Friday, March 23, 2012

Ontario IT Buyers Forum - Toronto and Ottawa - Up, Up and Away

Earlier this week I posted about a mini road show I was about to go on, with events in Toronto and Ottawa. Well, am back now, and I'd say it was pretty successful all around. This was the 2012 IT Buyers Forum, sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, with some help from the Export Development Corporation and Invest Ottawa.

It's a good example of a government program designed to support local tech companies and bring international buyers to their doorstep. So, in both cities, there was a group of representatives from five countries - China, Japan, Mexico, Brazil and Turkey. The speakers were from various operators, private companies and industry groups, and all told, we got a solid overview of what's happening in those markets in terms of carrier deployments, tech adoption and the growing role of IT.

On the local side, there was a wide range of Ontario-based vendors who would love to do business in these markets, and we had a good mix of small companies and more established players who are already selling internationally.

My role in all this was to set the table and provide an overview of key trends I'm seeing in telecom and IT, and from all the feedback so far, my commentary was well received. I certainly made my share of new contacts with both local tech companies and the international contingent, so I have some promising follow ups to make now. I also have some intriguing overseas opportunities now that need exploration, so who knows where that could go? All in a day's work.

Waving the Canadian flag, I'll just leave you with this thought. We need programs like this to help companies grow, especially globally. Most of the companies here were pretty small, but seem to have good technology. This is pretty typical, especially for Canadian companies, and there's a host of reasons why most stay small, despite bigger aspirations.

After a lot of hallway and table-talk, there's no doubt these companies aspire to be on a big stage, but there's a cautionary tale here. Canada hasn't had much success creating Tier 1 world beaters in the tech/telecom space. We had Nortel for a while, and it wouldn't be impossible for RIM could slip away. That's not the plan, but they have a pretty big hole to dig out from.

Anyhow, the Ontario government is doing the right thing here, and am glad they're not overselling the future. It must be hard for small companies to set a realistic growth goal - we just can't seem to create really big ones here. Of course, the Ottawa event was right in the shadow of Mitel's offices, and in my books, they'd be the biggest fish in our pond if RIM were to fall. I really like Mitel, and maybe that's about as big we as we can make them these days. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and for now let's just focus on getting some deals done with the participants who came from so away. At least we gave them some balmy weather, and that just might fool them into thinking it's like that all year round.

Well, probably not, but as per the title of this post, up, up and away is still the vibe I got from the experience. So, kudos to the hosts, and I hope the international visitors came away with some great relationships that will help put some of our homegrown companies on a bigger map.

Coda - this was a private event, so I couldn't take photos of the sessions. Instead, I have another take on the up, up and away theme that came from an unusual confluence of events that took place over the past couple of day. Hope you like it...

8am, Tuesday - looking up AT the CN Tower from the 35th floor, shrouded in the Toronto morning fog

7pm, Tuesday - looking down FROM the top of the CN Tower, the highest observation point you can get to in North America. It's not a skyscraper, but tops out at 1,815', well ahead of the Willis Tower (nee Sears Tower) in Chicago, at 1,450'. Both will be surpassed by the new World Trade Center in NYC, but for now, Toronto is tops.

4pm, Wednesday - I'm not done yet going up. Now I'm flying to Ottawa for part 2 of the trip. Not sure of my elevation here, but am definitely higher up than the CN Tower. Really tried to get a shot from here looking down on the CN Tower, but couldn't get the right view - dang.

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