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Caitlin MacGregor, CEO and Co-founder of Plum.io.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Export Development Canada is making its investment matching program permanent nearly two years after it was first launched as an emergency pandemic measure.

EDC, a Crown corporation that supports Canadian exporters, launched the program in April, 2020. It provides up to $5-million in capital for companies that are raising funds from private investors. EDC matches the amounts and the terms of the private investments, which may include taking equity in the companies.

EDC has so far invested $223-million in 82 companies through the program, and aims to build a portfolio worth up to $500-million. The announcement that the program would be permanent was made on Tuesday.

Carl Burlock, executive vice-president and chief business officer of EDC, said the investment matching program was originally launched as a way to give confidence to investors looking to support small- and medium-sized enterprises when the pandemic arrived and companies found funding rounds falling through.

“This program was in response to that specific need,” Mr. Burlock said. “It was to ensure that companies that had been growing and accessing private capital did not have rounds stopped or frozen.”

But as the pandemic has worn on, he said, EDC found that there was a longer-term niche to fill. He said the program has allowed EDC to invest and support a broad range of business, from software to manufacturing. About 35 per cent of investments so far have been directed toward clean-technology companies.

“I think it reflects the reality of clean technology, that these companies as they are developing and commercializing new solutions, deploying them to industries or buyers, they tend to need more capital and they tend to have a longer runway,” Mr. Burlock said.

He said EDC also made it a priority to support female entrepreneurs and businesses owned by underrepresented groups, such as Indigenous peoples. One way they did that, he said, was to lower the bar for entry to the program. When the investment matching program launched, it was open only to businesses that earned at least $5-million in annual revenue. That threshold was later lowered to $1-million and, as part of the move to make the program permanent, has been lowered again to $500,000.

Caitlin MacGregor, chief executive officer of Plum.io, said the launch of the program came at the perfect time. Her venture-backed company, which provides hiring and talent-management software services, was thrown for a loop in the early days of the pandemic when some prospective enterprise clients pulled out of negotiations for contracts that were nearly signed.

Ms. MacGregor said EDC’s funding helped the company survive. Plum.io has since seen rapid growth as pandemic-sparked labour issues are steering companies to focus more on employee retention and management.

“[EDC] really allowed us to make sure investors were confident that they weren’t the only money going into the round,” Ms. MacGregor said. “It increased the size of the whole investment round, which allowed us to successfully close the round, and do it in a short time frame.”

EDC promises to process applications under the program within 10 business days of receiving all necessary documentation - faster than the months-long process that many other government-backed investments can take.

EDC said it does that by following the lead of institutional investors it is partnering with, whom the Crown corporation has already screened and trusts.

“The fact that EDC is acting like a mature investor, where they are following and getting access to the same due diligence documentation, just makes so much sense,” Ms. MacGregor said.

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