Completing the Circle: Ottawa’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Startup journalism ecosystem chart

Startup journalism ecosystem chart

For startup journalism to really work, it will take a healthy ecosystem – one that includes universities, mainstream media partners, the technology community and public support.

I’ve been travelling all fall, talking to entrepreneurs and academics from across North America about how to encourage media innovation and motivate students.

But now I’m back at home – and drawing on the eager and passionate mentors and business success stories in Canada’s capital.  In the following posts, I’m going to highlight just some of the people and companies that are part of Ottawa’s ecosystem.




photo-4Some startups in this city are building tools to be marketed to journalists. These are the creators of technology that can help us do our job.

GnowitMohammad Al-Azzouni and Shanzad Khan run Gnowit out of Ottawa’s economic development incubator, Invest Ottawa. It’s a media monitoring company. But this company’s technology drills down and customizes the data it monitors for its sources.

Khan says for some clients it’s used almost like a wire service – they receive email alerts. And they can map out “interest graphs” to show what’s going on that might be of interest.

Right now, Gnowit has nine employees. And it hopes to hire someone with a journalism/communications background in the new year.

“Within the next year we want to start growing, said Al Azzouni. “Content marketing is really important now. We need people like that. It’s really important to have writers, to do blogs, to be thought leaders.”



More and more, the new media landscape will see journalists and programmers working together to build and break great stories.

So understanding how to best display web-based journalism requires some coding knowledge and skill. Journalists don’t need to be coders. (This continues to be a great debate). But they should understand how browsers, the cloud and websites work. A bit of coding knowledge also helps. (I am still learning everyday.)

 Ladies Learning Code:  I actually did a story about this not-for-profit organization when it first set up a chapter in Ottawa a couple years ago. It runs several different kinds of coding/computing workshops for women (men are welcome too). Its aim is take away the fear (especially for women) of tackling the technology.

I went to a Ladies Learning Code workshop last summer to learn about HTML/CSS. It was quite an intense eight-hour day at the Shopify office in Ottawa’s Byward Market. (It cost $50 including a nice lunch.)

I got a good grounding in HTML/CSS and it has helped me develop this interactive site. LLC is based in Toronto but has chapters across the country including Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax and Vancouver. It has also started a program for girls and kids to learn code.

Ladies Learning Code uses a cost-effective model that draws on young, volunteer talent in each community in which it operates. Tiffany Tse is one of the instructors. She works at a small, Ottawa technology startup and she teaches coding at Algonquin College. Volunteering for LLC is something she squeezes into her spare time.

“The basic coding skills workshop is about teaching people how to teach themselves, because you can only teach so much in the classroom. We post links like youtube videos and give supplementary information so they can teach themselves,” said Tse.



Entrepreneur and startup coach, Rob Woodbridge has deep roots in Ottawa’s technology community.  Woodbridge is experienced in startup development, but recently he pivoted into storytelling. With some simple, cheap equipment Woodbridge brings mobile and new media stories to his subscribers. Check it out.

He says this web based TV show allows him to get to the CEOs who might like to hire him for his advice in digital, mobile and media innovation. For Woodbridge is all about reaching out and brand building.

“Now that I do it, I love doing it. It’s addictive,” said Woodbridge.

“I’m not a journalist. I actually hate the fact I love it. But I’d rather be doing this than anything else right now.”

Not long ago Woodbridge spent a year inside Post Media, trying to help the vast, traditional media operation figure out how to make it into the future by developing a digital strategy. Woodbridge says when it comes to the churn and change of the media industry, newspapers are the canary in the coal mine.

“At some point TV will suffer even more.”

One answer, according to Woodbridge (and he’s definitely not alone in this) is the development of hyper-local news, and making that news, its collection and delivery more audience focused.

“Like having mobile ads pop up, depending on where the phone owner is,” said Woodbridge. “Look at niche blogs, there’s a ton of money to be made.”

His advice to the young, entrepreneurial journalist: Go out and interview people – what do they want? Brand yourself. And then do content marketing.

“How do you create a market? Tell your story. Then use analytics to see what’s resonating with people.”

Starting Startups


Click here to see video of James Baxter of iPolitics

(For startup journalism to really work, it will take a healthy ecosystem – drawing on the eager and passionate mentors and business success stories in Canada’s capital.  I’ve highlighted some of the people and companies that are part of Ottawa’s ecosystem.)

 iPolitics:  Experienced reporter, James Baxter modeled his upstart digital news organization on  (a politics and government digital news source in the U.S.) As editor and publisher, Baxter’s message to readers is: “Canadians deserve a venue where this country’s unique political personalities and policy issues are reported on fairly, discussed by experts and debated in an open arena, all in a timely and efficient manner.” Three years in, he believes the iPolitics team is finding success doing just that. But Baxter wants to do more.

“We should have someone in Alberta, BC and Quebec,” said Baxter of his reporting staff. Right now iPolitics has seven reporters and a few, part-time contributing editors in various parts of the country and world.

The organization was built thanks to private funding by “a family with a long history in journalism” along with help from some public funding agencies. Baxter says he’s been very careful about who to partner with – as iPolitics wants to maintain its integrity and independence.

And while he wants his own organization to grow, Baxter is also interested in helping incubate other digital, journalism enterprises.

“Create a hot house with a collection of programmers and journalists that come up with their own ideas.”

This would make iPolitics a very important instigator in the startup journalism ecosystem.

Bring it on.