Following government cutbacks, OCE makes significant staff cuts

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The Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) has significantly reduced its staff, BetaKit has learned.

OCE confirmed the layoffs, which took place last Thursday, stating it “has put in place resources to support our departing staff through this transition.”

An OCE spokesperson confirmed with BetaKit that its base funding was cut from $31 million to $13.9 million.

The number of staff departing, however, is a source of contention. OCE told BetaKit that 28 full-time employees were laid off, representing a 30 percent staff reduction. However, multiple sources familiar with the organization told BetaKit that as many as 43 employees were laid off. Those sources indicated the organization now consists of around 56 employees, cutting OCE’s headcount nearly in half.

The delta can be explained by accounting for OCE’s part-time and temporary staffing in addition to full-time employees. OCE confirmed with BetaKit that it had a full-time staff count of 85 employees on May 30th when the layoffs began. However, an OCE spokesperson confirmed that staffing fluctuates due to programming and events, such as OCE Discovery, which recently took place. Multiple sources placed OCE’s all-in staff number over 100 employees as recently as two months ago (more on this below). OCE confirmed with BetaKit a current full-time staff of 57 employees.

The layoffs follow shortly after a series of funding cuts made by the Ford government to tech programs across the province. In May, The Globe and Mail was first to report that the province was planning to cut OCE’s budget by as much as 40 to 50 percent. OCE confirmed with BetaKit that its base funding was cut from $31 million to $13.9 million.

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“OCE receives its funding through a number of different funding agreements, including a base funding agreement,” a spokesperson told BetaKit. “Additionally, a number of programs were cancelled or not renewed. As a result, we are looking at a reduction of 18 percent in our overall operating costs.”

OCE made staff reductions to a variety of departments, from coordinator to director level. According to a partial list BetaKit received of terminated employees, programming, events, and business development were all significantly cut.

OCE confirmed to BetaKit that two staff members on maternity leave were terminated as part of the layoffs.

Beyond the scope of the layoffs, their execution was also cause for concern. According to sources BetaKit spoke with, employees last Thursday attended an impromptu town hall, where they were instructed to proceed to their desks and read an email with additional instructions. Depending on those instructions, employees were sent to rooms in groups, where they were either told their job was safe and to go home for the day, or met by a VP or manager and laid off.

Sources also indicated to BetaKit that among those laid off were employees currently on maternity leave. In some cases, temporary workers covering the maternity leave role were given the laid-off employee’s position. OCE confirmed to BetaKit in an email that two staff members on maternity leave were terminated.

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A non-profit entrepreneurship accelerator funded by the province, OCE dates back to 2002, when the Conservative-led government merged seven separate non-profit centres into one entity. As recently as November 2017, OCE had employed over 120 staff, but since that time has seen regular decline. In November 2018, eight staff were eliminated following the Ford government’s dismantling of the province’s cap and trade program, which funded GreenON and a number of other initiatives administered by OCE. Since Ford entered office, OCE had essentially stopped hiring for employee departures, bringing headcount closer to the century mark just prior to the most recent layoffs.

OCE told BetaKit that it currently has no plans for additional layoffs, but sources indicated to BetaKit that the level of support for current programs, as well as the potential for further layoffs, is an ongoing discussion. The accelerator will face tough decisions ahead. OCE confirmed that 21 total programs have been cancelled or wound-down due to either the province’s recent review and program cuts, or last year’s cancellation of the cap and trade program (this BetaKit article lists the cut programs in detail).

OCE was also quick to note that it still has a number of active programs, such as the Market Readiness Co-Investment Fund, the Voucher for Innovation and Productivity Program (VIP), SmartStart Seed Fund, IBM Innovation Incubator Project, Next Generation Network Program (NGNP), ENCQOR, and AVIN.

“We have the staff in place to manage our active programs,” an OCE spokesperson told BetaKit.

The organization’s Toronto headquarters is located in the same building as OneEleven (OCE was a founding partner of OneEleven), prime real estate within the city. One source directly familiar with OCE’s operations indicated that if the organization cannot find a tenant to sub-lease, it may be forced to move.

“Layoffs and cuts are difficult but reflect the government’s fiscal reality,” OCE said in a statement to BetaKit. “There is no doubt that everyone at OCE feels empathy for those who have lost their jobs.”

“The work OCE does in driving innovation in the province will continue.”

UPDATE (06/05/19): This story has been updated with additional information and commentary provided by OCE.

Douglas Soltys

Douglas Soltys

Douglas Soltys is the Editor-in-Chief of BetaKit and founder of BetaKit Incorporated. He has worked for a few failed companies and written about many more. He spends too much time on the Internet.