How One Entrepreneur Made Fostering Tech Startups Part of His Code

By Stefanie Neyland, Small Business Content Developer at

It’s a familiar sight. You walk into your local coffee shop to grab a java-to-go, when you’re suddenly struck by the number of professionals dispersed around the store, sat on their laptops while they sip on a latte. Once upon a time, you might have assumed they were students working on that all-important paper—or perhaps a traveller stopping by to catch up on his emails from home. But not anymore.

Coffee shops are becoming somewhat of a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity, playing home to startups working day in day out on what might just turn out to be the next Google or Facebook. Ian Graham recognized this, and quickly realized there was a need for a creative,  collaborative workspace for entrepreneurs and early-stage businesses. His answer was The Code Factory, a startup incubator located in Ottawa’s downtown core that combines the ambience of a coffee shop with the energy of a visionary tech company. Today, we catch up with Ian and discuss his pledge to foster entrepreneurship, helping fledgling businesses grow, and how Staples’ technical services once helped him out of a very sticky situation.


Ian, when you first started out your business model was one-of-a-kind. What inspired you to start The Code Factory?

IG: There were two main inspirations for the business. As a consultant working from home I often met with clients in coffee shops, and I soon realized how much I liked the vibe and feel of them. I’d also helped to organize DemoCamps (a kind of technology show-and-tell event for startups) in Ottawa, and really enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm of young companies showing their latest technology creations for fun and feedback. I thought to myself: “Wouldn’t it be great if you could combine the vibe of a coffee shop, with the energy and enthusiasm of a DemoCamp, in a place where you could work every day?” Thus, the idea of The Code Factory was born in March 2007.


How long have you been in business?

IG: The Code Factory will have been in business for six years in February 2014. Time flies!


What makes your business unique?

IG: When we opened our first facility in February 2008, The Code Factory was a very original concept. Since then there have been tons of other similar businesses popping up across the globe, but we continue to make sure we stay ahead of the times and keep up with our competitors. We moved our business to a new location in the spring of 2013, and are looking forward to 2014 which will be a year of change for us as we continue to lead and innovate in how we support early-stage businesses.


What is your secret for 'making more happen'?

IG: I am a big believer in business plans; setting goals for the coming year(s) and implementing systems to achieve them. We stay organized as a team by having the right business systems and processes to support us. We have metrics to make sure we focus on what’s important to us—and more importantly, what’s important to our customers.

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

IG: We were an early catalyst and facilitator of the downtown Ottawa web and mobile ecosystem, hosting over 1,000 community-based events from 2008 to 2012. Our business made some significant contributions to this community when we were starting out and I’m immensely proud of that.

What is your biggest challenge, and how do you overcome it?

IG: The challenges you face tend to change as your business—and the market—evolves. Early on we were the only player in our industry, so the challenge then was getting noticed by our customers, because not only was our business new, but the whole concept of our business was new as well. Throw a global recession in the fall of 2008 and a bus strike shortly after we started into the mix, and you have a business that started in conditions of extreme adversity. However, we survived—and thrived—and the business continues to evolve as we find our niche and become even better at what we do.

Which marketing channels have worked best for getting word out about your business?

IG: The Code Factory is an O2O (Online to Offline) business, and our best marketing tools are definitely our website and social media. We consider sales and marketing one of our core competencies, and like to think we’re becoming highly proficient in all aspects of digital marketing.

What’s the best thing about owning your own business?

IG: As somewhat of a control-junkie, I would have to say being able to make snap decisions is a big plus for me!

How has your business evolved over time?

IG: The business has evolved in three dimensions since starting up. When we first launched, The Code Factory was a community resource that provided event and co-working space. Since then, we have evolved into a private resource offering workspace and incubation programming.

Is running your business harder than you thought it would be?

IG: Yes, much harder than I could have ever possibly imagined—but I love it!

To what do you attribute your success so far?

IG: Persistence, the willingness to learn and adapt, and having great advisors who are able to draw from their own experiences to help us move the business forward.

What are your goals for the future?

IG: Our five year goal is to have 10 locations throughout Canada, with each facility producing 30 new businesses and 250 new knowledge-based jobs per year.

What’s the most important item you buy at Staples?

IG: For us, the most important item we buy from Staples is actually a service. We use Staples’ technical and computer support services regularly.

How has Staples helped you make more happen for your business?

IG: I brought my computer—which had just ‘blue-screened’—to a technician at my nearest Staples location in Ottawa. The advisor was awesome and helped get my computer back up and running without any data loss in just a day or two. As a small business, paying just $140 to have my computer repaired—as well as suffering no data loss in the process—was a huge deal in terms of cost and time savings. We count on Staples for a lot of our small business and office supply needs, but having quality technical support is incredibly valuable to us.

Have you ever been surprised by something you’ve found at Staples?

IG: This may be kind of nerdy, but I love to walk through the office supply aisle and look for ideas on how to get more organized!

What advice would you give to people who want to start their own business?

IG: If it were too easy, anyone could do it. All the hard work and persistence you put into building a great business puts distance between you and your competitors. Work hard, stay focused on your customers, and keep at it—you’ll find success in the end.


By Andrew Patricio

December 30, 2013