The B.C. government is putting up $100 million for a real-life version of the TV show Dragon’s Den, providing seed money to entrepreneurs who convince experts their new technology ideas will grow.
Premier Christy Clark announced the new fund Tuesday at the Vancouver offices of Mobify, a marketing company for retailers to advertise on mobile devices. The next step in a the government’s technology strategy is to invite proposals for a venture capital company to administer the fund.
“We don’t want to be influencing that, except that we want them to be in British Columbia, and we want the fund manager to have a managing partner based in B.C.,” she said.
Clark said high technology is performing better than other parts of the economy, and now directly employs 86,000 people who make higher wages than the industrial average. The taxpayer investment is to give startups the recognition they need to attract private venture capital.
Clark said banks look to invest in “guaranteed bets,” but technology companies are higher risk with higher rewards for those that succeed.
NDP technology critic George Heyman said the industry has been lobbying the province for this kind of assistance, and he supports it if the money is delivered in a transparent way and results are tracked.
A previous effort aimed at immigrant investors, the B.C. Renaissance Capital Fund, was criticized for a lack of both. In one case it provided money to a San Francisco company that opened an office in Calgary but not B.C.
“The taxpayer subsidizes all sorts of things that relate to job creation,” Heyman said. “In the case of the tech sector, these are the jobs of the 21st Century. B.C. has a sector that’s performing well but could perform a lot better, and it needs investment to do that.”
B.C. also offers $33 million in tax credits to “angel investors” who put up money to develop a business that has attracted seed money.