Ottawa’s once robust tech community, dubbed Silicon Valley North in the heady days of the late 1990s, is in transition. All the big players, such as Nortel, Corel and Cognos, have either folded or been sold, and the companies remaining are mostly early-stage startups that have little, if any, revenue.

What they do have are eager mentors at Shopify, which at any given time hosts one or more of these outfits at its office, sharing resources, knowledge and experience. “And the best part is, they’re encouraging other companies to follow their example, so the transfer of knowledge and energy is contagious,” says Bruce Lazenby of Invest Ottawa, the city’s economic-development arm.

Recently, Shopify hosted a 52-Hour Entrepreneur contest, during which 100 developers, designers and other business hopefuls occupied Shopify’s headquarters over a weekend, vying to see who could build the best company from scratch. “It was packed,” says Finkelstein. “People built their own workspaces, and they essentially worked in teams from Friday to Sunday straight.” The winner—a website that allows users to upload their own tattoo designs, then have local tattoo artists submit bids for the work—will now compete against 52-Hour Entrepreneur winners from other cities throughout North America.

It’s a nice give-back to the community, but also a useful profile-building exercise. “Of course, all this mentorship benefits Shopify,” says Lazenby. “They get to see talent first-hand, and maybe plug some of these people into their recruitment pipeline.”


No one is going to accuse Shopify of thinking small: Lütke’ objective is an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange by 2015—at the latest. “It’s an audacious goal,” he concedes, “but to take Shopify public is a long-standing dream of mine. I love this idea of participating in the full spectrum of what capitalism has to offer.”

Can it be done so soon? “The business definitely has the potential,” says Wertz of Version One. Oelschig, an investor, is more bullish. “We’re lucky enough to be invested in some of the best companies in Silicon Valley, and Shopify is as good as any of those,” he says. “When products work as well as Shopify’s do, companies tend to grow very, very quickly.”

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