Silicon Valley North #61                                       January, 2004


The Way I See It… by Michael C. Volker


Bright technology future in B.C.


I often get asked by my colleagues back East and in Silicon valley about the outlook for the advanced technology sector in British Columbia. Although I’ve always been optimistic, there’s good reason to be Pollyannish in the coming year.


Although the technology sector, especially in IT, has been in a slump for the past few years, there are some good reasons for feeling upbeat. The public markets appear to be breaking out of the bearish trends we’ve experienced for the past three years.


In BC, the mood swung when Vancouver won the Olympics bid for 2010 in early July. With support from some tech leaders pitching in on the bid, it undoubtedly infused a winning spirit in many tech entrepreneurs. Indeed, most of the year’s good news happened in the second half.


While the broader markets represented by the Dow, the S&P500, and the S&P/TSX all gained approximately 25% during the year, the Nasdaq – the technology bellwether - advanced a cool 50%. BC’s T-Net20 index which tracks the top 20 public companies based in BC performed even better – up by 83% during 2003.


Even though we didn’t seen much action on the IPO front, as soon as Crystal Decisions of Vancouver took the bold step of announcing one at US$172 IPO, it was quickly bought out by Business Objects for US$820 million at almost three times its annual revenue.


In October, Honeywell bought Surrey-based and publicly traded Silent Witness Enterprises for $84 million. And, numerous smaller companies such as ActiveState and WestBay Semiconductor were also gobbled up by foreign acquistors who appreciated the local talent.


These buy-outs add to the growing pool of angel investors – entrepreneurs investing in, and mentoring, new start ups. Indeed, Vancouver’s active angel network now numbers in the hundreds and is becoming a growing force in early stage financing.


The innovation climate in BC got a boost this past year from two very significant government reforms.


First, BC’s Small Business Venture Capital Act was revamped last Spring to bolster capital formation – up to $200 million - by providing a 30% refundable tax credit to investors and making the program more accessible to smaller investors. This created the formation of numerous VCCs – Venture Capital Corporations including a few publicly offered ones such as the BC Discovery Fund and the BC Advantage Fund. Each of these is attempting to raise up to $10 million by February, 2004 but by year-end, they were well on their way to hitting that target.


Second, the BC Securities Commission’s goal of eliminating red tape and simplifying regulations resulted in companies being able to raise capital from arms-length investors by using new, less-onerous (i.e. less costly) exemptions from full-blown prospectus offerings.


Whereas these initiatives helped in bringing more private investors to tech companies, traditional venture capital firms showed promise as well. Ventures West, for example, raised $53 million in its eighth Limited Partnership Fund. Newly formed Yaletown Partners closed a $30 million limited partnership after tenaciously working this goal since the 2000 blowout. The November IT Financing Forum which was held in Vancouver attracted many Canadian and American investors.


The last piece of good news for 2003 was the launch of Leading Edge BC, a new agency funded by $8.3 million by B.C. over a three year period to promote BC innovation and investment in BC technology. Leading Edge BC is led by the private sector, with the buy-in of many industry groups.


The way I see it, there are many reasons to be bullish on the tech sector. The increased investment in R&D (check out the building boom at BC’s universities) by the Federal government, combined with a favorable local climate for innovation, makes BC the place to build your technology venture.



Michael Volker is a high technology entrepreneur and director of Simon Fraser University’s Industry Liaison Office. He oversees Vancouver’s Angel Technology Network and is past-Chair of the BC Advanced Systems Institute and the Vancouver Enterprise Forum. He may be reached at