Ingenium museums cater to office-shrinking companies with new corporate program

Science and tech dinner
A pre-pandemic dinner in the Locomotive Bay at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. Photo courtesy Ingenium

Ingenium, the Crown corporation that oversees three national museums in Ottawa related to science and innovation, doesn’t need a time machine to see the future of the workplace.

The growing trend toward hybrid and remote work, spurred on by the pandemic, has already disrupted the traditional office setting. 

“A lot of businesses have reduced their footprint,” said Darcy Ferron, vice-president of business development for Ingenium’s Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum and the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

That’s where Ingenium comes in. It’s just launched a new corporate memberships program aimed at companies looking for physical space in which to bring employees together. 

“We’re able to offer them an alternative, to use our spaces for these types of purposes,” said Ferron.

Corporate partners are given access to the museums’ spaces to hold collaborative meetings, off-site retreats, team-building sessions or industry conferences. As well, the program aims to foster employee wellness and appreciation through such perks as free passes and family membership discounts to the museums.

Mental health benefits

Studies have shown that museums are good for mental health. Doctors in cities such as Montreal and Brussels have prescribed museum visits to patients struggling with stress and anxiety during the pandemic. 

Ingenium is the first cultural institution in the National Capital Region to offer a corporate memberships program, said Ferron, who’s aware of similar programs offered by museums in other Canadian cities. 

“When you think about it, it’s a pretty affordable option,” said Ferron of Ingenium’s $5,000, $10,000 and $20,000 annual packages.

Corporate partners have access to free rental space at the three museums. The available auditoriums, halls and other spaces are surrounded by unique settings, from live farm animals and iconic aircraft to steam engines that once ruled the railways. The museums also have “a huge advantage” by being able to offer on-site catering through The Urban Element, Ferron added.

Chris Wise is co-founder and former CTO of fast-growing technology startup Fullscript. These days, he’s busy revving up a new startup, Kahi Inc., that he joined as co-founder and chief operating officer in October 2020. The automated asset intelligence solution is designed for the disaster restoration industry by allowing it to keep track of equipment that’s transported to and from job sites.

Wise said he was “definitely intrigued” when he first learned about Ingenium’s program, recognizing that it could help Kahi attract, hire and retain talented people in a competitive job market. The startup, which currently has about 10 employees, is growing, he said. All but one member of the team work and live in Ottawa. 

“I thought this was a perfect fit,” said Wise of Ingenium’s offerings. “We’ve started to spread our reach a little bit, as far as Toronto and Montreal, to entice people to move to Ottawa and to extol the virtues of the city, so the museum partnership is another piece of the arsenal.”

"We’ve started to spread our reach a little bit, as far as Toronto and Montreal, to entice people to move to Ottawa and to extol the virtues of the city, so the museum partnership is another piece of the arsenal."

Most of the employees at Kahi have young families and would benefit from the complimentary museum visits and discounts that are offered with the program, Wise added. 

While Kahi does have an office, it’s geared toward a hybrid work model. 

“It’s not worth investing in the space to go and build boardrooms and things like that from the past because we’re not expecting people to come in for just rudimentary meetings,” Wise said. “But for anything that’s a little more collaborative, where you really want ‘all hands in’, this is really an enticing option.

“I can offer something that builds that team loyalty and shows that you recognize the fact that the workplace landscape has changed. To go and hold strategy sessions, team-building exercises, and then reward your employees, it’s markedly different from the existing downtown commercial spaces, which I think will have a hard time enticing people back.”

Canada’s office vacancy rate climbed to a 25-year-high of 15.7 per cent in the third quarter of 2021, according to commercial real estate firm CBRE. Ottawa’s vacancy rate, meanwhile, remains lower than in most other Canadian cities at just under 10 per cent.

Ingenium is in the process of reaching out to members of the business community who would gain the most from the new program, either because they’ve reduced their office footprint and/or support wellness and employee appreciation. 

“For me, I thought the timing was right, coming out of COVID, so I made it a strategic priority for our team,” said Ferron. “We’re hoping to really be a bridge to the community with this offering and to have a reach that goes beyond our traditional scope. I’m pretty excited about it.”