About 125 people came to hear more about CENGN, an industry-led consortium backed by $11.7 million of federal government funding, and its goal to help 12 to 15 small to medium-sized businesses a year bring their technologies to market within three to 15 months.
CEO Ritch Dusome said the turnout across the country – 75 in Toronto, 60 in Vancouver and 25 each in Edmonton and Montreal – was pretty much what he had expected.
“I think it’s going to take some time to get the word out. We only went to five cities,” he said. “We’re also going to do a couple virtual sessions so that, let’s say, people in Halifax and Calgary and a few other cities that we didn’t go to physically will have an opportunity to hear this same message but just not in person.”
He said the group is already thinking of doing next year’s road show in segments to hit more cities. The purpose of the tour, Dusome said, was to connect with companies who might be a fit and to let them know about the online application process, which began in early January. Applications close Feb. 27. Successful candidates will be notified in March and will have until late April to get their presentations ready for a pitchfest, which will either happen live in Kanata or virtually for companies that are too far away.
The tour has also provided a great opportunity for prospective companies to connect with CENGN partner firms, potentially speeding up the process. If a CENGN partner company finds a fit and the candidate meets all the criteria, that company will advance directly to the program without having to go through the subcommittee approval and pitchfest process. Dusome said one company has already been fast-tracked but wouldn’t identify it yet.
“It’s kind of a nice ‘Made in Canada’ story,” he said.
Shahzad Khan, president and CTO of Ottawa analytics startup gnowit, said he is hoping his company also gets fast-tracked. He said he is in early talks with CENGN member Cisco Systems, and the discussions are going well so far.
“They are surprised we can actually provide the type of solution we can at the price point we offered,” Khan said.
CENGN is focused on seven specific areas that Mr. Dusome said were targeted by its members: software defined networks and network function virtualization; Internet of Things; data centre/cloud; network transport; security; network applications; and network mobility. Dusome said he uses this breakdown to help identify where the new technologies are being applied as well as to try to attract new CENGN members.
“Let’s say 80 per cent of our proposals come in the mobile space, then I’m probably going to go around to the mobile operators and say, ‘Listen, you guys should be plugged in to this,’” he said. The seven areas will be tweaked over time, Dusome added.
“The world changes and you have to build to adapt and that’s what we’ll plan to do,” he said.
Syntronic R&D Canada’s managing director, Hans Molin, said his company,which arrived in Canada late last year, is all about the Internet of Things. It has a hardware lab right next door to the centre, and Molin said he came to the road show to see if “we can find synergies working with CENGN, working with a CENGN member, and also with SMEs.”
He said he is taking it “step by step” but added there could be opportunities for Syntronic on both ends of the CENGN program. Dusome said he heard some really good ideas at all five stops across the country.
“I always say Canadians always punch above their weight class, and I believe that’s true. They’re very innovative and maybe some of them just haven’t had a chance,” he said.
CENGN member Allstream’s director of network engineering, Chris Schmidt, agreed. Tuesday’s stop was the only one he attended personally, but Allstream was represented at all the stops and the feedback has been positive.
“They’re really amazed by the different kinds of ideas and the different kinds of companies coming to the road shows, and we’re just real excited to get the process going,” he said.
Nearby L-Spark’s accelerator for enterprise software announced recently that even though it had room for six companies, it could only find two that met its criteria. CENGN is looking for 15 SMEs. Each member company is supposed to back one entrant, but Dusome said some members are already asking to support more.
“When I hear that, it tells me we won’t have an issue (filling the space),” he said.