A new generation of data-driven tech companies is expected to spring forth from a new joint initiative between the Canadian government, Communitech, Waterloo Region tech firms and the University of Waterloo.

The purpose of the $6-million Open Data Exchange, or ODX, as the initiative is called, is to unlock the commercial value of information previously locked away inside government databases. As part of a worldwide “open data” movement, governments are making that information available to entrepreneurs and others who can build businesses on it.

“We’ve had some zigs and zags along the way, but to have ODX here now, alive, present and ready to take off, is very, very exciting for all of us,” Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board of Canada, told a packed auditorium at Waterloo software company OpenText today.

“To see how that will help us create a truly national, pan-Canadian, open data innovation community, that will incubate the next generation of data-driven companies – well, that’s not a bad way to start a Tuesday morning,” Clement said.

As announced in its February 2014 budget, the federal government will contribute $3 million over three years to ODX through its FedDev Ontario program. That amount matches $3 million in contributions from tech firms OpenText and D2L, along with Communitech, the Canadian Digital Media Network and the University of Waterloo.

The government expects another $50 million to be leveraged through venture capital and other partners. ODX is expected to incubate 15 new data-driven companies and create 370 direct and indirect jobs.

Kevin Tuer, Managing Director of the Open Data Exchange (Communitech photo: Anthony Reinhart)

Kevin Tuer, Managing Director of the Open Data Exchange (Communitech photo: Anthony Reinhart)

Communitech’s Kevin Tuer, who will serve as the project’s Managing Director, likened ODX to “a refinery” that will enable companies from across Canada to turn a raw resource – in this case, data – into commercial products.

“ODX will work with private sector partners, through demonstration projects, to build real-world applications in markets like financial services, education, health care transportation and energy,” Tuer said.

ODX will also work with its partners to develop common industry standards for open data, build prototyping tools and foster collaboration between government, businesses and academia.

Tuer said the project will “unlock significant opportunities for Canadians, including the creation of a developers’ community that will be a global leader in data” and provide a career path for Canadian students with graduate degrees, thus keeping valuable talent in Canada.

Calling open data a “true game-changer,” Clement said the unlocking of government data – 220,000 sets of which have already been made available by Ottawa – is a worldwide movement that the McKinsey Global Institute says could create $3 trillion in commercial value.

The senior cabinet minister added that Waterloo Region’s collaborative innovation community is ideally suited to host the ODX.

“I don’t have to tell this audience how much a thriving economic region the Region of Waterloo is,” Clement said. “With a strong innovation culture, this region provides access to knowledge and networking services and support for startups, but also for established global companies as well . . . Waterloo shows the success that comes from collaboration.”

ODX will be housed in offices at OpenText’s headquarters in UW’s David Johnston Research + Technology Park until a more permanent space is established in Waterloo’s downtown core.