Invest Ottawa’s business support goes remote as Bayview Yards closes to public

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The spreading COVID-19 pandemic has closed the doors on the capital’s business hub as Invest Ottawa looks to remote options to support the city’s fledgling startups through the uncertainty.

Bayview Yards – home to Invest Ottawa, startups in its accelerator and a host of other support businesses – announced in an update Monday it is fully closing to the public. That means no events, workshops or face-to-face meetings at what has become a popular hub of activity in Ottawa’s business community.

Invest Ottawa’s staff has also gone fully remote, with the economic development agency’s Kanata office as well as the L5 autonomous vehicles testing site on Woodroffe Road also closed until further notice.

These sites remain open to other tenants, such as companies with offices inside the Bayview Yards accelerator. But Invest Ottawa CEO Michael Tremblay, who walked through the Bayview facility on Monday morning, said even those tenants are opting to work from home as much as possible.

“It's fairly quiet there right now,” Tremblay says of the refurbished industrial site. Cleaning and sanitation procedures have been intensified for those still opting to work from the facility.

The pandemic, which has forced the shutdown of numerous events around the world in an effort to stem the spread of the virus, has also pushed Invest Ottawa to postpone its annual AccelerateOTT conference originally slated for May 7 at Lansdowne Park. Organizers now hope they’ll be able to reschedule the conference for the coming fall.

Sonya Shorey, Invest Ottawa’s vice-president of strategy, marketing and communications, says the organization has been able to avoid hefty financial losses from the deferred event thanks in large part to flexibility from the booking team at Lansdowne. AccelerateOTT also hadn’t hammered out travel arrangements for a number of its speakers, mitigating any costs that way.

Shorey says that although the organization won’t put on its anchor event in its usual spring timeslot, Invest Ottawa is looking at virtual ways to engage with speakers that had been slated to attend AccelerateOTT.

“It will not be silence, not at all,” Shorey says.

With public-health officials imploring companies to embrace social distancing, the remote approach is quickly becoming the default for business communities across the world.

Though Invest Ottawa is still in the early days of bringing its support services online, Shorey and Tremblay say the team has been listening to the concerns of local businesses to determine where resources should be placed to minimize disruption and prepare for recovery efforts when the pandemic is under better control. Accessing financing, trying to avoid layoffs and keeping products flowing to international markets are among the chief concerns Invest Ottawa is hearing from startups.

“I’ve never actually seen anything quite like this one,” Tremblay says. “We're all anticipating what's on the other side of this.”

Both Shorey and Tremblay believe the most prudent course of action in the near-term is for business owners to pay close attention to announcements from the federal and provincial governments. As grants, tax measures and other support services are unveiled in the weeks and months ahead, companies should be ready to jump on any opportunity that could help keep their business a going concern.

“I believe that we're going to see a number of announcements occur over the coming months that are there to stimulate the economy. We need to be able to respond to those and take advantage of those quickly,” Tremblay says.