Each month, Kathleen Reid (Founder + Managing Director at Switchboard Public Relations) connects the dots between the trends, headlines and narratives that are informing the BC tech sector.
This month, she’s shedding light on the new BC and federal budgets, an exciting expansion Down Under, and a good month for our planet.
Federal budget goes big on tech
The short: With the most significant outlay of innovation-related dollars since 2017, the new federal budget appears to have been worth the 25-month wait for BC’s tech sector.
The long: The $101.4 billion in new spending (over three years) is mostly good for BC’s tech sector, but with a few bad and downright ugly omissions and shortcomings.
- $553.1 million over five years, and $110.6 million ongoing, on a new Regional Development Agency (RDA) in British Columbia.
- $7.2 billion in new capital over seven years for the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF), which provides grants and loans of over $10 million for business R&D, commercialization and facility expansions.
- $17.6 billion in “green recovery” spending includes an additional $5 billion over seven years for the Net Zero Accelerator, a program designed to help large emitters decarbonize and cleantech firms scale up. It also includes up to $1 billion over five years to help attract private-sector investment to cleantech projects.
- $2.2 billion over five years in rebates designed to incentivize “assets that drive growth” like digitization and intellectual property among companies investing in transitioning to “a more productive, knowledge-intensive economy.”
- $2.6 billion over four years to the Business Development Bank of Canada to help small- and medium-sized businesses finance technology adoption.
- $84.7-million for improving procurement from under-represented Black and Indigenous-run businesses.
- No mention of improving procurement from other Canadian innovators, despite enduring calls for this to happen.
- $60 million over two years to the Vancouver-based Innovation Supercluster Initiative. Given dollar-for-dollar private sector investments totalling more than $100 million in the Supercluster’s projects, this number falls short.
- Despite widespread calls to streamline the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax incentive program and make it more accessible, Ottawa’s largest innovation funding program was not even mentioned.
BC budget goes…less big…on tech
The short: With its federal counterpart being such a tough act to follow, it came as no surprise that many BC tech insiders were underwhelmed by the 2021 BC Budget.
The long: Critics called out the budget’s failure to address strategies for growing the tech ecosystem, which has been a stated priority of the provincial government. Likewise, there was no word on the establishment of innovation clusters, another stated priority. With the bad and the ugly out of the way, here are a few of the positive tech takeaways.
- $500 million in financing to support the new InBC Strategic Investment Fund that aims to help attract and anchor high-growth businesses, talent and jobs in B.C. The budget noted InBC would make decisions on investments, but would be given specific criteria for investment by the province. These criteria may include how well a business promotes the decarbonization of the economy or furthers reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. It is anticipated the fund will be active later in the 2021-22 fiscal year.
- $36 million for pandemic and recovery contingencies. This includes $15 million to expand the Innovator Skills Initiative program that provides up to $10,000 in funding for businesses to hire a post-secondary student or non-student youth into a tech or tech-enabled position. This creates 3,000 job placements for industry-certified youth in a high-opportunity sector with higher-than-average wages.
- $195 million to continue the Small and Medium Sized Business Recovery Grant Program, which has been streamlined and expanded to ensure more businesses can access up to $45,000 in provincial grant funding that can be used to support their recovery and adapt to COVID-19. This may include diversifying their business to include new services, modifying physical space, offsetting fixed costs such as rent, or growing the business by moving online.
A big couple months for CubicFarms
The short: Don’t look now, but Vancouver’s CubicFarms is winning awards, making key hires, and establishing a global presence.
The long: It’s been a busy couple months for the agtech innovator. First, CubicFarms announced the appointment of Edoardo De Martin as Chief Technology Officer. Prior to joining CubicFarms, De Martin spent 10 years at Microsoft working in various roles including General Manager of the Microsoft Vancouver Development Centre.
Then, they added Thomas Liston as Vice President of Corporate Development. A technology investor, advisor, and a Chartered Financial Analyst with over 20 years of experience in capital markets, Liston is the founder of Water Street Corp and currently serves on several boards of directors for public and private technology companies including WELL Health and Tantalus Systems.
Next, the company won a Nexus Innovation Award for HydroGreen’s Vertical Pastures Grow System at the Professional Dairy Producers annual conference, and rounded off April by announcing its international expansion into Australia.
No wonder CubicFarms stock price is up nearly 20 percent since the end of March.
A good month for planet Earth
The short: Earth Day was April 22, but with several big cleantech announcements the whole month came up green.
The long: The BC Budget set the tone by allocating $506 million to support the CleanBC climate and economic plan. This includes $269 million in new operating and capital funding for clean transportation, energy efficient buildings and communities, and other cleantech and climate change initiatives. It also includes $96 million more for the CleanBC Program for Industry in alignment with scheduled carbon tax increases, while adjusting for the delayed increase to the tax in April 2020 that provided relief to businesses and families from the pandemic.
Later in the month, Vancouver moved a step closer to hosting the Canadian round of the 2022 Formula E World Championship, after city council approved the motion. The race uses battery-powered electric cars, which in Vancouver would circle a track that would likely go in the False Creek area.
Kelowna’s Pela also made some eco-noise by launching Lomi, a device that converts food scraps into compost using a combination of heat, abrasion, and oxygen. This achieves the same goal as creating compost with earthworms, but without the slimy side effects.
The last word, however, went to Foresight CEO Jeanette Jackson, who provided an eco-reality check in a stirring Van Tech Journal op-ed:
“Earth Day may be a distraction from the real work that needs to happen,” she wrote. “Just as we shouldn’t just show our love only in February or promote gender equality on a random day in March, designating a single day as Earth Day offers the temptation to share some platitudes and resume the status quo. The problem is: the status quo is destroying our planet.”