Why Ottawa is a Great Place to Build a Startup


When we chose to start our latest company ITmanager.net, we knew that being located in Ottawa would give us a huge competitive advantage, due to the availability of so many talented software developers.  Throughout my career which has consisted of founding three startups and working at large companies such as RIM, Corel and Sun, I’ve built a network of great people and hired hundreds of developers into my teams.  Hiring those with in your network is the best way to build high quality teams. Living in a city such as Ottawa facilitates creating those connections, as everyone I know has worked with another mutual friend in the past.

While I was creating the App Store at BlackBerry, our Waterloo and Silicon Valley teams had difficulties finding new developers. On the other hand, my team in Ottawa could hire people as quickly as we were given new hiring quotas. We hired 65 high quality software developers for my team in a matter of months and the first release of Blackberry App World was shipped in 6 months.

Ottawa has an exceptional support network for aspiring entrepreneurs. There are several events such as Tech Tuesdays, AccelerateOTT, Mobile Mondays, Startup Weekends, as well as valuable organizations such as Invest Ottawa, Wesley Clover, and TheCodeFactory that assist startups with office space, mentoring and much more.  I’m very excited about the plans by the City of Ottawa to develop Bayview Yards into a high-tech hub for startups. This will be an extremely advantageous place for brand new startups to connect and collaborate on a daily basis.

Bayview Yards Rendering, courtesy Ottawa Sun
Bayview Yards Rendering, courtesy Ottawa Sun

Ottawa has a long history of successful technology companies, starting with BNR, Nortel, Mitel, Corel, Newbridge, and now more recently startups including Shopify, Halogen Software, N-able, QNX, 360PI, and multiple others. Currently, there are over 1900 tech companies in Ottawa.

Ottawa has many universities and colleges with excellent high-tech programs. There’s a constant flow of young, energetic and creative talent flowing out of these schools. I’ve been able to hire dozens of students from the University of Ottawa, Carleton University and Algonquin College, many of whom still work with me today as full time employees.

We’re also lucky in Ottawa to have easy access to the Canadian federal government. The headquarters of NRC as well as CRA are here in Ottawa allowing us to meet face to face with the people who operate the IRAP and SR&ED programs directly.  In my opinion, this gives us a huge advantage to maximize the utilization of these programs. The balance of government workers and technology workers in Ottawa is also a huge advantage when one industry has a downturn or upswing, as they can balance each other out. This allows for a very good level of stability in the local economy.

Ottawa is also a great place to live, with lots of parks, museums, festivals, celebrations, and the Rideau Canal offering lots of options for summer and winter sports. The Ottawa Airport is new and modern with short (~1 hour) direct flights to all major east coast cities as well as reasonable direct flights to Europe, making it an easy city to travel from.  Ottawa has won several quality of life awards and is highly rated in the best places to live around the world.  I’ve lived in both Silicon Valley and Waterloo, but I always moved back to Ottawa since it is truly the best place to build a startup.