Ottawa Startups Cool to Fab Plan

Plans to build a $50 million incubator and chip fabrication plant are getting a mixed reception

May 17, 2001

3 Min Read
Ottawa Startups Cool to Fab Plan

OTTAWA -- Plans to boost Ottawa’s claim to fame as an international hub of optical networking technology are getting a luke warm reception from the very startups that might benefit from the project.

The scheme, called the Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre (CPFC), envisions the Canadian federal government coughing up $50 million for a national research center incorporating an incubator and a semiconductor fabrication plant.

Ottawa is competing with other sites to host the project, but its promoters think they've got an inside track. "Half of all of Canada's photonic companies are [already] in Ottawa," says Ray Novokowsky, founding director of the Canadian Photonics Consortium and chair of the Ottawa Photonics Cluster (OPC), industry groups promoting the project.

Canada's government-sponsored National Research Council also is rooting for Ottawa. "NRC has proposed Ottawa as the best location for this national facility," an NRC brochure reads. "Ottawa has the largest concentration in Canada of private sector photonics companies... that will be the main users of this facility."

One of the goals of the project is to help startups develop prototype optical components quickly, by having a fab plant on their doorstep.

A similar scheme in Scotland has already helped at least one startup, Kamelian Ltd., speed up development work considerably. Kamelian made its first samples within a few months of the company being founded, according to its CEO, Paul May (see Scotland Spawns Component Startups), who points out that Kamelian couldn’t have achieved this if it hadn't have been in an incubator with an attached fab plant.

Likely beneficiaries of the Canadian project, however, seem less than enthusiastic about following the Scottish example. Three startups that attended an OPC meeting this week -- Edgeflow Inc., Optenia Inc., and Tropic Networks Inc. -- weren’t able to say what they would do to support the scheme. "We have no specific plans to devote resources to this, but we'll support Ray in whatever way necessary," one of the startup executives said.

Other Ottawa startups question the value of sharing facilities with potential competitors, saying they would be worried about having their ideas stolen.

"Some people think you can duplicate a model that works in the semiconductor world in photonics, but you can't," says David King, vice president of marketing at Zenastra Photonics Inc.. "Products are processes and vice versa. We're at a stage where the way you do something is just as important as what you're doing. Companies don't want to share that knowledge or go outside for it."

"The benefits aren't clear," says Scott Marshall, CEO of Solinet Systems Inc.. Startups might get a flying start with a shared fab, but having to move to another plant to handle commercial production can be disruptive. "There's something to be said for continuity. We have our own contractors lined up, who accommodate us for what we require."

- Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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