Ottawa’s tech ecosystem is primed to grow, as innovative, high-tech startups are ramping up efforts to attract talent to the nation’s capital.
While Ottawa’s high-tech sector hit an all-time low in 2009 during the collapse of telecommunications company Nortel, the city’s tech leaders have since reshaped its tech sector. Young companies like Mindbridge, which recently raised a $4.3 million seed round, and established players like Shopify, are on hiring sprees to scale their teams, putting the spotlight back on Ottawa.
“Ottawa is not just competing for talent with other Canadian cities, it’s Ottawa competing against Barcelona, Amsterdam, Australia, New York, Silicon Valley.”
– Ryan Gibson
Ryan Gibson, a market strategist at Invest Ottawa, says one way Ottawa’s tech companies are attracting talent is through Invest Ottawa’s Work in Ottawa campaign, which aims to draw tech workers from across North America to a city that is home to 1,750 tech companies that employ nearly 70,000 people.
According to Gibson, ICTC’s Labour Market Outlook for 2015 to 2019 indicates that Ottawa has nearly 68,600 jobs in information and communications technology (ICT) and that the city needs to fill approximately 9,724 ICT positions by 2019.
Launched in April, the Work in Ottawa campaign is dedicated to not only helping tech companies scale their teams, but also making the case as to why Ottawa — compared to big cities like Toronto and Waterloo — is an ideal place for tech enthusiasts to start and grow a career.
Gibson says the campaign puts the spotlight on the city’s attractions, low costs of living, quality of life, and profitable job opportunities. It also includes an online job board where local firms can post job openings to bring in talent ranging from developers to senior executives to their offices.
“Ottawa is not just competing for talent with other Canadian cities, it’s Ottawa competing against Barcelona, Amsterdam, Australia, New York, Silicon Valley,” said Gibson. “So what we’re trying to do through the Work in Ottawa campaign is help all our startups and the larger-scale companies who are all screaming for talent, help them shine a light on Ottawa.”
Strength in numbers
A March report by Expert Market ranked Ottawa as the top tech hub to live and work in Canada. The report gave Ottawa the top spot thanks to its gender diversity ratio (27:73 men and women), as well as its cost of living. The city was second overall in terms of average salary.
The city is also home to a number of tech companies that have announced major funding rounds and new features in recent months, including Klipfolio, which raised a a $12 million Series B in January to build out its online dashboard platform enabling real-time visibility into a business’s data and insights; and Shopify, which recently launched Shopify Pay to tackle cart abandonment, and its own POS card reader for ecommerce merchants that do festivals and pop-up shops.
“With all these companies with large scale expertise, there’s a really good chance for you to really grow your career and work on exciting projects in Ottawa.”
– Ryan Gibson
“With all these companies with large scale expertise, there’s a really good chance for you to really grow your career and work on exciting projects in Ottawa,” said Gibson, adding that working in Ottawa would create a more tight-knit culture for prospective workers. “When you work for [larger companies] in Seattle, you would probably be one of 50,000 people, but in Ottawa, you could be maybe one of 50 people. One of the key advantages of working for a technology company in Ottawa is [that] the opportunity is very strong to really take a brand or company and grow it at a high level.”
In addition to stressing the high-growth of Canadian tech companies with headquarters and offices in Ottawa, Gibson also noted that the city is an ideal place to live, as a home that might cost $500,000 in Ottawa would go for closer to $2 million in San Jose. He also stressed that Ottawa has more companies from a multitude of sectors — including SaaS, artificial intelligence, cleantech, cybersecurity, and telecommunications — setting up shop in the city.
To help build Ottawa’s tech ecosystem and attract more talent to the city, Gibson stressed the importance of companies like Shopify, Klipfolio, and CENX (who are all hiring) showcasing what Ottawa has to offer to future employees.
Targeting Canadian talent
When it comes to who’s hiring and for what, the list goes on. Right now, a quick browse through Work in Ottawa’s job board shows 183 tech-related positions unfilled in the capital at companies such as QNX, Filefacets, Ross, Macadamian, Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards, and You.i TV. The number of job vacancies is expected to rise.
And when it comes to where companies are luring tech talent from, some companies are focusing on attracting home-grown, local talent from institutions like the University of Ottawa and Carleton University, while others are turning to cities outside of Canada such as Silicon Valley and New York.
CENX, which provides software solutions for the telecom industry, is looking to attract talent primarily for its research and development teams. Erica Watts, the senior marketing communications manager at CENX, says the company is focusing on hiring talent from Canadian cities because it believes the country has a strong, resourceful pool of developers and engineers.
“We want to be able to reach all of Ottawa through a recruiting perspective. We have so many incredibly talented developers here. There are so many smart people here, it is outstanding,” said Watts, adding that she believes more and more people are coming from other cities work in Ottawa. “The more awesome people who are in Ottawa, the more all of the companies will excel.”
In contrast, Klipfolio, which is hiring developers for technical support and salespeople for customer success roles, is more open to looking beyond Canada’s borders for young talent.
“Certainly, we’re focusing on Canada because we believe there’s tons of talent here and not just in Ottawa, but across Canada,” said Robert Shapiro, who leads human resources at Klipfolio. “But we want to take care of our community at the same time. There are certainly people from the States who have reached out to us and we’re happy to consider them as well. We’re not targeting one particular location. We want really good people and we’re willing to look pretty much anywhere for that.”
“For us it isn’t about the number of people we hire, it’s all about quality.”
– Anna Lambert,
According to Shapiro, Klipfolio has been able to attract talent and grow fairly quickly in Ottawa. He said that in 2014 and in 2015, the company doubled in size, and in 2016, the company grew by about 50 percent. In January 2017, Klipfolio was a 68-person team, with plans to hire 45 people throughout the year. Speaking with BetaKit, Shapiro says Klipfolio is now at about 80 people, with plans to grow to a 100-person team by the end of the year.
Shopify is also looking to scale its teams at HQ in Ottawa, with a specific focus on hiring for multiple senior leadership roles from all across Canada.
According to Anna Lambert, Shopify’s director of talent acquisition, the company is scaling its teams to support over 20,000 merchants added to its ecommerce platform in the first quarter of 2017.
“That is substantial growth, and we need to scale with our merchants and continue to build the best products so they can grow their businesses on our platform,” said Lambert. “For us, it isn’t about the number of people we hire, it’s all about quality. We strive to find the best long-term match between a person, their skills and interests, and the problems they could solve at Shopify.”
Overcoming talent challenges, scaling Ottawa’s high-tech sector
When asked whether it’s challenging to attract talent to Canada’s capital, Gibson, Watts, Shapiro, and Lambert agreed that the challenge isn’t a shortage of talent in Canada and abroad, but rather just making Ottawa seem like a viable choice for tech workers.
Lambert says that as these companies try to bring in talent to the city, their aim is to show other Canadian cities and the international talent market “how incredible Ottawa is,” and that its harsh winters are actually bearable.
“I think Ottawa is a little bit of that well-kept secret. The tech community, the world, investors, they all need to know about it.”
– Robert Shapiro,
“The more we can do to showcase the amazing opportunities available in Ottawa, the better,” said Lambert. “Also, offering proper winter coats to newcomers and flexibility around where someone needs to be during the entire month of February doesn’t hurt either.”
Overall, the group agreed that Ottawa’s tech hub is primed to grow as companies spend more energy attracting talent to the city and showcasing what it has to offer to future tech workers.
“I think Ottawa is a little bit of that well-kept secret. The tech community, the world, investors, they all need to know about it and often times they don’t even realize Ottawa’s the capital of Canada,” said Shapiro, adding that attracting new talent will not only help companies, but also help strengthen Ottawa’s tech ecosystem and increase Canada’s presence internationally.
“I think it’s going to be a hugely positive impact. The more talent we can attract here, the better we’re going to be. You’re going to get people who join startups, they’re successful, and they have an exit and then they start companies. I think it just has a wonderful domino affect over the long term because…once people move to Ottawa and experience it, they tend to really want to stay,” said Shapiro.