#OttawaInc: CENX

Jun 8, 2015

Founded: 2009
Employees: 145
What They Do: Lifecycle service orchestration for software-defined and virtualized networks

CENX is growing; fast.

In two short years the firm has hired nearly 100 people, attracted equity from high-profile investors such as Verizon and Ericsson and has grown their revenue by nearly 500%. For the most part, their technology solutions work behind the scenes to help carriers make informed decisions rapidly, to the ultimate benefit of Internet consumers. However, their work culture emanates the feel of a young start-up, working on that next cool iPhone app. Street Art adorns the walls, Nerf guns rest on desks and break-out rooms are named after volcanos (The company’s rationale: volcanos are the ultimate disruptors).

Founded in New Jersey, with sales offices in London and Hong Kong, the company decided that Ottawa was the place to build its research & development arm; the bulk of its workforce. CENX CEO, Ed Ogonek says the reason for this decision was simple, “It’s about having access to the best engineering talent.” Ogonek spoke with IO about Ottawa’s world class talent and the values that drive CENX’s corporate culture:

CEO Ed Ogonek

CEO Ed Ogonek

How do you describe what CENX does – for people not in the tech sector?

We build a searchable database of all of the assets in a carrier’s data network. If you think of Google Maps as a way to navigate home (real-time data, across a crowded landscape of roads and highways) we provide a similar kind of capability to a service provider. For example, if there was an accident; how do you re-direct traffic, should you walk, should you drive, should you take a bus? So that same analogy works for what we do.

Can you give a real world example?

We have a large customer with a complex network and one of the challenges they face is how they isolate faults and fix problems. Before our tool, it took them between 45 min to an hour, to fix a fault and now they are taking less than two minutes. They save time and don’t need to invest in so much redundancy in their network. It’s big data analytics in action.

What led to the decision to bring CENX’s R&D to Ottawa?

It’s about having access to the best engineering talent and that’s been proven by our company growth over the last two years. There’s also a wealth of data networking talent, operational talent and big data analytics talent. I think Ottawa has a great heritage of building and growing products, technology, companies, for the last 30 years.

It takes time and resources to attract and retain talent. How is CENX tackling that?

As a small company, collaboration, engagement and innovation are important. We are using cutting edge technology in ways nobody else is doing right now. And we are solving some big networking problems, where I think we are unique in our approach. If we keep focused and driven in the right way, it’s incredibly energizing.

The open office is slowly becoming the norm for allowing employees to collaborate. Have you seen benefits from this?

As a leader, what’s important to you at the end of the day, when assessing the satisfaction people have in their careers?

Engagement is one. One of the things with a company at this stage is that you have to be “all in”. At the same time, we have to be respectful that everybody has a personal life; so balance is the second part. And it’s not work hours; it’s more attitude and mindset. And the third is innovation. We are an innovation company, so helping to foster that is a really important piece for us.

Having worked in the Ottawa ecosystem since the turn of the millennium, what do you see happening now?

Ottawa tech was previously driven by a set of very large companies; we had Nortel, Newbridge, JDS Uniphase, etc. Today we have many small, growing companies. It’s more energetic, it’s more engaging and it’s exciting. I think the big challenge we have here as an industry, is how to connect the funding and financing with that. CENX has been able to attract tier one funding from the USA and bring that to Ottawa, to build and scale the team. And I think a lot of American investors are waking back up to the value of Canadian, and particularity Ottawa, tech companies.

What’s the next big idea for CENX?
As I mentioned before, we take a Google-like approach to managing your network. Now we are beginning to take it from there, to the Cloud. It’s a fascinating world because there is less physical equipment to manage; you are managing a set of virtual equipment. I think it’s going to be ripe for innovation and ripe for tremendous growth.

And secrets you can share?

Not yet! (Laughs)…Soon enough.

One thing never to underestimate?
You have to balance the focus on your customer with adapting to what the real need is. You can’t be stubborn on saying “This was the brilliant idea that I had and if the customer will just understand me, they will figure it out”. You have to adapt.
Ed Ogonek, CEO of CENX

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