Company Logo Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Communitech opens new chapter; pays tribute to retiring longtime chair


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With Waterloo Region's technology sector hitting its stride, Communitech Technology Association is starting a new chapter in its history.

During its annual meeting last night, the association paid tribute to John Whitney, who stepped down after nine years as the chair of Communitech's board of directors.

"His contribution to this organization and the technology community has been incredible," said Communitech's president, Iain Klugman.

There has been huge growth in the sector since Whitney began chairing Communitech in 1997, when there were only 50 technology companies with about 5,000 workers, Klugman said.

Today, the sector has about 450 companies employing 29,000 people.

Tim Jackson of Tech Capital Partners in Waterloo will be the new chair and John Keating, chief executive of Com Dev in Cambridge, will be vice-chair.

Jackson said the technology sector is back to a level of activity that hasn't been seen since the stock market boom of the late 1990s.

"The difference is that we now have a critical mass we didn't have 10 years ago," Jackson said.

There is an infrastructure that wasn't here back then, including legal and community resources, as well as large and medium-sized technology companies with mentors who can help the next generation of entrepreneurs, Jackson said.

There is also more access to venture capital funding now than there has been in years, Jackson added.

"So I can't imagine a better time to be involved in technology, not just in the industry, but to be doing it in the Waterloo Region," Jackson said.

Klugman said in the past, Communitech has been focused on fostering the region's entrepreneurial culture and helping new companies get started.

But now, the challenge is to also create an environment in which more entrepreneurs think in terms of growing their companies into giant players, he said.

"We want to say, 'Hey, think about yourself building the next Research In Motion.' "

Klugman said a good example of a company that is "thinking bigger" is Sandvine Inc., which received a Tech Impact award for its contribution to the technology community.

Sandvine, which makes software and hardware for high-speed Internet networks, recently went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange with a $40-million share offering. Also, in March, it went public on the Alternative Investment Market in London.

It has been years since a company in this region dreamed of going public, Klugman said.

"So Sandvine has had a huge impact on the culture and the aspirations in this community."

Another Tech Impact award went to the newly-built Accelerator Centre at the University of Waterloo research and technology park which "has given us a physical rallying point for the technology industry in this region," Klugman said.

Confidence in this region's technology sector showed up in a survey of 300 companies that Communitech conducted this summer.

Although confidence in the general economy is guarded for the coming year, more than 90 per cent of the company executives, mostly in the technology sector, either strongly agreed or agreed that the outlook for their companies looks good.

Also, 94 per cent said they are optimistic about this region's future growth and prosperity.

Among the future activities for Communitech, Klugman said there will be a summit for people who deal with technology within finance, manufacturing and other non-technology companies.

The goal is to foster a broader "sense of community" among technology workers in this region, Klugman said.

He said in places like Silicon Valley, for example, technology workers will say: "I work in the Valley," rather than just a particular company.

That sense of community is important to retaining talent in the region, even during a downturn, Klugman said.

Also at the meeting, Rick Endrulat of Virtual Causeway and Scott Murphy of Data Perceptions received Impact awards for their contributions to Communitech.

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