Nick Quain named new Invest Ottawa mentor-in-chief

Westboro resident steps down as CEO of Toronto’s CellWand to take on new role: helping build the next generation of Ottawa startups

After nearly two decades of shuttling back and forth between Ottawa and Toronto building wireless communications firm CellWand into a national force, Nick Quain is turning his attention to a new challenge: Helping nurture the next generation of Ottawa startups.

The 47-year-old entrepreneur thinks he’s found the perfect vehicle to do that as Invest Ottawa’s vice-president of venture development. In his new role, officially announced Feb. 21, Quain will oversee the government-funded agency’s efforts to grow young companies into viable enterprises that can compete on the world stage.

“We’ve got a ton of really good entrepreneurs-in-residence and mentors, and really my job is going to be helping make sure we pair up companies with the right mentors and experts,” he told OBJ.

Quain said he believes the hard lessons he’s learned as a co-founder and CEO of a fast-growing tech outfit can help him guide other business owners along the often-rocky road from being a startup with big ideas to becoming a stable, profitable business.

“I’ve had to bootstrap a company for many years before raising money. I have raised several million dollars in capital,” he said.

“Someone who hasn’t launched a business before, they have an idea that they want to raise money, but they don’t really know what that means or what the roadmap for a startup looks like.”

“I think bringing that experience to the table in terms of structuring how we work with these early stage companies is going to be really helpful in terms of providing value to these companies.”

Invest Ottawa CEO Mike Tremblay – who has made no secret of the fact he wants to boost the number of globally competitive firms that graduate from the agency’s startup incubator – said Quain’s business acumen and experience in building and exiting companies made him the ideal fit for the job.

“He’s a seasoned entrepreneur. We’re really lucky to have Nick in the role,” Tremblay said, adding Invest Ottawa received more than 250 applications for the new position.

“We need more companies that we can scale globally. When companies come to us, whether they’re tech or service-related, we just need to ensure that they’re companies that can be taken to global markets.”

Quain, a University of Ottawa commerce grad, said one of his priorities will be ensuring that fledgling firms in Invest Ottawa’s incubator are armed with all the tools they need to scale up their operations and weather the inevitable storms that will happen along the way.

Funding options

He said the economic development agency needs to do a better job of helping young companies find their footing in the marketplace. Quain said that includes things such as connecting founders with experienced mentors, educating them on various funding options available to them and introducing them to angel investors.

“Right now, unless they have a fair bit of market traction, either in terms of sales of sales or they have built a product, it’s a bit more difficult for them to get the type of support that they need at that early stage to really build the foundation of that business in a better way,” he explained.

“Someone who hasn’t launched a business before, they have an idea that they want to raise money, but they don’t really know what that means or what the roadmap for a startup looks like.”

In addition to heading up the agency’s incubator and accelerator services, the newest member of Invest Ottawa’s executive team will also oversee its small business education centre that offers practical advice and training to all types of SMEs, from bakeries to barbershops.

Invest Ottawa
Invest Ottawa’s leadership team now includes (clockwise from top left) vice-president of infrastructure services Richard Quigley, vice-president of venture development Nick Quain, CEO Michael Tremblay, vice-president of marketing and communications Sonya Shorey, vice-president of finance and corporate services Lana Legostaeva and vice-president of global expansion Blair Patacairk. (Photo courtesy of Invest Ottawa)

The 2003 Forty Under 40 recipient said he wants to see the agency do more to help bricks-and-mortar businesses successfully make the leap into the realm of e-commerce. He pointed to Invest Ottawa’s Main and Digital program, abootcamp aimed at helping small companies beef up their online and social media components, as a prime example.

“You’ll see more and more of that coming out within the traditional side of our business group,” he said.

Married with three children, Quain said he decided to step back from the CEO’s role at CellWand, which is headquartered in Toronto, so he could spend more time with his family at his Westboro home and give back to the Ottawa business community.

He said he’s enjoyed mentoring other entrepreneurs as an adviser to companies such as OPIN Software, where he served on the board for five years, and is looking forward to tackling that task full-time at Invest Ottawa.

“I just realized that I really loved that aspect of what I was doing,” Quain said. “It was a bit of a natural transition for me to move into that role more formally.”