Valley North” mantle, the city has been undergoing a “successful rebuild” in recent years. Of course, the success of Shopify has been an influence in that regard, and Gudbranson points to CEO Tobias Lütke as the champion of Ottawa tech.

“I will give credit to Tobias. I think he is the one leader in the technology industry in Canada that everyone looks to for advice.”

Gudbranson believes Ottawa companies should play to their strengths if the city wants to regain its national leadership. Being a government town, for example, means immense opportunity in streamlining the business of the public sector.

“We’re here in the seat of government power. That’s a huge industry vertical. And we could be building technology that simply makes it more efficient,” he says. “We have a built-in lab here to build applications that will improve the efficiency of government.”