Recent job cuts by the federal government hit the national capital region hard. So did the high-tech-sector meltdown in 2002, the global economic collapse in 2008, and the demise of Nortel in 2009. Through it all, professor Tony Bailetti has been using a business ecosystem approach to stimulate economic growth in the Ottawa region.
Forget the big-company-doing-it-all, top-down business model. “A large number of diverse entrepreneurs can do more for our region with less,” says Bailetti. He suggests “ants”: many small companies united by a common platform in a decentralized business ecosystem.
That platform unites various functions in industries by promoting transactions between members of the ecosystem and by sharing resources, including funding, mentors, and open-source technology.
As each ant goes about its business, it draws what it needs from the labour of others in the system and contributes in kind. The number of ants and their interconnections could create a healthy and robust ecosystem—if one particular company fails, the damage to the system is lessened.
Drawing on his dual expertise as a professor in the Sprott School of Business and the department of systems and computer engineering, Bailetti launched his business ecosystem in 2002 to help retain tech jobs in the national capital region. He created and self-funded Lead to Win, a free platform to help entrepreneurs. After participants develop their ideas into a business opportunity, with mentoring and resources from Lead to Win, they grow their business with the goal of creating six new jobs in three years.
The program’s first cohort of 29 people from 2002 was involved in founding 15 businesses that created more than 300 jobs in Ottawa and attracted $90 million in investment. Tech companies that were fledglings at the time, like network-integrity specialists Nakina Systems, are still going strong, along with Liquid Computing and Purple Forge. Today, Lead to Win has helped more than 350 entrepreneurs launch and grow businesses and is backed by the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program, the City of Ottawa, Invest Ottawa, the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, the Ontario Talent First Network, and the program’s 2002 alumni.
Lead to Win has evolved from its tech roots into multiple economic sectors. Bailetti is currently planning ways to utilize the diverse talents of former civil servants and set them on the road to creating companies as he did with the tech sector.