Learn about Ottawa
Many of you reach out to us about life and work in various Canadian cities. We’re starting a series where we interview interesting people from those cities
Our interview with Ryan Gibson from Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards. Ryan has been a long time Ottawa resident and an evangelist for the city.
What is it like to live and work in Ottawa
I have lived in a few places and nothing compares to the quality of life that’s available in Canada’s capital. A comment I hear often is “big town benefits with a small-town feel”. Over one million people now call Ottawa home and over the past decade, it’s really come into its own: Emerging food scenes, internationally renowned festivals, burgeoning neighbourhoods, museums, miles and miles of waterfront, even more green space and a diverse culture. But when you get down to the essentials, Ottawa is a global tech hub with thousands of job opportunities, short commute times and is one of North Americas’ most affordable cities to live in.
Could you tell us about the tech landscape of Ottawa? Who are some of the big companies based in Canada?
Ottawa has a very rich and storied tech history. Depending on who you ask, some say our innovation chops emerged almost 100 years ago. However, the tech ecosystem really took off around the late 1990’s. Ottawa was a global epicentre of high tech. Companies were riding the wave of the internet boom. It was led by Nortel which employed approximately 60,000 people (Fun Fact: Today Google employs 51,000 people worldwide). More than 11% of the city's population work in tech. Today, little has changed. Ottawa has the highest concentration of tech workers in North America and big brands like Shopify (their HQ is in Ottawa) continue to drive innovation and growth. The future looks even better with Ottawa quickly becoming the autonomous vehicles capital of Canada. Oh, and by the way; we are home to Kanata North, the country’s largest technology park.
What is the startup scene like - new technologies and companies being founded. Tech accelerators, coworking space etc. Any big tech wins?
Every year keeps getting better and better. There are dozens of new companies emerging every year. Two recent success stories are Farmlead, one of the world’s top Ag-Tech companies and MindBridge, an AI auditor which has caught the attention of almost every major financial institution in the world. They both have raised MILLIONS IN? capital and are hiring. As for the community, there are at least one dozen accelerators and even more co-working spaces. Finally, there are nearly an endless amount of meetups and events: AccelerateOTT, TedXKanata, Tech Tuesday, ProductHunt Ottawa, SAAS North, Fresh Founders, etc,
How is Ottawa for students, are there any big engineering schools and do they have a growing number of foreign students?
The backbone of our tech sector has been the quality of home-grown talent. Ottawa is home to four post-secondary institutions, with a combined student population of over 130,000. About 20% of them specialize in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). And if you break out foreign students, they make up around 23,000 of the student body.
Can you describe your city in terms of living for young professionals and families. Housing, parks, schools, recreational activities, food, coffee scene etc
Housing and quality of life is still a key attraction for both groups. Buying a home in Ottawa will cost dramatically less than Toronto, Vancouver and other major tech hubs in North America. The capital really skews to an outdoor lifestyle with over 850 parks in the area, an abundance of mountains, beaches, camping, skiing, golfing, the world’s largest outdoor skating rink and hundreds of freshwater lakes. Geographically speaking, Ottawa is a BIG city. And there is a neighbourhood for every taste; from the trendy and vibrant neighbourhoods of Hintonburg and Westboro, to the historic and charming locales of the Byward Market and Lowertown. If you are looking for more space and quiet, Kanata is just a short bike ride from Canada’s largest technology park or commute in from Manotick, which affords small town living within the big city. And as for the food & culture scene, there is too much to encompass in this space, so I suggest starting here!
What is the winter like in Ottawa and how do people cope?
Haha! People cope just fine. Fun Fact: There are American cities like Minneapolis, Minnesota and Bangor, Maine, which have colder winters than us! Winter in Ottawa can be a fantastic experience. The city is surrounded by ski hills, over 430 kilometres of cross-country trails and the world’s largest outdoor skating rink runs right through the middle of our city. We also have Winterlude, a giant party for two weeks in the middle of February, which attracts millions of people to Ottawa.