Clark’s fund of funds needs to be more than a tentative tech tidbit

When the topic is tech, what is a provincial government to do?

Option 1: It could find ways to keep talented people and enterprises here.

As a company matures, B.C. loses valuable jobs and the supporting intellectual property when some of our brightest technology firms find more generous or compelling environments in which to operate.

Option 2: It could find ways to integrate technological education into the curriculum to better build a knowledge economy.

Long before a company is created, B.C. does not adequately educate our children in creating code for the Internet of Things, so the building blocks of the knowledge economy are lacking.

Option 3: We could support that critical stage of so-called Series A financing, the lifeline of a few million dollars for a year or so when preferred stock is issued to investors.

As companies are emerging from the stage of angel investing, governments and the local market have offered insufficient venture capital for some to move from, say, two people in a basement to several in an office.

Christy Clark has chosen to deal with Option 3, might soon also choose to address Option 1 and might also one day see the value of Option 2.

In a way, she has no option but to do so.

Through no fault of her own, Clark is on the wrong side of history when it comes to a present-day industrial strategy.

With no apparent high-profile intersection with tech, but plenty of chips placed with resources, Clark finds her government as an odd outlier on support for the fastest job creator in the province. Her station is also on a different track than Justin Trudeau’s, and if there is a time to synchronize, this is it.

Before long there will be an election, too, and she cannot want the BC Liberals to be perceived in 2017 where they were in 2015. It is, after all, more salable politically to hitch yourself to the future than to the past and present. This is particularly so if – mind you, it remains a pretty big if – the tide turns at all on her dream scenario of liquefied natural gas as B.C.’s economic saviour.

What we saw last week was the first piece of the province’s tech vision from the premier – a $100 million “fund of funds” that will be privately managed and invest in a variety of other startup funds. It was strangely divorced from a fuller, more coherent strategy coming in mid-January. Consider this rather like an early Christmas gift that won’t ship until the new year.

While much of the fund’s success will depend on the calibre of its manager, it is good that the government will be at some arm’s length from choosing winners and losers. This isn’t its business and ought never be.

Vancouver’s more-criticized approach is a little more hands-on with incubator and entrepreneurial support, closer to the game of picking good from not good.

The presumption here is that the B.C. fund, a rekindling in principle of the praised Renaissance Fund, will keep firms here and attract others to the province. That might be so if the fund were larger, but $100 million over a few years and several companies does not take you terribly far. Presumably some of it will need to pay off, too, because the province has said the fund will expire in 15 years and be expected to help pay its way in about eight years.

What we can hope is that the premier’s announcement was just a tiny taste of January’s feast. Given the sector’s importance – in innovation, in transformation, even in collaboration with the resource industry – anything less than ambitious and gigantic falls short.

Kirk LaPointe is Business in Vancouver’s vice-president of audience and business development.