The Way I See ItÖ by Michael C. Volker
B.C. Could be a Global Top Ten Technology Center
Shortly after getting into office just a year ago, British Columbiaís Premier announced the formation of the Premierís Technology Council. Gordon Campbell saw fit to put the technology industry high on his agenda as an economic thrust for the province. He personally chairs the Council consisting of seventeen high tech leaders, most of which are technology company CEOs.
Gerri Sinclair is the Councilís full-time president. An accomplished entrepreneur herself, she sold her Simon Fraser University spin-off company, Ncompass Labs, to Microsoft Corporation just a year ago.
In April, the council released its second report listing forty-five recommendations for improving broadband infrastructure, increasing public access to the Internet, developing the high tech industry and marketing British Columbia as a technology centre.
The reportís cover proclaims, "We believe that with strong cooperation between the provincial government and private enterprise, British Columbia will be one of the world's top ten technology centers by 2006."
Thatís a bold statement, but itís this kind of vision thatís needed to build a vibrant industry. Yet, I couldnít help but notice a missing element.
In the same month, the Federal Government announced a whopping $32.3 million in support for six B.C. companies through the Technology Partnerships Canada program.† These six range from early stage ventures such as Azure Dynamics Corporation and fSONA Communications Corporation to one of B.C.ís early pioneers, MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA), now a well-run profitable company. This funding is a sharp contrast to the anti-subsidy oriented Provincial Government which does not believe in providing favors to specific enterprises.
On one hand, it's encouraging that the Feds are investing such sums in B.C. With the demise of the provincial Science Council's technology development program, there's not a great deal of help for early stage companies. On the other hand, though, I have to wonder why the government (i.e. we, the taxpayers) is investing in a firm like MDA. To the Fedís credit, one cannot discount the impact that the National Research Councilís industry-assistance programs has had on the development of young companies that have used this support to get new products to market. We need more of that.
I believe that we could get a greater bang for our buck with a broader distribution of funding. Six companies out of more than six thousand B.C. technology companies means pretty low odds for most. Perhaps some federal support for already proven local industry-driven organizations such as the B.C. Advanced Systems Institute with its product development and technology transfer programs would give us better leverage Ė especially when coupled with private capital.
Some of B.C.ís recent initiatives are effective in providing a broad market-driven mechanism for increasing the capital base. For example, the B.C. Securities Commissionís de-regulation project already makes it easier for companies to access capital. The Small Business Venture Capital Act designed to attract and increase angel style investing through tax credits is having a considerable impact.
It appears that both our provincial and federal governments are keen to see B.C. thrive in advanced technology. Predicated on different political ideologies, they each have their own strategies for accomplishing this. Federal Industry Minister Allan Rock was in Vancouver recently to talk about Canadaís ďInnovation AgendaĒ.
Since the Premierís Technology Councilís members are industry people - not politicians - they are well positioned to engage in dialog with both levels of government.† By understanding the different strategies and agendas, the Council could have an even greater impact on industry development.
The way I see it, B.C. could indeed become one of the worldís top technology centers. Cooperation between the provincial government and private enterprise is an excellent start, but I believe that the odds of achieving this recognition can be greatly improved if the spirit of cooperation extends beyond provincial boundaries.
Michael Volker is a high technology entrepreneur and director of Simon Fraser U's University/Industry Liaison Office. He runs Vancouverís Angel Technology Network and is Chairman of the BC Advanced Systems Institute and past- chair of the Vancouver Enterprise Forum. He may be reached at email@example.com.