ottawa high tech
Mary O'Neill
Vice President of Security - Nokia
Part of the Spotlight on Ottawa’s Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Ecosystem

Ottawa’s Strengths in Key High Tech Industries


  1. The long history of tech investment and innovation in Ottawa has created key networks and the ecosystem necessary for high tech industries to flourish today.
  2. Government supports have played a significant role in helping companies attract talent to Ottawa and keep workers up-to-date with relevant training.
  3. Foreign direct investment in Ottawa’s key high tech industries will allow for more innovation and the creation of more quality jobs.


Cybersecurity and the Internet of Things are two key high tech areas that will see increased growth in Ottawa, which in turn will spur the development of more innovation in reliant sectors such as the connected and autonomous vehicle sector. With increased government support programs and investment, these key sectors will work together to help Ottawa shine as a leader in high tech industries.

What are Canada’s competitive advantages for foreign direct investment and how can we improve?

I am sure almost everyone will have the same answer that our strength is our highly skilled workforce. We have highly skilled technology workers and we have an ecosystem in Canada where we have had decades of high tech investment and knowledge, with universities that support that. We have a very innovative workforce and our real competitive advantage is our people.

We have a very innovative workforce and our real competitive advantage is our people.

I have thought about how Canada could improve this. I have had the good fortune of being a CEO of a startup company and then having it acquired, and I have also been an executive in large companies, and I have observed that it seems easier to get funding and support if you are a large company versus a small startup company. It could be because big companies have people who know how to access all the information. There is a lot of support for small companies but they do not always know how to access and leverage it. That is one improvement area.

What distinguishes Ottawa from Canada as an investment destination?

There are a couple of things about Ottawa that are great. There is a long history of tech investment here, with research from companies like Nortel and Newbridge and what that has led off to in terms of spinoffs, innovation, and startup companies. My former company, Nakina Systems, was purchased by Nokia, and I have been with Nokia for almost five years now. Ottawa has a wealth of experience across multiple domains, initially in the connectivity and network equipment domains but through the years, that has really spread out. You have everything from Shopify to all kinds of security and cybersecurity companies.

Ottawa has a wealth of experience across multiple domains, initially in the connectivity and network equipment domains but through the years, that has really spread out.

One of the things I love about Ottawa is the ecosystem we have for high tech. We have Invest Ottawa and have L-SPARK, which is an innovation hub. Ottawa has a great environment and there are lots of networking opportunities for people to experience new technologies and learn from each other.

If we look at the support systems we have in Ottawa, we have a great environment in which to live and work, and that is partially because of the federal government being here. The other big advantage of Ottawa is you have government in cybersecurity, as well as small startup companies and big companies. I am the Vice President (VP) of Security at Nokia and we provide security for critical infrastructure. There are different types of security expertise and value being generated in Ottawa, and the federal government is a big part of that.

Will Ottawa continue to see increased specializations in certain industries?

I would personally bet on security and the Internet of Things (IoT). Many startup companies in Canada can invest in IoT applications, and other companies can supply the secure connectivity for that, because you absolutely still need security underpinning that. Ottawa in particular has great security capabilities, and Canada is a trusted country in terms of security.

Another big differentiator we have is that at Nokia, for example, all of our mobile threat intelligence is done in a lab in Kanata, and so we really specialize in mobile threat intelligence for critical infrastructure. When I talk to some of the major service providers in Canada, threat intelligence, being proactive, and understanding what is happening out there from a security perspective is absolutely critical. The Canadian government also plays an important role in that. We have tremendous assets both in the people and knowledge to really make a difference in security. Almost every day, there is something on the news about security. It is a growth area and it is also a very fragmented market. Again, you can pick which areas you want to focus on and you cannot have autonomous vehicles without security.

What must be done to continue to attract and develop talent in Canada?

In terms of attracting talent, it has been really interesting during COVID-19. You miss the personal interaction but it is a high tech company, so you have to make it work. To some degree, we are still hiring people all over during COVID-19

I have not had an issue attracting talent in Ottawa and partially, it is because we offer interesting work. When we do really interesting things, we have people from other countries wanting to come to work in Canada.

Hiring students is such a great opportunity and there are government programs that we have not talked about. There is this Mitacs program that will subsidize you if you hire Master’s students or PhD students, and we have universities. I will put in a plug for the University of Victoria in British Columbia, from which we have hired Master’s students into our threat intelligence lab and they just hit the ground running. It is absolutely amazing. There are programs out there where the government is encouraging companies to hire students. When you get those great students in and give them something interesting to work on, it is a great way of attracting talent.

I just finished a six-month program with L-SPARK, where they had women entrepreneurs mentoring women entrepreneurs. A woman entrepreneur can make her pitch, and if she gets selected, she would be assigned a female mentor who will work with her on a regular basis. That is an example of something that L-SPARK does, which encourages women to create business and diversity.

What is the value of foreign direct investment to Canada’s economy and Ottawa’s economic development?

Nokia is a Finnish company that invests in Ottawa. We have over 2,000 people working in Ottawa from Nokia, and that is a lot of jobs and families that are being supported with high-paying jobs. That is really positive. Foreign investment also gives us access to world markets. When I had a small company, Nakina, we were partnered with Nokia and Nokia took our products worldwide. As a small startup in Canada, it is difficult to access large, global markets. By generating that money from sales worldwide, we were able to have a startup company in Ottawa that supported 100 families. Then, we became a part of Nokia and Nokia took that and invested more heavily. Foreign direct investment creates more jobs and more expertise in our country. From my perspective, it has been very positive.

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ottawa high tech
Mary O'Neill
Vice President of Security - Nokia

Bio: Mary O’Neill is the Vice President of Security at Nokia. She is responsible for setting the strategy for and building Nokia’s network security portfolio, and leading her team of security experts into emerging markets such as smart cities and the Internet of Things by transforming security operations. Prior to joining Nokia, she was the CEO of a cybersecurity company, Nakina Systems, as well as a Board of Directors member. Nakina was acquired by Nokia in 2016.

Organization Profile: Nokia is a multinational telecommunications, information technology, and consumer electronics company. They are a major contributor to the mobile telephony industry, having assisted in the development of GSM, 3G, and LTE standards. Currently, their main focus is on telecommunications infrastructure and Internet of Things technologies. The company was founded in 1865 in Finland.