Ottawa centre caters to software entrepreneurs

Having to resort to local coffee shops to conduct business meetings was in part a driver behind home-based business owner Ian Graham’s TheCodeFactory, an Ottawa-based innovation centre for young entrepreneurs in need of office space and like-minded dialogue.

“What I like about the coffee shop is the relaxed and informal atmosphere, but the downside is everyone next to you can hear what you’re saying,” said Graham, the owner of Klondike Marketing and Consulting.

TheCodeFactory, an initiative that’s been one year in the works and launched this week, offers private office space as well as more informal co-working space fully-equipped with Web access and a complimentary coffee bar.

Targeted primarily at software developers and generally members of the software ecosystem, as well as students and independent consultants, Graham said the 5,500-square-foot facility will let entrepreneurs focus on the business instead of worrying about setting up telecom services, negotiating an office lease, or employing a receptionist.

Tenants of the private office space can enter into a 12-month lease and have access to business support like administrative, telecom, and janitorial services. On another floor, the co-working space can be used at hourly or monthly rates.

But besides meeting the need for better space befitting a business, Graham was also motivated by an observed change in work habits: young people in particular engage in a collaborative model that connects pools of resources when required and later disband. “Companies are becoming flatter and doing more partnerships and stuff like that. And I think TheCodeFactory is a step in that direction.”

Graham said he isn’t aware of anything in the business community like TheCodeFactory, and “it’s in a way like the water cooler would have been in a hierarchical organization, like a club house where people can gather and discuss ideas and meet other people.”

According to CATA Alliance board member Eli Fathi (and former board member with the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation), Canada needs more “incubation spaces” like TheCodeFactory to push commercialization. He noted, however, that while numerous business centres exist, they lack certain value adds – on top of the usual Web access and computer equipment – like the opportunity to get “involved with other people of similar minds, desires and ambitions.”

“[TheCodeFactory] is basically a Tim Hortons but targeting entrepreneurs, which is a great way of doing it,” said Fathi.

The long-term impact of such initiatives like this on the business community, he said, is to encourage other companies and groups to start similar incubation centres across the country and to promote a young entrepreneurial spirit among universities and highschools. The issue in Canada is not so much a lack of intelligent people, he said, rather “a shortage of being able to guide them to the next level.”

In an effort to spark entrepreneurialism in young minds, the centre has an agreement with Carleton University to provide passes to students to the co-working space so they may learn through osmosis. “This is the ideal setting for students with great ideas to come together, to network and to collaborate with the hope that we will see new and exciting technology companies launched in Ottawa,” said Luc Lalande, director of Carleton’s innovation transfer office.

TheCodeFactory currently has three tenants, but eventually as occupants grow, Graham wants to introduce a double-blind merit-based qualification process where candidates’ business cases get reviewed by a voluntary panel of 60 people. The added element of collaboration is candidates can later arrange to communicate with a panel member who may have provided useful commentary on their business case during the qualification process.

The facilities’ IT, telecom and coffee services are provided by local partners – but, the coffee in particular is an essential ingredient in the innovation recipe, said Graham. “You know what, it’s a small thing, it really is. But it’s kind of like the creative juice.”

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