Oct 28, 2022
Building secure products keeps getting harder. The increasing threat environment, expanding attack surface, and continuous stakeholder demands for transparency make it an ongoing challenge that is here to stay. Small wonder companies need support throughout their growth lifecycle.
Thankfully there is help close at hand. Ottawa is one of the best places to start and run a cybersecurity company. Worldwide leaders like Nokia seem to agree; their recent selection of Ottawa for a cutting-edge cybersecurity campus puts them in good company with some of the field’s most interesting innovators.
Since October is cybersecurity awareness month, we thought we’d close out the month with 10 reasons why Ottawa is the perfect base for cybersecurity operations.
Ottawa hosts many technology and communication giants, such as Nokia, Microsoft, Accenture, BlackBerry QNX, Ericsson, and Juniper Networks. Not only do these companies contribute heavily to cybersecurity research and development, but they help create an environment where smaller companies can learn and thrive.
James Nguyen, co-founder and CEO of Quantropi, an innovative data-encryption company, targets companies in the Forbes Global 2000, many of which are based in Ottawa. The company’s proximity to their target market is helpful when testing out product features and when needing access to research and the job market. “Our company co-founder worked at Nortel, Mitel, and Newbridge – all companies that are leading the infrastructure of today’s digital economy,” he explains. “It’s hugely helpful to have access to people with deep backgrounds in optical networks, carrier equipment, IoT OEMs, and communication backbone technologies – all components that our solution will ultimately secure.” Nguyen adds that Ottawa’s cybersecurity expertise includes industry leaders such as Brian O’Higgins, a pioneer of the currently dominant authentication technology public key infrastructure (PKI), who calls Ottawa home.
Nortel was a world-class communication technology company that at its height had a value one-third the Toronto Stock Exchange. Their Ottawa R&D headquarters was a dominant local employer before the company collapsed. But just as the death of a massive tree results in an explosion of life, the dissolution of Nortel in 2009 released thousands of talented engineers and scientists into the Ottawa employment ecosystem, helping nourish an already growing tech ecosystem with a massive influx of talent and startups.
Laying the claim to the title “Silicon Valley North”, Ottawa has over 2,000 startups. The CEO of thriving local startup Field Effect, Matthew Holland, explains: “Ottawa has a startup mentality that is intense and purpose driven. People love working at growing companies that have an exciting pace and we really benefit from the energy of Ottawa’s vibrant startup community.”
This Ottawa-based ecosystem is not just an attractive target for visionary startups, but also for investments and venture capital. Invest Ottawa’s Venture Path programming has supported 820 companies to date with $1.1 B in investment raised and over 3000 jobs created as of March 2022.
While it’s a huge benefit to have a thriving technology ecosystem in general, many of the tech companies in the capital region are specifically focused on cybersecurity. This provides a strong and self-reinforcing group of cybersecurity businesses. The Ottawa-Gatineau cybersecurity cluster, which helps promote cybersecurity innovators, firms, and capabilities across the region, is spearheaded by Invest Ottawa and In-Sec-M, and is supported by municipal, provincial, and federal governments. The cluster is a business catalyst for the cybersecurity industry that boasts over 100 member companies, providing a simple way to connect with cybersecurity experts in Canada’s capital region and throughout the country. Members of the cluster provide cybersecurity solutions, services, consultation, research, training, and education, and target both industry and government agencies.
The combination of Ottawa and Gatineau comprises the National Capital Region: one large metropolitan area with a unique multilingual culture that embraces both English and French. Being able to easily attract people from Ontario as well as Quebec turns out to be a benefit for companies too. As James Nguyen of Quantropi says, “Having the Quebec border so close to us gives us access to French experts and speakers – something that’s not just important for robust technology but also for maintaining diversity, an essential ingredient to our corporate culture.”
As the seat of Canada’s government, Ottawa has some federal cybersecurity clout. Part of Canada’s communication security establishment is the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (the Cyber Centre). This Ottawa-based organization helps advise everyone on cybersecurity, including individuals, small and medium companies, large enterprises, government institutions, and academia. They also help foster connections between industry and government agencies, making it possible for companies inventing cybersecurity technology to get the ultimate approval and backing of the government.
Meanwhile, the RCMP operates the National Cybercrime Coordination Centre (NC3) out of Ottawa. NC3 is an organization that coordinates cybercrime investigations, works with international partners to combat cybercrime, and advises Canadian police forces on the growing threats of computer-related crimes, ransomware, and attacks. Similarly, the national security agency Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), is also headquartered in Ottawa. As Field Effect’s Matthew Holland says, “CSIS has many experts in cybercrime and cyberterrorism; they provide a source of knowledge that cannot be found in the private sector.”
Ottawa also boasts cyber research and activities within its universities and colleges. Post-secondary schools with active cybersecurity programs and research – such as the University of Ottawa (uOttawa), Carleton University, Algonquin College, Willis College and La Cité – help drive research in the field. As examples, uOttawa is building an interdisciplinary cybersecurity hub to address the threat of cyberattacks and cybercrime with contributions from both academia and industry, while Carleton hosts the CyberSEA research lab, which conducts advanced research for developing cybersecure software systems. As a bonus, graduating students create an ever-renewing talent pool that local companies draw upon.
As the world has been discovering through news reports on the Ukraine war, understanding and deploying cyber technologies can be crucial both at home and on the battlefield. The Department of National Defence (DND) recognises that cyberspace is a domain of operations and is critical for the conduct of modern military operations. DND’s cyber forces are military and civilian personnel that generate, employ and develop cyber operations, network operations and cyber mission assurance. With a significant Ottawa presence that continues to grow through projects working with companies in the region such as General Dynamics Mission Systems, DND helps bolster the local cybersecurity talent and expertise in areas that the private sector cannot match.
The local cybersecurity talent in Ottawa – whether from government, startups, multinationals, or academia – is certainly attractive for employers. “Ottawa is known for being a hub for tech talent and it’s something we rely on, Holland says, “It’s not just cybersecurity engineering we need – whether it’s technical marketing, sales, or other high-tech roles, the Ottawa job market continues to fill our positions.” Organizations like Invest Ottawa and others hold matchmaking events and career fairs that are great for both employers and employees. In the National Capital Region, growing companies have a lot of talent to hire, and employees who are looking to move into new companies or positions have always got options.
As the lead economic development agency for knowledge-based industries in Canada’s capital, Invest Ottawa is a resource that many regional businesses tap into. As an example, the development agency assisted in building out a sales enablement strategy for Field Effect. Holland says that Invest Ottawa has been amazing in getting Field Effect the support they need: “Getting outside help when you’re in growth mode is so useful. You can only do so many things yourself so getting specialists in specific positions and extra boots on the ground can get you over critical times. What’s more, Invest Ottawa wants to help – they’re proactively engaged.”
Bridging talent gaps, business coaching, and connecting networks are all critical services that can make or break growing companies. By providing these services and guidance regardless of where a company is in its growth cycle – even mature companies – Invest Ottawa goes out of their way to build up businesses in the Ottawa area.
Invest Ottawa also operates two other organizations in the capital region: Bayview Yards and Area X.O. Bayview Yards is an innovation Hub, a one-stop business acceleration shop and a technology base camp for Ottawa-area entrepreneurs. It also hosts the Canadian Cyber Forum – a once-a-month meetup where local cybersecurity professionals and business leaders get together to exchange ideas, network, and explore new opportunities.
Another Ottawa gem is Area X.O, a research and development complex for the acceleration and commercialization of smart mobility, communications, smart agriculture, drone, and smart city technology. For cybersecurity initiatives, Area X.O provides a test bed for infrastructure and testing solutions against real-life conditions – a cybersecurity sandbox for companies who need to trial their solutions before they become products.
Those are our top ten reasons why the National Capital Region is the best place in Canada for cybersecurity companies and initiatives.
Want one more? How about CAV Canada 2022?
This hybrid (in-person and virtual) event will be on December 5 and will talk about how smart mobility innovations like connected autonomous cars, electric vehicles, and drones are revolutionizing how we work, live, and play. It will bring cybersecurity expertise into the equation by discussing how these critical transportation capabilities are being protected today and in the future. And of course – it’s held in Ottawa.