The fourth and final venture capital firm picked by Ottawa to boost financing of Canadian tech startups, HarbourVest Partners, has closed its fund. Now, the domestic venture capital industry is hoping the new Liberal government will replicate the $400-million program launched by the previous government.
The Conservative government in 2013 pledged $400-million through its venture capital action program (VCAP) to stimulate the domestic VC industry. Most of the money came with strings attached: The government earmarked $350-million to invest in four new tech-focused "funds of funds" managed by the private sector, which had to raise $2 from private investors for every dollar from government. The Ontario and Quebec governments committed an additional $100-million combined. Last July, Northleaf Capital Partners reached its $300-million goal, followed by Montreal's Teralys Capital, which raised $375-million, and Kensington Capital Partners, which hit its $300-million target. Now, HarbourVest has reached its $375-million target.
Private investors, including Canadian pension plans, financial services giants, corporations such as Open Text Corp., and wealthy families and individuals, committed a total of $900-million to the four funds, in addition to the government money. The four funds have committed about half the money to 19 funds so far, which have invested in more than 100 companies.
"Building companies takes a village and, in this case, takes an infrastructure," said Senia Rapisarda, a principal with Boston-based HarbourVest in Canada. "Everybody has kept their word." She added that having more private investors participating in venture capital creates "important word of mouth" that will help stimulate the continued growth of the Canadian venture capital business, and in turn Canadian startups.
But she said the government needs "to keep the momentum" and called on the government of Justin Trudeau to follow the VCAP program with a sequel. Other leading voices in the VC industry have said the Canadian VC business needs at least one or two follow-up VCAP programs to help the industry gain critical mass or funding from Canadian sources could dry up.
"We should continue," Ms. Rapisarda said. 'This was a very strong program." She said the government would need to announce a new program in next year's budget to make sure there isn't a lull in Canadian VC financing.
Neal Hill, a vice-president with the Business Development Bank of Canada, which administers the VCAP program, said staff with the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Department have asked BDC "to start formulating our thinking into input [about a VCAP sequel] as they put together their thinking for the program that would show up in the budget" next year.
Although the government hasn't signalled its intentions on a VCAP II, one government minister spoke positively about the program in a BDC release Tuesday. "We look forward to seeing new, creative Canadian ideas turn into reality as a result of this important joint effort involving both public and private sector capital," said Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains.
Mr. Hill said "everything we can see of this program is good and promising … it's attracted the amount of private capital desired" despite initial skepticism. "It's already started to benefit the ecosystem positively."
The new government has committed to formulate a new innovation agenda in the coming year, and "the topic [of VCAP] is synchronous with their interest and priorities," Mr. Hill said.