Author Archives: mrktspecialist

May 20, 2020
8 mins | 1815 words
By: Ella Mar

Numerous books have been written on how to drive successful execution within an organization. I would not wish to replace any of these books, all of which have much to offer. 

In light of COVID-19, many companies are rebuilding their strategic plansleaders are working to adapt or, in some cases, capitalize on this new reality. Bridging strategy and execution is crucial to success. So, I’ve decided to share a methodology that I have used to help businesses gain alignment and drive successful execution for over 20 years.  

This methodology should be executed with the leadership team and others who also perform a strategic function, such as Product Managers.  

Doing so: 

  • Ensures alignment and a resulting focus on top priorities; 
  • Enables the team to learn from one another’s knowledge and experience; and 
  • Will creates accountability for outcomes. 

This process is not a “waterfall” exercise but an iterative one. As you progress through execution, you’ll learn many things. For example, your understanding of your market, your product-market fit or your go-to-market approach may evolve.    

Remember: As your understanding evolves so should your strategyWhen this happens, it’s important to loop back to an earlier step. 

1. Identify your ‘end goal’ – what does success look like?

Look into the future – perhaps two to three years out – and visualize what success looks like to you. Include questions such as: 

  • What is the reason for your business to exist? What is your value proposition? 
  • How many customers do you have? 
  • What geographies are you selling into? 
  • What approach will you be using to “go to market”?  
  • What is your revenue goal? 

Where you can, use objective measures in identifying your criteria for success, such as “we will have 10% market share of all hardware stores in Canada” or “Our customer retention figure will be ≥80%. It makes it far easier to communicate with others and to measure your success. Don’t let that stop you, though, from also including some less measurable criteriaYou can include things like “we will be known in the industry for having the most upbeat customer care team” if you believe that these are core to your success.   

2. Determine where you are today. 

Start with the same parameters that you used to define success and see where you are today. Ask questions such as: 

  • Do you understand the needs and drivers of the market that you are targeting? 
  • Do you have a product that meets the requirements of this market? 
  • Do you have a Marketing & Sales approach that works? 
  • Do you have a business model that works? 
  • Do you have a corporate culture that will help you to succeed?

“Looking in the mirror” can sometimes be difficult.

Often, we see ourselves based on where we would like to be rather than where we are. 

Your customers and partners can be valuable in giving you a glimpse of reality. Your teams, who deal with developing, delivering, and selling your value proposition, may also be good at providing you with reality checks. Sometimes anonymous answers provide the hardest hitting and most honest insights. 

3. Document your business strategy. 

Your business strategy is what gets you from where you are today to where you want to be (Success). It’s what ties the two together. It is valuable to document your Business Strategy in a simple statement that the leadership team agrees on, and that can be communicated with your organization. Here’s an example:  

We are bringing Personalized Accounting Systems to Fitness Industryfocused SMEs. We are doing so via channels that bring Financial Systems to this market. Our differentiator is our ability to gather data on the Fitness Company’s members’ interests in such a way that allows our customers (The Fitness Companies) to predict demand at least 30% better than any other competing product. We are focusing on the US cities where the most educated Millennials live as this is our customers’ most lucrative target market. 

There are dozens of opinions of what a Business Strategy Statement should look like. For this process it should, at minimum, include answers to the following:

  • What Problem are you solving (your raison d’etre, value proposition)? 
  • Who are you solving it for (market/customer segment), and how will you get it to them? 
  • What is your differentiator or unfair advantage?
4. Identify what you need to accomplish to achieve success. 

Keep in mind what you learned about where you are today. 

From this, identify what you will need to accomplish to execute on your strategy and achieve ‘Success’. I refer to these as business goals. Some examples include:  

  • We need to understand the US west coast Fitness Industry market segment better to evolve our product to meet their requirements. 
  • We need to develop channels via ‘trusted’ service providers for the Asia market. 
  • We need to mature our Sales team with the skills required to sell into this market. 
  • We need to mature your software development methodologies to scale to the number of developers we will need.
  • We need to create a customer successfocused team and processes with which to drive customer retention.
5. Document your assumptions.

The assumptions that we use when we make plans are sometimes so ingrained in our company mindset that we take them for granted. For example:  

  • None of the ‘big’ players are going to enter this market because it is not big enough for them. As such, it is a great market for us to go after; or 
  • The use of channels for the Asian market will be more effective as we do not know the market well. 

It is useful to capture these assumptions since they are likely what you based your strategy on.  Should any of these assumptions prove to be wrong, you may need to modify your approach. 

6. Prioritize your goals. 

Without prioritization, you end up with a long list of items that will overwhelm you. Here’s a suggested weighted prioritization methodology. I was introduced to something like this decades ago at Bell Northern Research, and I’ve found it helpful ever since. 

Rate each goal relative to its urgency and impact on achieving success. 

  • Urgency: How time-critical is this goal? (3=Very, 2=Med, 1=Less) 
  • Impact: How impactful will this goal be towards achieving success? (3=Highly, 2=Med, 1=Less) 

Once you’ve assessed your business goals, multiply “urgency” by “impact” for each. Each goal will then have a score of 9, 6, 4, 3, 2 or 1. Although the process may seem somewhat mechanical, it creates a more objective lens with which to review everything that you need to accomplish. You don’t use the process alone to make your final decisions, but you do use it as a guide.  

Not everyone will always agree with the ratings for each goal. You will need to choose how to come to a decision. As the CEO, you can listen to everyone and set the ratings or you can choose to set the ratings by having everyone in the group vote.  

By working this prioritization exercise with your leadership team, you ensure that everyone has a common understanding of the business, feels heard, and understand and can explain why you prioritized particular goals over others.   

7. Focus on select business goals. 

Using the scores from the prioritization exercise, identify what goals to focus on for the next 3-6 months. Try to keep the list manageable; you can add other goals as you make progress.  

Some people prefer picking only three goals to focus on at a time. I’ve usually worked with more. If you do select more than three goals, ensure that no one person is responsible for too many.  You are better off making great progress on just a few 9s and 6s than mediocre progress on many. 

8. Ensure accountability. 

Most of your business goals will require the involvement of multiple members of the leadership team. But wherever possible, it helps to have one person accountable for driving each goal. Those goals identified as most important should be ‘owned’ by senior members of the leadership team. 

This is where your level of comfort with ‘complete delegation’ vs ‘deep dives’ comes in. Some CEOs are happy with having an ‘owner’ and an end date for each goal. Other CEOs ask the owner to develop a plan and review it before execution starts. The development process depends on you. 

9. Communicate internally.  

Communicating your business goals and execution plans to the rest of the organization is essential. When everyone understands where the company wants to go and how it plans to get there, they are better able to contribute successfully 

It’s always best to present the information to the team live so that you can share your thought processes and answer questions. It’s equally important to provide a written copy to everyone. Document your end game (success), your strategy and your business goals in a onepager and make it readily accessible for staff to review at any time. Some companies put these on their intranet ‘wall.’   

10. Follow-through 

Without follow-through, the bestlaid plans are just that – plans. Your leadership team will likely already be busy dealing with day to day issues. To be sure sufficient attention is given to your business goals, and to ensure progress is made and team alignment is maintained, you will need to meet regularly.  

Some companies meet once a quarter, others who are trying to drive fast progress or for whom the market is shifting quickly, meet every few weeks. Somewhere in between these practices is probably right for you. 

At each of your meetings: 

  • Check in to see if any of your assumptions have proven to be wrong, or anyone has learned something new that could affect your business, in which case you may have to rethink your strategy.
  • See if anyone needs help. Sometimes leaders get so caught up with their own challenges that they forget to reach out to help one another. Even more often, they neglect to ask for help when THEY need it.
  • Review progress and determine if you are on schedule. Remember, as leaders, we must hold ourselves and one another accountable for delivering on our commitments. It is only by setting the bar high that we can drive accountability within our organizations. 

Ella Mar advises CEOs in Ottawa’s tech community to help them execute on their strategies and scale their businesses successfully. Prior to consulting, Ella held executive positions leading Engineering, Professional Services, Marketing, Product Management, Customer Success, Finance, Human Resources and Operations in some of Ottawa’s most dynamic technology companies, including Nortel, Entrust, CrossKeys, Espial and Irdeto. With Invest Ottawa, Ella is an advisor for the Scale-up Program.  

To learn more about the Scale-Up Program visit: https://www.investottawa.ca/scale-up/

May 14, 2020
6 mins | 1,350 words
By: Megan Maltby

A few weeks ago, I shared insights from investors on how COVID-19 is set to impact the venture investing landscape. While it provided a great macro view into the world of venture capital, Ottawa’s ecosystem has unique advantages and disadvantages when it comes to funding. Knowing this, connected with four local investors in the capital region to get their perspectives and advice for Ottawa-based startups and scale-ups.  

The setback 

The reality is, now is not the best time to raise equity investment. Angels and VCs around the world are directing attention inward; they are performing triage on their existing portfolio and determining what support they can deploy to help these companies weather the storm.  

Lance used a “life raft” analogy to describe the process every investor is currently undertaking. “There is a recognition that not everyone is going to make it through [the pandemic]. If there is only so much room on the life raft and you have limited oars and lifejackets, some are going to get thrown off the boat. The IAF, like most VCs, has gone through a detailed ranking and risk analysis of our current portfolio and their plans for recovery. We are fortunate to have a shorter list of companies that we know we must rescue, but this has distracted us from a ‘business as usual’ mantra of making new investments. That said, the IAF still approved one new investment in April.” 

To put it simply: investor bandwidth is limited, and in the near-term, portfolio assistance and follow-on funding will take priority over new deal prospecting. Nolan noted a shift in how the Capital Angel Network’s membership was approaching portfolio support,

Normally in our process, at every monthly member meeting we see three new companies and maybe one portfolio company [pitching for investment]. At April’s meeting, we saw three portfolio and one new deal. So, we are shifting our focus for now.”  

The positive 

On the flip side, this decrease in the pace of new deals will be temporary. There are massive amounts of capital available (global venture capital (VC) dry powder sat at $188.7 billion as of mid-year 2019), and VCs with funds to deploy will need to continue doing deals.  

As Cory noted, “The greater macroeconomic opportunity in VC isn’t changing; it’s getting more valuable because a lot of investment opportunity comes out of these macroeconomic shifts. You’ve got a reset of business foundations, and you have a lot of newly unemployed people who might go build companies that they have always dreamed of starting.”  

Jennifer added, “Some strong companies have come out of troubling times. In the past, we have seen companies go through a lot of money before finding the right product-market fit. Times like this help us get laser-focused on what matters, and the startups that come out of it will find they are in really strong shape as a business.” 

Some sectors are well-positioned to thrive in today’s markets. The pandemic and resulting shutdowns have illuminated new pain points and accelerated the adoption of technology solutions. We are now adapting to virtual office work, at-home fitness, and online grocery shopping, and companies with solutions in these verticals are sure to reap the rewards of increased demand. We are also witnessing the shortcomings of existing infrastructure and being forced to invest in technology upgrades sooner than we might otherwise. Cybersecurity and telehealth are just two areas that will see more considerable attention in a post-COVID-19 world. As Nolan summed up, “Investors will be excited by companies which find that COVID-19 is an accelerant to something that would be inevitable regardless. Some companies will become a new essential piece of their customers’ operations moving forward.”   

What this means for Ottawa startups 

Ottawa is far from the epicentre of venture funding, like hubs in Silicon Valley, New York, or Toronto. In a way, Ottawa-based firms have always had to work a bit harder to raise funding rounds. In a COVID-19 world, this could prove to be an advantage.  

Firstly, Ottawa-based companies and investors alike have always faced the added challenges of being physically separated from deal flow or access to capital. “We’ve always been a semi-remote company, with partners in Toronto and portfolio companies spread across the eastern seaboard. It hasn’t been a really hard shift for us,” said Cory. 

“We are spending more time working from home, but this is not foreign to us. We have always had a remote relationship with people in VC markets such as Montreal, Toronto and New York.” 

In other words, Ottawa investors and companies will continue to rely on building relationships (albeit virtually) outside of the capital region. COVID-19 may even become an equalizer in the near-term, as even startups in the Valley must turn to Zoom to get deals done, much like their Canadian counterparts.  

Secondly, while many are bracing for a market reset on early-stage valuations, Ottawa companies may notice a minimal impact. “The Canadian market has always been labelled as being smaller, a little more conservative and slower to react to valuation’ froth.’ We haven’t gotten caught up in the hype as much as in the Silicon Valley ecosystem,” said Lance, “In some ways, that’s a credit to the Canadian market in a rebound situation.”

Pablo agreed,

“We have been very intentional about getting US investors in our portfolio companies. Most notably, many US investors see that the talent in Canada is top-notch and comes with less hype.”

In other words, valuations in Canada tend to be supported by real value propositions and traction, as opposed to the pricing battles present in more frothy markets like the Valley. Since Ottawa valuations have always been rooted in business fundamentals, we likely won’t see a dramatic drop in local prices even if a reset takes place at the macro level.   

Finally, each investor I spoke with noted the support provided by the federal and provincial governments as an advantage for Canadian startups. Ottawa companies have the benefit of accessing critical stimulus packages and relief funding opportunities to weather the storm. As Pablo said, “I think the government has done a great job at responding quickly. I’m generally pleased with the speed at which they have reacted, the size and impact of the programs, and the way they have responded to feedback. This will have a genuine impact on the ecosystem.” For a rundown of the many resources available, visit Invest Ottawa’s COVID-19 Resources page.  

How to modify your fundraising approach 

So how should you modify your approach to fundraising moving forward? In addition to extending runway and accessing government funding, make sure your pitch is adapted accordingly. In an ideal situation, you can find a story that ties in with the current environment in a positive way. Pablo said, “I have seen examples of local companies trying to reposition, so their value proposition is more consistent with the times; Spartan Bioscience is a prime example. If you have signals from the market that you have a genuine opportunity due to COVID, it might be a good time to raise, and you can weave it into the pitch right up front.” 

“It [pandemic response] has to become part of the overall narrative, especially if you are in an industry that has been hurt by the pandemic. Don’t ignore it or hide from it,” said Nolan.

“It’s not that investors expect companies to have a magic solution, but you should prepare a range of assumptions and address what your survival plan is under those assumptions,” added Jennifer. “If you are just pretending everything will be fine, you lack credibility because there is so much uncertainty right now.” 

 


About the author 

Megan Maltby is Invest Ottawa’s Senior Investment Analyst. Megan conducts research and provides investment data, analysis, coaching, and strategic recommendations for technology startups and scale-ups. She also builds and maintains relationships with angel investors, venture capitalists, and nondilutive funding providers.   

Before joining Invest Ottawa in her current role, Megan spent time as an Investment Analyst at Innovacorp, an early-stage venture capital firm, and First Angel Network, Atlantic Canada’s organized angel investment group. In these roles, she was responsible for prospecting pre-seed and seed-stage companies, conducting investment analysis, managing the due diligence process for potential investment opportunities, and coordinating the portfolio review process. She also did a stint managing Innovacorp’s acceleration programs and nondilutive funding activities, building a pipeline for the firm’s venture capital fund. 


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May 12, 2020
4.5 mins | 800 words
By: Adam Dewar

Photo of Adam Dewar

Since being confined to our homes, I, along with many of you, have felt a range of emotions over the past few months. And, in my case, I know I’m lucky. But as a Millennial, I was brought up to be inherently mobile – two weeks in China? Sure, no problem! – and for now, this mobility is gone. Enter the new virtual world. 

What is not gone is our ability to connect. In specific sectors of our economy – and for Ottawa’s technology ecosystem, demand is up; people are working from home, streaming, teaming, zooming, skyping, calling, and watching countless videos on YouTube.  

This increased activity has created just a small draw on our networks. And by “small” I mean the European Union, carriers around the world, and other agencies have asked and received compliance from all of the above to lower quality so as not to overwhelm the network (Netflix and YouTube are slowing down in Europe to keep the internet from breaking, CNN).  

So, what does this mean for Ottawa and our telecom ecosystem? Amongst the turbulence, a potential opportunity emerges.  Over the past month and a half, I have had the opportunity to connect with key players in the Ottawa telecom ecosystem to gain their insights and perspectives. To be honest, after watching the stock market crash, I had expected to find a neutral to negative outlook – instead, it was cautiously positive.  

To support the growth in network traffic, our telecom players have been busy. As organizations, they too are juggling amidst this new reality, sending most of their staff home for social distancing (they are part of an essential supply chain, and some of their labs require staff to be physically present to do what needs to be done). But they are also busy working with their customers, the carriers, and data centres (Hint: Facebook, Youtube (Google), Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, etc.) to help them stay online, troubleshoot problems, and, if this continues, to scale their capacity.  

That last piece is key. It is key because the scaling of capacity will mean monetization of this opportunity for these players. The potential opportunity and cautious positivity hinges on monetization. But given that most people reading this are working from home, heavily using their network connections – possibly having upgraded their service  you are probably wondering, “Isn’t this a slam dunk?”  

The industry is cautiously positive because the industry has worked hard to keep its customers online, largely on its existing software and systems. For many, this means extended capacity. Whether it makes a difference on their bottom line and is positive for their cash flow is an open question, to which an answer will start to present later in the year – Q3 or soBut the level of activity does have most players exhibiting a cautious optimism.  

They are cautiously positive as consumer sentiment, and the overall economic situation is still unclear. If this reality goes on for a quarter or two, and the light at the end of this tunnel shines, it will be positive. If it goes on longer, unemployment in Canada and the US reaches 20% or 30%, and telecom players shed customers who are unable to pay, this will trickle down the supply chain to the companies who develop these critical systems in the Ottawa Valley. And that needed monetization will fail to materialize. So, there is an inherent level of risk. 

There are also supply chain challenges for some players, particularly in the systems and components sectorsMany companies are dependent on optical and network components from China, and while these supply chains are slowly coming back online, they likely won’t be at pre-COVID-19 levels for a whileIn the medium term, this also presents another opportunity. Between US trade policy and the COVID-19 situation, companies are starting to look at diversifying their supply chains, so they aren’t so focused on China. For a region like Ottawa, this presents a secondary opportunity to attract more prototyping and advanced work, similar to what we already see in the region. 

The final risk to this cautious optimism centres around our pre-revenue startups, early-stage investors, and scaling companies.  Many pre-revenue startups will have a formidable challenge, especially if they are in the process of raising funds or need to raise funds in the next few quarters—also, fast-growing firms who require cash to reach their full potential. Firms needing to refinance debt or satisfy their covenants could face challenges if their revenues deteriorate or if their revenues only increase at a fraction of the rate they budgeted, pushing up their cash burn leading to a cash crunch. 

It goes without saying if this situation extends beyond a couple of quarters, the outlook will likely deteriorate. Luckily, we can all work to reduce that risk by staying home and following public health guidelines. Doing this together, we will reduce the length of the pandemic and hasten economic recovery.   

Though we can all share some cautious optimism that at least in the short term, one of the major sectors of the Ottawa ecosystem, and our regional economy, is experiencing an uptick in demand, telecoms companies are working hard to keep systems running. By keeping systems running low, many businesses from across Canada and around the world can take their work to the cloud, enabling connectivity, remote work, and social distancing.   

If you or your business has insights or challenges to share with Invest Ottawa, please do not hesitate to reach out to a member of the Invest Ottawa team or me. We are actively engaged with industry and are collecting and sharing insights back to our partners at all levels of government.   


Adam Dewar is the Invest Ottawa Market Director, Americas. A member of the Global Expansion Team, Adam leads foreign direct investment (FDI) market engagement. He is highly motivated to work with companies and entrepreneurs in the Ottawa and Americas region to expand their business interests in the Ottawa region. Adam has a passion for technology, the Ottawa region, and Canada more broadly, being a transplant from Alberta by way of Nova Scotia.

May 12, 2020
2.5 mins | 592 words
By: Steve Onions

Ottawa has a wide range of defence and security companies. The list includes multi-nationals with local offices – firms that provide strategic advisory services to the federal government – and companies that span the entire supply chain of hardware manufacturers, software developers, system integrators and augmented staffing and professional services. These organizations cover the traditional domains of air, land and sea and the emerging one of cyber. 

These 300+ companies employ thousands of people, typically with higher-paying positions in the engineering, manufacturing, supply chain and project/program management professions. While some of them have been able to pivot to the new normal of working from home, others have implemented various mitigating strategies to protect their workforce, whose role requires them to be at their place of work physically. 

Over the past month, I’ve had a chance to talk with leaders from many of these companies and a common theme identified was that the federal government must focus on keeping the major defence procurements moving as much as possible, including issuing procurement documents on schedule. To this end, a significant achievement was the recent designation of industries in the defence supply chain as “essential.” 

An inherent characteristic of defence procurement is the slow rate of progress. In this case, it is a benefit, as while some industry sectors (for example hospitality and retail) experienced an immediate impact, the fact that it takes longer to “turn the ship” means the status quo in the short-term. 

The world-wide suspension of trade shows (for example, CANSEC, Farnborough, Eurosatory) will make itself felt 6 to 12 months down the line as these events traditionally prime the pump for defence business development activities to fill the order book pipeline. 

My Opinion 

In response, the industry should look to utilize newer tools such as video conferencing for replacing the traditional faceto-face aspect of defence sales and marketing. It is unlikely that we will be able to hold events in the remaining part of the year – adjusting is critical. 

The considerable stimulus and support package announced by the government to support small and medium-sized businesses, as well as impacted employees, will put pressure on departmental budgets, and often, high-cost defence procurements are an easy target for cutting. However, firms must balance immediate needs with the long-term security of Canada, and our ability to meet our commitments to the international community, for example, NORAD and NATO. 

Projects already funded through Strong, Secure and Engaged (SSE) must be kept on track. The Government of Canada should identify key projects which not only contribute to our security but also provide tangible benefits to the supply chain companies through the Industrial and Technological Benefits (ITB) Policy. 

The men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) will be called upon to provide vital relief and assistance internally for the foreseeable future. Still, they will need to meet challenges when the world returns to the “new normal.” When that time comes, it will be imperative that our military personnel don’t find themselves under-equipped for any future missions, either abroad or at home. 

 


Steve Onions is the Senior Sector StrategistDefence and Security at Invest Ottawa. Steve is a dynamic, results-oriented, ex-military manager with many years of progressive experience in the aerospace and defence industry. 

If you or your business has insights or challenges, specifically in the defence and security sector(s), do not hesitate to connect with Steve at [email protected]. Our Global Expansion team is actively engaged with industry and are collecting and sharing insights back to our partners at all levels of government. 

May 12, 2020
4.5 mins | 970 words
By: David Rodas-Wright

David Rodas-Wright HeadshotHold fast! – In sailing folklore, those words were often inked across the knuckles of deckhands, such as in the days of naval warfare between Georgian England and Napoleon’s France. The term refers to sailors bearing or holding down the line for security as the ship fights through stormy seasHold fast has indeed been the consistent message of most Ottawa software companies in these early days of self-isolation, under the global pandemic. Over the past month, I’ve talked to many firms. There are no signs of anyone letting go or easing their grip. 

Ottawa’s software sector is a highly diverse group of companies selling enterprise and consumer-oriented software to global and domestic markets. It is perhaps the fastest-growing portion of the tech economy in the city. There are, at last count, roughly 550 vibrant companies offering software solutions, employing about 22,000 professionals.  

The sector delivers consulting and support services to both government and enterprise clients. Many have developed and sell or license their own software innovations. This list includes more generally SaaS-Cloud enterprise solutions – Software, Platform, Infrastructure (X or anything as a Service). More specifically, software is used in Internet of Things (IoT) architecture and vertical solutions; cybersecurity and authentication innovation; digital health; artificial intelligence-machine learning; network management; data analytics; and fintech and blockchain products.  

Ottawa is also emerging as a powerhouse in connected and autonomous vehicle systems and is already a global leader in e-commerce. Our gaming and animation hub continues to work with global leaders in the creation of amazing products and content used and viewed across the globe.  

Our city benefits from a healthy mixture of small- to medium-size businesses, with 250 employees or less. It has also been home for decades to MNEs, with head offices in New York, Boston, California’s Bay Area, London, Detroit, and Tokyo, while having cultivated and launched its own global success stories  

Some may assume that software and SaaS producers, in particular, should be having a smoother ride than other companies that depend on a global supply chain for hardware products, as well as employees working on-site. Not for all. Most of these businesses need healthy clients, and adequate infrastructure, to be able to keep business moving smoothly. As the professional world has settled into the Work from Home routine, many of the companies interviewed speak of important gaps in infrastructure.  

For example, if you are a company, or a client, requiring faster or more reliable upload speeds, or a more secure remote/virtual environment, you are likely running into issues. In Q1 and now Q2, most companies settled into a wait-and-see approach as our country and community have re-oriented in response to the frightening spread of the pandemic. Marketing and business development have had to take a back seat for some, but the need to keep things moving remained. 

Of the firms I’ve talked to, about a quarter have a positive outlook on the current situation. For some, there has been a notable increase in business because they offer solutions that support the current climate. In some cases, they have been able to replace another process altogether for their clients, or their innovation or service solves an entirely new set of logistical challenges stemming from pandemic management.  

On the other end of the spectrum, about a third of software companies have a negative business sentiment. These companies include those confronting a serious threat to their viability, who have had to lay off personnel or make cuts in other areas. As well as those cutting early on because they know the lifecycle of their business growth will inevitably turn negative. As clients suffer now, so will they.  

Rounding out the business outlook, another third of companies surveyed have a neutral stance. This group is grappling with keeping deals alive, or keeping things in a suspended state of animation, while clients re-orient.  

No two Ottawa software companies are the same. Smaller players with a high impact solution or niche product may be well-financed and able to sail through the storm, ready to resume business as usual post-pandemic. Larger companies may be more susceptible to dramatic drops in revenue, unable to avoid tough decisions in Q2.  

Much of the feedback from software companies highlighted the need for greater flexibility or coherence in government programmes, taxation, and process. Concern over access to qualified talent remains, even with companies freezing their hires. The flow of newly graduating students from post-secondary institutes is suddenly a real concern not just for universities and colleges, but also for some tech employers.  

In all cases, uncertainty stands as the central issue everyone is facing. The absence of industry and government dialogue on shaping an exit strategy is an understandable frustration for some. Still, everyone realizes all hands are on deck now to help our communities, and our country survive.  

We at Invest Ottawa are playing our part to support the tech industry. We are ready to answer questions, take feedback, and engage our partners to achieve solutions. If you need support or simply want to provide us with feedback or help others, please do not hesitate to contact me.  

About the Author 

David Rodas-Wright is the Senior Sector Strategist, Software, at Invest Ottawa. In his role, David provides growth and retention support to Ottawa’s thriving tech sector, with a particular focus on software companies, including Saas Enterprise, Applied AI, Data Analytics, Cloud & Embedded software, Interactive Digital Media, RegTech, FinTech, Blockchain.  

David also supports foreign direct investment attraction. This work includes pitching the Why Ottawa value proposition to prospective foreign companies and delegations, engaging with FDI prospects in-market in target regions, including Europe and the Americas, as well as supporting the soft-landing process in collaboration with Invest Ottawa partners and stakeholders.  

May 1, 2020
3.5 mins | 900 words
By: Katie LeClair
Black and white head shot photo of a women smiling

Today, we’re all relying on technology to a greater degree than we ever have before. We connect with our friends over online gameplay (have you downloaded Houseparty yet?), pre-order groceries for curbside pick-up, and stream the latest home workout video to break a sweat. Our day-to-day has changed – is changing – and we’re adapting.

Businesses are adapting too.

Companies around the globe are transitioning, adjusting as they go in this new reality. Almost overnight, my team went from having a central office at the always busy Bayview Yards – every day surrounded by the energizing hustle and bustle of the innovation centre – to logging in from home. Maybe your business is remote now, too, or at least a majority of people in your organization are working virtually. Maybe you’ve been impacted on an additional level: you’re an owner or founder who’s had to evolve your business model or pivot your product. Whatever you’re experiencing as a company, you’re managing change, and that change includes an increasingly virtual work life.

Although the hows and whens of returning to the office are uncertain for most of us, a recent poll suggests that Canadians think working from home works, and they’ll continue to even when the pandemic ends. For business leaders, the question is, are you fully equipped to manage virtual teams?

These companies could help with that.

Here are five Ottawa-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies that could provide the solution your business is looking for:

Keep in lockstep with your remote teams: Fellow

Fellow is a smart assistant tool built for managers. The app makes working with teams, particularly working with direct reports, easier. It integrates with your calendar, sends notifications and recommendations for increased efficiencies that keep your day on track, and offers one place to send and receive feedback, collaborate on agendas (while even suggesting meeting topics!), and assign to-dos.

With this tool, you can run more effective one-on-ones and, ultimately, communicate better as a leader. Fellow.app is a must-try for any leader looking for a smoother way to stay on top of things.

 

Monitor servers and networks on your phone: ITmanager.net

ITmanager.net is a mobile-first SaaS company for IT Administrators. This software allows IT admins to monitor their servers and networks, receive notifications when problems come up and then connect to their servers and fix problems using only their phone.

It’s an all-in-one enterprise server and network administrator service. Now, you or your IT professional doesn’t have to go into the server room to monitor/maintain/restart equipment. ITmanager.nets service lets you oversee and maintain your company’s computer infrastructure from devices as small and convenient as an apple watch.

ITmanager.net is offering an extended free trial period. Instead of 30-days, new customers can have 90-days to decide if the service is for them.

 

Make learning from home seamless for your staff and students: Kivuto

Kivuto is a SaaS company that helps schools go digital by centralizing the management and distribution of all digital resources, making e-learning easier. Academic institutions use their software platform to host content electronically, and, in one place, institutions can ensure compliance, distribution to the right people, and get access to reporting and analytics. Ultimately, their staff can work from home and students can learn from home.

Kivuto Solution is now providing open access to digital academic resources for educational institutions. Kivuto and Pearson partnered to enhance the digital learning experience by offering access to over 70 curriculum-based K-12 textbooks covering such topics as literacy, math and science via Kivuto’s Texidium platform and Reader. As of April 22, over 100,000 (108,755 to be exact!), free resources were accessed by students, teachers, and families through this initiative.

If you’re a teacher, student or member of the school board looking for resources to continue to immerse yourself in the digital learning environment, check out their offer of support before it ends on May 25.

 

Transfer massive files ultra-fast from anywhere: MASV

MASV is a SaaS company that allows subscribers to transfer massive files seamlessly with a pay-as-you-go plan. The company claims to be exactly the same as other large file transfer services but without file size limits, software, port-forwarding issues, expensive annual contracts, storage limits, slow speeds, complicated interfaces, or transfer failures. On February 26, MASV announced the launch of a new service to upload large (and they’re talking LARGE) files to Amazon Simple Storage Service. And, on April 8, they launched MASV App 2.0, an upgrade that allows for the automated transfer of ultra-large files for remote teams.

Who is their primary user? You, the media and entertainment professional, videographer and/or creator; the one who wants to transfer 100GB+ files fast.

 

Deploy a virtual workplace the fastest, easiest and most secure way: Tehama

Tehama is a SaaS platform that delivers virtual offices, rooms, and desktops anywhere in minutes. It offers control and security for global businesses by allowing them to deploy work environments, all in the cloud, in any web browser on any device. Tehama’s software replaces the need for patch updates, shipping laptops, VPN connections and upfront infrastructure costs altogether.

Using Tehama, you can quickly onboard/offboard employees and manage, scale, secure, and audit virtual workers. It’s a central and safe way to grant access to corporate assets, and eliminate laptop shipping costs and cut down on time wasted.

If you have a global workforce, cybersecurity is a priority, and you want to cut down on cost, Tehama offers it all.

 


About the Author

Katie LeClair is the Corporate Communications Team Lead with Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards. What she loves most about working for Ottawa’s lead economic development agency and innovation hub is meeting the local business owners and entrepreneurs. They inspire her every day.  

Apr 29, 2020
3.5 mins | 820 words
By: Jeff Leuschner

Headshot of Jeff Leuschner

Your product or service is software-based. It is innovative, maybe even disruptive. Can you patent it? Should you patent it? If so, what do you patent?

A patent is an intellectual property (IP) right that helps protect an invention. If you invent a new mechanical gadget, and you are awarded a patent on that gadget, then you can prevent others from making, using, selling and importing that patented gadget for the lifetime of the patent. Your market position is, obviously, much stronger if you can prevent your competitors from selling the gadget.

It is relatively easy to envision the benefit of a patent for a mechanical gadget. What about software-based products and services, e.g. apps, SaaS, big data, analytics, etc.? For these products, the path to the finish line is not always clear in terms of the possibility of patent protection, let alone the benefit and use of the patent.

That being said, there is no business sense in ignoring the possibility of patent protection. Amazon’s patent for one-click online buying (1-CLICKTM) was found to be patent-eligible, and was very valuable to Amazon (Why Amazon’s ‘1-Click’ Ordering Was a Game Changer), despite it being software-based. Also, the possible defensive value of a patent may help you deal with other market players.

Let’s look at a few key questions.

  1. Can you patent your software-based product or service?

There is some uncertainty around software-based inventions because they are not as tangible. Unlike a mechanical invention, you cannot pick up a software invention and drop it on your foot. Patent law struggles with the patent eligibility of software inventions because they are often more abstract in nature. Intuitively it seems reasonable to most people that one should not be awarded a patent on a software app that organizes a human activity, but what about a new spelling correction algorithm? Where do you draw the line?

An invention has to be new and not obvious. Beyond that, here is a rule of thumb: if the invention can be characterized as an improvement in computer functionality, or characterized as an invention that is specific to computers and solves a problem that only exists because computers exist, then you often have a good case. However, it is not always straight-forward, and you may encounter resistance from the patent office.

  1. Should you patent your software-based product or service?

This is a business question, and in many cases, the answer might be ‘no’. However, the answer is not always ‘no’ for all software inventions for all companies. The following are example questions to help you determine if a patent is right for your product and business:

  • Would the patent protect a feature that is commercially relevant, e.g. an improved user experience?
  • Would the patent protect a value proposition?
  • Would the patent capture where the market is going and/or where your competitors may want to go?
  • How accessible is the invention, e.g. is it hidden on your server or provided to the customer?
  • Could the invention be easily detected and reverse engineered?
  • Would you be able to detect if someone else was infringing the patent?
  • Could a competitor easily “design around” the patented invention to provide a competing product or service that did not infringe the patent?
  • Could a competitor even infringe the patent? E.g. Are you the only market player that can collect the data required to execute the invention?
  • What is the lifecycle of the invention?
  • Does the invention incorporate open-source code having license conditions that would impact your ability to assert the patent?
  • Would obtaining a patent be viewed negatively (e.g. by your community of followers) or positively (e.g. by potential investors)?

Ask yourself these and other questions to try to answer the ultimate question: does the business value of pursuing patent protection outweigh the relatively high cost of patenting? Resources are not unlimited.

  1. What should you patent?

The feature has to be eligible for patent protection (see question 1. above), and make business sense to patent (see question 2. above). From a business perspective, an example of a good candidate may be a feature that protects a commercially relevant user experience, that has a relatively long life cycle, that is detectable, and that can be patented broadly enough to be hard to design around. Amazon’s patent for one-click online buying met all such criteria.

Your core analytics algorithms and data are often hidden and perhaps best kept as a trade secret. The way things are displayed on the user’s screen is often easy to design around. Think about the in-between, e.g. something that provides a commercially relevant user experience at the user interface, but that can be protected by protecting the broad technical underpinnings required to enable it.

The patented invention does not have to be sexy; it just has to be valuable, or at least there should be a reasonable prospect that it will be valuable.


About the Expert

Jeff Leuschner has practiced in the area of IP for over a decade, with an emphasis on patents. When working with tech companies, Jeff advises on where to focus patenting activity to best support the company’s business objectives, especially in view of other options such as trade secret protection and defensive publication. His approach is quality over quantity. Not just a well-drafted patent, but one that will actually have commercial relevance.

Prior to entering the IP profession, Jeff pursued graduate studies in the field of electrical and computer engineering.

About Smart & Biggar

Smart & Biggar helps the world’s leading tech companies protect and leverage their IP and advises them on how to use IP Strategy to secure growth across the word.

Headquartered in Ottawa with a national presence, Smart & Biggar has a consistent track record and reputation as the leaders for IP and tech law in Canada.

 

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