April 2011

Imagination is more important than intelligence.”

Albert Einstein


In this article, we provide an update on the Keystone Off-The-Shelf (KOTS) project. We begin by presenting an overview of the goals and the advantages of KOTS. Next, we describe the software components that make up KOTS. Finally, a blueprint for the first application of KOTS is described along with the plan to launch a collective of technology companies and a non-profit organization that will use, support, and evolve the software.


The objective of this article is to provide an update on the KOTS project, which was introduced in the OSBR six months ago (Bailetti, 2010). During the last six months, the KOTS team has developed and tested the KOTS platform, which is targeted at keystone operators that focus on supporting the launch and growth of technology businesses. The KOTS software platform enables an organization to operate as the keystone of a collective that exists for the purpose of achieving system-level outcomes (e.g., a collective that will create 100 jobs and attract $5 million investment per year; a collective that will close 30 deals per year among companies located in six capital cities each over $100,000; and a collective that will help student entrepreneurs evolve their ideas into compelling opportunities and successful ventures). The platform was designed to:

  1. Accelerate the number, diversity, and size of deals among members of a collective.

  2. Improve member productivity.

  3. Attain system-level outcomes.

  4. Increase trust in the keystone organization.

  5. Enhance reach of members.

The need for KOTS arose with the market crash of 2008. The external environment for small technology companies has drastically changed and old thinking no longer works. The KOTS project provides a keystone operator with a software platform that includes functionality that no firm or organization can develop on its own. Some important advantages are that KOTS:

  • uses free/libre open source software (F/LOSS) components to reduce the costs the keystone operator faces when making changes

  • reduces the costs of information technology (IT) administration, development, and maintenance

  • allows the keystone operator to focus on competing using unique business models anchored around Model C. The Model C approach brings together different stakeholders to a platform that allows them to self-organize and create value through their links (Bailetti, 2010)

  • brings together many keystone operators to achieve outcomes that they could not achieve on their own

The KOTS Stack and Services

Table 1 shows the key software components of the KOTS platform. The KOTS software stack integrates F/LOSS applications with code developed by Carleton University students, their industry partners, and independent contractors. The code developed for the project will be released under a permissive open source license, such as the MIT, BSD, or Eclipse Public licenses.

Table 1. Key Software Components of the KOTS Platform





  • manages website

  • publishes blogs and forums

  • provides access to tools, educational resources, information, and social networks



  • enables web and voice conferences


Make a Deal (MAD)

  • supports steps required to transform ideas into opportunities

  • enables uploading/downloading of files

  • showcases program’s outcomes

Likely MIT, BSD, LGPL, or Eclipse Public License


  • provides customer relationship management



  • creates surveys

  • invites participants

  • analyzes survey responses



  • provides a learning content management system



Notably, the Make a Deal (MAD) application was developed and tested as part of the KOTS project. MAD embodies the business rules required to close a deal (e.g., transactions that transform ideas into a compelling opportunity and into a successful venture) and manages the user interface into SugarCRM.

The services provided by KOTS can be grouped into communication, collaboration, content management, and scheduling. The first two categories will enable the keystone to increase the number of deals among members, while the last two categories will increase the productivity of members. The communication component will provide unified messaging. BigBlueButton will provide a scalable and extensible solution for communications. The collaboration component is handled by a customized instance of WordPress and BuddyPress, which enables blogs and forums. The MAD tool enables collaboration around a shared object for the purpose of evolving the object to its next state. SugarCRM is used to store information about members of the collective and the deals they close. Moodle manages the files produced. Finally, scheduling and event management is provided by a Google Calendar instance, which allows members of the keystone to plan and coordinate their events.

A keystone operator can customize and brand the provided resources and content to tailor the business offering to the collective it supports. A keystone operator can access KOTS by downloading the software from the Internet as a bundle of open source software or it can access a cloud service provider that hosts KOTS. Users will interact with the KOTS front end through standard LDAP and SOAP protocols.

First Application: Carleton Entrepreneurs

The first application of the KOTS platform will support the Carleton Entrepreneurs program. Carleton University’s senior administrators launched Carleton Entrepreneurs in 2010. The goals of the program are to:

  1. Brand Carleton University as an exciting place that welcomes student entrepreneurs.

  2. Identify students working on innovative projects across all faculties and develop their entrepreneurial skills.

  3. Provide experienced mentors and reviewers who are willing to help students transform their ideas into compelling business opportunities.

  4. Encourage and support female entrepreneurs in particular.

  5. Provide students that have strong opportunities with a chance to connect with potential investors, Carleton University alumni, and friends of Carleton University.

KOTS will start supporting the Carleton Entrepreneurs program on April 12, 2011. The goals of the KOTS platform in the Carleton Entrepreneurs application are to:

  1. Recruit entrepreneurially inclined students to Carleton academic programs (e.g., Technology Innovation Management program, B.Comm Entrepreneurship Concentration, and Entrepreneurship Minor).

  2. Recruit participants.

  3. Manage steps to transform students’ ideas into compelling business opportunities.

  4. Continuously improve the effectiveness and efficiency of processes.

  5. Display the program’s progress towards target outcomes.

The MAD engine developed by the KOTS team will be customized to deliver high value to the Carleton Entrepreneurs program. The customized MAD will support the following process:

  1. A student (or group that includes a student) submits an idea any time.

  2. Once accepted into the program, the student is assigned a mentor.

  3. The mentor decides when the opportunity is ready to be examined by internal reviewers.

  4. Internal reviewers decide when the opportunity is ready to be presented to external reviewers.

  5. The student presents the opportunity to external reviewers face-to-face and receives feedback.

  6. The Director of the program decides that the opportunity is ready to be presented to potential investors, Carleton alumni, and friends of Carleton.

  7. The student is invited to present the opportunity at a special event.

After incorporating the lessons learned from the Carleton Entrepreneurs program, the platform will be deployed to support the Lead to Win program in Canada’s Capital Region and the expansion of the program to cities in southern Ontario. The next major milestone of the KOTS project will be to support 1000 keystone organizations in the province of Ontario.

Collective Spin-Offs and Non-Profit Organizations

Validation of the KOTS concept will come through adoption of the KOTS platform by companies interested in making money from its existence. The intent is to spin off from Carleton University a collective comprised of 10 small technology companies and a non-profit organization responsible for evolving KOTS.

As part of the KOTS project, several technology companies have been established, each of which uses the KOTS platform to address a niche market with global potential, or provides components or services to the KOTS collective. In addition, the business plans of various companies were changed to incorporate stronger links to the collective of KOTS adopters and ambassadors as well as the use of KOTS stack in order to deliver their products, services, and solutions.

The collective of KOTS users will use the resources provided to them for free to make money and create jobs. They are not expected to assume full responsibility for the maintenance of the KOTS platform. Thus, a non-profit entity that evolves the code for KOTS is needed. This entity will exhibit the attributes of a keystone given that it will:

  1. Enable deals between its members (e.g., providing access, customizing an instance of KOTS, developing new modules).

  2. Increase productivity by providing tools for unified communication, learning, and content management.

  3. Make available tools that no other organization can maintain.

  4. Provide access to a pool of diverse talent.

  5. Be trustworthy and transparent at all times.


The KOTS project enables the deployment of keystone companies that have the capability to grow a global collective, which will develop and commercialize products, services, and solutions. Each collective will include companies and the organizations that will contribute to the ability of that collective to make deals, increase productivity, achieve significant outcomes, reach globally, and increase trust. As KOTS evolves, there will be more opportunities for businesses and technology professionals to participate and contribute to KOTS and pursue collective-based business opportunities.


We wish to acknowledge the cash contribution of the NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) and the in-kind contributions of the individuals and organizations involved in the development of the KOTS platform.

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