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Small Business R&D organization Alberta Innovates puts funding for entrepreneurs on hold

Alberta Innovates, a research and development organization, has put several of its funding programs for entrepreneurs on hold because of uncertainty over the lack of a finalized provincial budget.

It’s not accepting or reviewing new applications for six of its entrepreneurial programs, and not moving forward with applications that have already received the green light, according to Rollie Dykstra, vice-president of investments with the provincially funded corporation. Applicants were informed by Alberta Innovates through a note posted on its website earlier this month.

Alberta Innovates also administers grants and research funding for clean energy, health innovations, forestry, agriculture and food. Only its entrepreneurial investment programs, which it used to distribute $41.1-million between 2013 and 2017, have been put on hold.

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The provincial budget is delayed because of Alberta’s switch in government. The province has been operating under an interim supply bill ever since Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party beat out Rachel Notley’s NDP government in April. A new budget is expected to be brought forward in the fall.

A spokesperson for Alberta’s Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism said the government needs to ensure that funding programs, tax credits and grants align with its priorities to “get Albertans back to work and attract major investors to the province.”

“We are reviewing all funding programs at Alberta Innovates to ensure that they meet these priorities and that these programs are providing the best value for Albertans’ tax dollars,” press secretary Justin Brattinga said.

The hold on entrepreneur investments at Alberta Innovates means small businesses that hoped to access coaching and capital are left waiting.

Michael Wilson, chief executive of Edmonton-based DrugBank, said his pharmaceutical information company spent three months putting together a grant application to partly fund a new sales specialist’s salary when they saw the program was put on hold.

The situation is “pretty frustrating," he said. "It goes from four weeks to find out whether you have it to a giant question mark.”

DrugBank has been in business for three years and is already generating revenue, but Shay Barker, its operations manager, said that for smaller companies these grants “could be the make-or-break … the hand up that really brings them some stability to grow.”

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It’s normal to have uncertainty when provinces undergo a “dramatic swing from one government’s set of values to another,” said Teri Kirk, founder and CEO of Funding Portal, a software tool that lets users sift through business grants available from all levels of government.

Alberta entrepreneurs shouldn’t panic yet, she added, since unlike in Ontario, where Doug Ford’s Conservative government has announced cuts to startup and innovation programs, there hasn’t been mention of scaling back entrepreneur funding in Alberta.

The six affected streams give small grants to businesses in the form of “vouchers” that can help them do things such as prepare to export their products.

Alberta Innovates’ website advises entrepreneur applicants to check the agency’s social-media channels for updates on the paused funding programs.

Ashif Mawji, a partner in venture-capital firm Rising Tide, says a close look at Alberta Innovates’ grants could be a good idea, if it means focusing on programs that can produce good results.

“I think they’re putting [those programs] on hold so they can assess where … they need to focus.”

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