Silicon Valley North #4 Feb'99

The Way I See It… by Michael Volker

Our B.C. Tech companies could use a little more investment exposure….

It seems that just since the last year or so, people have been paying a little more attention to the high tech sector in B.C. Politicians and decision makers seem to be embracing this sector with considerable enthusiasm. All sorts of groups are holding technology forums and think-tank meetings.

Although the B.C. Technology Industries Association (BC-TIA) has long advocated the contribution made by this sector to the provincial economy, others have only recently come on board. Various task forces, such as the Vancouver Board of Trade's Advanced Technology Task Force, and other committees have been established.

The Vancouver Board of Trade's economic outlook presentation in January '98 pointed to high technology as the only bright light on the B.C. economic horizon. The BC-TIA's Spring presentation on the state of the high tech sector followed by Price Waterhouse Coopers' Technology conference held in October and the B.C. Business Summit in November, have all drawn more attention and interest from policy-makers and others.

But, to really grow our tech companies, we still need to get investors (small and large) to take note. We have to be cautious not to appear too negative by talking about what's missing but rather what we've got - especially regarding investment opportunities. And indeed we have lots of promising ventures to point to.

Being listed on an exchange, especially a junior one, does not mean that potential investors will pay any attention to, yet alone notice, such companies. In much the same way that a company has to advertise its products (and we all know that it takes more than just having a better mousetrap), it now has to promote itself. Many technology executives, especially in the Vancouver area eschew the word promotion replacing it with "investor relations". Call it what you like, but it's essential.

That is why many organizations like Silicon Valley North, the Technology Industries Association of B.C., the Vancouver Enterprise Forum, T-Net, Business in Vancouver, and others are sponsoring the 1999 Vancouver Investment Conference (January 24-25, Hotel Vancouver) to shine some light on the technology sector.

What's especially good about this is that more retail investors will learn about opportunities in the technology sector. Since many of the investors and companies are B.C. based, it is a great opportunity for these folks to meet each other and for the investors to get a chance to talk directly to the CEOs and those behind these companies.

How can the retail investor jump on the technology bandwagon? How can they participate in the early stage, high-risk and high-reward deals? One way is to participate in B.C.'s Working Opportunity Fund (WOF). WOF offers investors some pretty good provincial tax breaks coupled with RRSP eligibility. Although WOF is not purely high tech, that's where it's putting its money and gives investors a form of local technology mutual fund which invests primarily in private enterprise, although a number of WOF investments have become public companies.

The only other way to get investor participation in the local tech sector is to draw attention to up and coming investment opportunities through media coverage and events such as the Vancouver Investment Conference.

Whoever saw the wisdom in providing tax incentives for people to invest in a fund like WOF? Wouldn't it be nice if such incentives were more broadly based for all tech investors in order to pry loose much needed early stage capital?

The way I see it, we've got to talk up our home-grown companies and put our money behind them.

Michael Volker is a high technology entrepreneur and director of Simon Fraser U's University/Industry Liaison Office. He is a former executive director of the BC Advanced Systems Institute and is chair of the Vancouver Enterprise Forum. He may be reached at

Copyright, 1999.