Interim no more: Sonya Shorey named president and CEO of Invest Ottawa

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Invest Ottawa has turned to one of its longest-serving executives to lead the organization as it tackles challenges ranging from kickstarting the downtown economy to encouraging more co-operation between tech clusters in Kanata and other parts of the region.

The city’s lead economic development agency announced Monday that Sonya Shorey, who has served as IO’s interim president and CEO since its former boss Michael Tremblay left late last year, will assume those responsibilities on a full-time basis.

Shorey spent more than six years as the organization’s vice-president of strategy, marketing and communications before taking over for Tremblay last December. 

She told OBJ her goals include bringing more diversity to Invest Ottawa’s programming, “doubling down on Ottawa as a startup capital” and helping entrepreneurs in IO’s scaleup programs tap into global markets.

Shorey said the organization also needs to work together with government officials and other business groups such as the Ottawa Board of Trade to tackle urgent priorities such as sparking economic growth in the city’s beleaguered downtown core.

“Those are really big opportunities, and I recognize we also face significant challenges as a region, particularly when we look at some of the priorities related to our downtown,” she said.

The 51-year-old, who graduated from Carleton University in 1996 with a degree in English and political science, brings nearly three decades of experience in the tech sector to her new role. 

After beginning her career as a recruitment manager at Calian, Shorey held senior communications posts at Nortel Networks and CMC Microsystems before starting her own consulting company.

“I have always been fascinated by tech and innovation and business,” she explained. “I wanted to work in the tech sector. I was tireless and relentless in that pursuit.”

Shorey’s connection to Bayview Yards, which now houses Invest Ottawa, stretches back to 2015, when she helped get the Innovation Centre at the former city works building off the ground as one of its first hires. 

She later played a pivotal role in launching IO initiatives such as Area X.O, a 1,866-acre autonomous vehicle technology testing site on Woodroffe Avenue that opened in 2019. In addition, Shorey co-founded SheBoot, a national non-profit entity that helps women founders secure scaleup capital.

“I feel like this journey over the last nine years has really equipped me and prepared me to take on this new role and help lead this new chapter,” she said. “Our best days are ahead. There is so much more to come.”

‘Proven track record’

Invest Ottawa co-chair Adam Miron said the organization’s new boss has a “proven track record” as a tech executive.

“She is an ideal leader to steer Invest Ottawa through its next phase of development with our community,” Miron said in a statement. “As interim CEO, her leadership yielded impressive results, surpassing key fiscal targets for job creation, new investment, and revenue generation. I am confident we have selected the best leader for this role.”

Shorey will oversee an organization with 92 employees and an annual budget of more than $23 million funded by a mix of cash, in-kind and non-cash contributions from public and private sources, including all three levels of government.

Invest Ottawa is best-known for its incubator and accelerator programs that have produced fast-growing startups such as e-commerce bug-detection software firm Noibu and vertical farming trailblazer Growcer.  

The organization says it has supported almost 14,000 companies and contributed to the creation of more than 14,000 jobs over the past decade. Its board of directors includes high-profile entrepreneurs such as Jason Flick, founder of Kanata-based software firm You.i TV, and tech investor Mike Weider. 

While Shorey says Bayview Yards is almost at full capacity and IO is on solid footing, she’s well aware that similar organizations in other parts of the province have faced growing scrutiny of late.

According to BetaKit and the Globe and Mail, for example, Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District cut about 20 jobs last week and shuffled its senior executive ranks in a bid to create a “more agile and lean organizational structure.”

Shorey, whose own organization is poised to hire two new vice-presidents in the coming weeks to head its finance and strategic communications departments, said IO works “very closely” with funding partners and clients to ensure it meets rigorous quarterly and annual performance targets.

“We are here for one reason only – to help entrepreneurs, business owners and companies launch, grow and scale,” she added. “We feel the buzz – we feel the momentum here.”

Shorey said she is “very heartened” by the willingness of organizations such as Invest Ottawa, the Ottawa Board of Trade and the Kanata North Business Association to work toward common economic goals.

“I firmly believe we can create that shared vision together here in our city,” she said. “I have total faith in the relationships that we have established. I’m very excited about what the future holds.”