OTTAWA – Freshly axed public servants can find an ally in Ian Graham.
President of The Code Factory — an Ottawa space for entrepreneurs to network and develop their startups — Graham is looking to nurture nascent business ideas from government employees with entrepreneurial spirit.
"It's scary," he said. "It's a lot of unknowns and very different from what (they) used to do."
He's seen signs of trepidation at the first few information sessions for his brand new government-to-startup concept.
But Graham has also seen public servants genuinely excited to be free from the shackles of drudgery.
"It's kind of like you're handcuffed when you're in there," he said.
He's tried to capture that newfound freedom in the program's tagline: "Putting passion back to work."
Public servants are good candidates for entrepreneurial ventures because they generally have strong areas of expertise, Graham said, grabbing a whiteboard to demonstrate.
"What that means is that the domain of knowledge you build up tends to be like this” — he scrawled a vertical line on a hastily-drawn chart — “a thin, deep slice of knowledge. You know a lot about a very kind of specific thing."
He gestured with the dry-erase marker.
"If you're starting your own business, what you need is knowledge like that," he said, drawing a horizontal line.
"You need to know sales, you need to know accounting, you need to know bookkeeping — you need to know everything."
Graham has cooked up and tested the two-year program, during which he will help public servants transform their business ideas into reality.
He hopes to have the first cohort of eight to 10 people begin in October.
"We give them a structured approach," he said.
The first year focuses on assembling the elements of a strong business plan.
"The second year is all about validating your business model and making money," he said.
"I think it's important to do an element of business planning before you do your product development, because if you rush into product development, guaranteed you're going to make something that isn't what you wanted."
Public servants will not find themselves on totally unfamiliar ground.
Having inhabited a world of jargon in which the feds take "targeted action" to maximize "impactful effect," as one recent federal press release said, public servants will not shrink from Graham's "shifting paradigms" and "bootstrap business incubators."
Then again, Graham's jargon might actually mean something. Because unlike the government, he's making money.