seeking fertile tech pastures

Square’s #LoveLocal, Let’s Talk event had the best energy at Ottawa’s #Gew

Amazing event on November 20th 2013 in Ottawa! It was the best event at #GEWOttawa, #LoveLocal. We storifyied and preserved all the tweets for you here so you can read it and almost feel like you were there Almost, because you can’t taste the amazing sustainable seafood from Whalesbone nor feel the awesomeness of being there. But close enough :-). Enjoy!

Update! on Green Business Models to Change the World

Remember our old post on Mika Westerlund and Green Innovation? Since then, some literature has been published and we at Startup Goat are keeping you updated!

More from Mika Westerlund’s fascinating lecture. He went to University of Berkeley in California, in the heart of Silicon Valley to study open innovation. Instead, he found that the hottest topic was Green Innovation as an offshoot of open innovation. 

He describes it from the very captivating lecture: . While Canada is developing tarsands – silicon valley is developing green technology.

For more indepth information:


“Among the market benefits, a key driver has been the increasing demand and prices of natural resources, therefore the greatest impetus for green innovation lies in resource-intensive industries that produce consumer products, chemicals, automobiles. Here, green innovation is not just about “doing good”; a company in a resource-intensive industry simply cannot compete without going green (Haanaes et al., 2012). Indeed, the green mindset can be applied to any aspect of a company, including production processes, lifecycle management, new products and services, and new business models. – See more at:”

To varying degrees, green companies are taking advantage of five key benefits of a focus on sustainability (Kiron et al., 2013):

  1. Market benefits (e.g., brand, competition, new markets)
  2. Financial benefits (e.g., increased margins, reduced costs)
  3. Innovation benefits (e.g., business models and processes, product/service offerings)
  4. Compliance benefits (e.g., reduced waste, lower material costs, adherence to regulations)
  5. Stakeholder benefits (e.g., attracting and retaining talent, stakeholder/investor relations, reduced risk)

– See more at:

Invest Ottawa theme song

Hup two three four
Keep it up two three four
Hup two three four
Keep it up two three four
Company sound off!

Ho, the aim of our patrol
Is a question rather droll
For to march and drill
Over field and hill
Is a military goal!
Is a military goal!

Invest Ottawa is a very militarized bureaucratic environment, where the upper management and chief entrepreneur mentors seem to mostly have a military background. Only a token involvement with a startup instead of being a founder is a prerequisite for being upper management of Invest Ottawa. The upper management are mainly ex-military or from large corporations. The upper management of Invest Ottawa does care about the entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship, though due to the very large and significant cultural gap – they have trouble relating to them. The divide between the experience, culture and problems faced by the mentor and mentees are significant.

This  makes these people :

Feel like this

Hopefully in the future, there will be action to reduce the cultural divide. A great idea for example is to hire someone who was one of Shopify’s first 10 employees. Ex Radian8 employees? Granite networks? Shopify is similar in culture and age to the startup founders today. It has financing from the Silicon Valley and is very familiar with the culture there. It has a noted presence in the Valley and its CEO visits San Francisco three times a year.

This is from Shopify, a company that has gone where almost all these new startups want to go.

More corporate dinosaurs assassinating innovation

Maher Arar – tortured by Assad, writes “Bureaucracy Assassinates Innovation” in Ottawa

When bureaucracy assassinates innovation by Maher Arar

(Repost from Ottawa Business Journal)
Published on November 06, 2013 “Innovate or die” is a motto that successful entrepreneurs of Ottawa’s heyday not only promoted – for a good reason – but also embraced, lived and eventually left behind as an inheritance to a new generation of wannabe innovators.

(Stock image)

By Maher Arar

Innovation is not restricted to developing disruptive technologies or products. A broader definition encompasses processes and culture. With that in mind, it is worth asking why Canada continually lags behind in innovation compared with other countries such as Finland and Switzerland. As mentioned in a 2013 Conference Board report on competitiveness, Canada fell four spots to 25th place in factors related to innovation and business sophistication.

The simple answer that many “traditional entrepreneurs” prefer to give is that the government is not investing enough money on nurturing innovation. This is partly true, but insufficient government funding for such initiatives is only a tiny part of the problem.

The main culprit is the widespread culture of rotten bureaucracy, as practised and promoted by mega-corporations and big government. Once learned and breathed, this culture is very hard, if not impossible, to eliminate.

Here’s an example, drawn from a personal experience. When I worked at SpaceBridge Network, a startup with a mission to invent the next-generation “universal” high-speed satellite modem, I had a leading role writing the specifications and simulating the key algorithms. Upper management gave us only one year to finish the task, an unrealistic deadline given that none of the team members had more than a few years of modem design experience.

Nevertheless, my team and I accepted the challenge but asked management to provide us with the required tools on time, which they did not. The company’s executives, mostly former Newbridge and Nortel managers,


were the source of the problem: they wanted to run SpaceBridge like a startup, but with the culture they brought with them from the mega-corporations for which they had previously worked.

I vividly remember them gathering all of the firm’s employees in the basement to give inspirational speeches and to acknowledge how hard we were working. There would be nothing wrong with that if not for the fact that they rarely stayed past 5 p.m. or worked on weekends, a practice they constantly promoted in their instructions to employees.

Because of the risky nature of the project, my team proposed implementing a downsized version of the modem we were working on as we were targeting a dedicated chip, a much harder and riskier endeavour. Our instinct suggested it would be an excellent idea to have a working prototype that we could present to current and potential investors in case the chip project was derailed.

Our suggestion fell on deaf ears. Frustrated and dissatisfied with how the “startup” was being run, I left the company a few months later. I was told by a teammate I met two years later that the chip was eventually manufactured. However, it did not meet the ambitious specifications initially targeted, which in turn deprived SpaceBridge of any follow-up investment.

A more recent public example of attempting to assassinate innovation – this time by the Ontario government – is that of Bitmaker Labs, a Toronto-based startup launched in 2012 to provide specialized hands-on web development training.

Bitmaker strategically focused on teaching Ruby on Rails, a web design framework that’s becoming popular for its rapid development features. Capitalizing on the fact that our universities have simply become factories that are contributing to producing a generation of underemployed and debt-ridden young people, Bitmaker took an unconventional approach by focusing on immediate market needs in the field of web development. (Note from Startup Goat: Shopify hires Ruby on Rails developers in Ottawa, apply to

Harley going down slide as Brennan eats a bowl of cereal.

In return for providing students with a nine-week intensive training service – which, according to Bitmaker, almost guarantees the trainee a job immediately after graduation (in Shopify at Ottawa according to StartupGoat)– the young startup charges a high price tag to offset the cost of hiring sought-after web developers to teach the curriculum.

Right after the Globe and Mail published an interview in May with the founders, government officials contacted Bitmaker and accused the firm of violating the accreditation regulations set out in Ontario’s Private Career Colleges Act. Unfortunately, provincial bureaucrats rushed to judgment and neglected the positive contribution this young startup brought to the Canadian economy.

godzilla sees startups

A loophole was eventually found that allowed Bitmaker to keep its doors open, but only after the onslaught of negative publicity forced the company to temporarily suspend its operations. This incident, primarily caused by bureaucratic and outdated rules, sent a chill down the spine of wannabe entrepreneurs and the whole technology community.

Politicians and civil servants seem to think the solution is to simply throw more money at accelerators and incubators – witness the $60 million earmarked for such programs in the 2013 federal budget. The government should realize that our economic future depends more and more on such small technology startups. Unless they are given the space to innovate, the country’s high youth unemployment rate will inevitably lead to catastrophic economic and social consequences.

The first step the provincial and federal governments should take is to hire young bureaucrats who themselves have been founders of startups at some point in their career. It may be hard for the government to attract such talent, but I’m confident there are some believers out there who are willing to jump on the bandwagon.

These people are in a much better position to understand the worries and aspirations of their generation.

As it stands today, the solutions the government has proposed, or already offered, will fail to address the market needs of the future economy. And the main culprit is the bureaucratic culture, and that’s where the government should point its arrows.

Maher Arar is a technology consultant and an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter at @MaherArarBlog.

Innovation in Ottawa

Comments illustrate how Bureaucracy assassinates innovation on Maher Arar’s article

Very interesting. These comments illustrate very well what is needed to aid innovation in Ottawa. One commenter illustrated what the problem was with his very comment – which we of course interspersed with dinosaurs.

Here they are:


Not sure why the author gives such importance to bureaucracy. The bigger problem with innovation is: a) There is not enough smart capital. Nobody here really understands mobile. Investors are still stuck in the Newbridge/Nortel telco mindset. b) The concentration of brilliant hackers is too low. Most people here are into web apps and ruby. Who is solving the hard problems? c) Risk averse/failure averse culture. These three things keep Ottawa (Canada in general) from creating the kinds of ‘shoot for the moon’ innovation that result in world beating companies.

Rajiv Muradia
November 06, 2013 – 09:24

I completely agree with Maher, having built two startups in the healthcare space, we had ongoing discussions with CCACs, LHINs, HTX, e-health Ontario to no avail. At the end of the day, we really don’t have many progressive thinkers willing to lead us away from the healthcare fiscal cliff we are about to encounter shortly…


Below is one post by a corporate dinosaur. It was so long and boring, it took two of our staff, taking turns, to read through it. So we decided to randomly insert dinosaur photos through out the post to keep it more lively. It is written in the fashion of a white paper- as boring as it is long! It goes on and on and on.

Chad English
November 08, 2013 – 10:03

With all due respect, this article sounds like a mix of sour grapes combined with ideologically snide remarks with no facts or reasoned arguments, and certainly no reasoning carried through to the end. Let’s take the SpaceBridge example. Perhaps those requests were denied for a good reason. Just because you thought these were good ideas does not mean everyone did.

If everybody was allowed to carry out all developments the way they wanted, companies would go bankrupt very quickly. You offer nothing in the way of recommendations for good, lean, efficient processes to recognize the bad from the good nor when to cut off failing projects and put resources on other options. Innovation isn’t about letting people just do what they want; it’s about being wise with finite resources to maximize probability of success. I

see nothing there about bureaucracy either, just denial of requests. On the Bitmaker example, perhaps it was a great training organization. But imagine if anybody was allowed to create a private college like that without regulation. You’d have snakeoil salesmen galore robbing the naive blind. In fact, that is very likely why there are regulations in the first place. You did nothing to address how

to deal with that. This isn’t to say bureaucracy isn’t ever a problem in innovation. It also isn’t limited to large companies or government; I performed and directed R&D at an SME and regularly had internal processes and organization get in my way. So I worked at changing them to be wiser. Not absent, as a “free for all” is not a good innovation environment either when resources are finite.

In fact, I would say this is the problem with innovation in Canada. Yes, there is insufficient capital; both venture capital and government funding are lower per GDP than those countries higher on the innovation list. But spending the government money wisely is the problem. That means putting it where the biggest risks and roadblocks are, which is often at the commercialization stage but depends on the industry.

Government has been more stuck in the thinking that investing in education of graduate students and investing in innovation are the same thing, aiming at funding mostly at up-front research in universities. Training and innovation are not the same thing; the same students

are far more productive at innovation inside companies 5 years later. This is a mistake made clear in the Industry Canada white paper leading the Review of R&D in Canada that led to the Jenkins report, which did a better job of addressing that particular problem. Bureaucracy isn’t a bad word. Done right it helps weed out the unwise

and reduces risk. Poorly designed bureaucratic processes are indeed harmful, but so are no processes at all. I’m more interested to hear what processes you think are good ones, not ones that got in the way of your own pet projects, which may or may not have been a good thing. We readers can’t know.


Cartoons are from College Humour’s “Dinosaur Office”. That’s right, guys like him are such dinosaurs that College Humour even paid to cartoonize them!