‘We don’t have enough money’: Tech leaders debate constraints at Vancouver Startup Week

From left, Foresight Cleantech Accelerator Jeanette Jackson, Innovate BC CEO Raghwa Gopal and B.C. Tech Association CEO Jill Tipping debate the state of the province's tech economy as part of a Vancouver Startup Week panel | Photo: submitted

What happened: Three B.C. tech-sector leaders discussed the industry’s funding constraints at Vancouver Startup Week

Why it matters: Growth in technology may be stymied without enough investment capital, say experts

It’s a rare feat for B.C. tech companies to lay claim to capital raises totalling more than $450 million over the course of 13 days.

Despite that recent tally, the current level of capital flowing into the province may not be enough to elevate the ecosystem to a level on par with other global leaders, according to experts speaking at Vancouver Startup Week.

B.C. Tech Association CEO Jill Tipping told a downtown Vancouver audience on September 19 that the province has great startups and all the fundamentals for a solid tech sector.

“But we don’t have enough money. I’ll state that boldly,” she said during a panel that also featured Foresight Cleantech Accelerator Jeanette Jackson and Innovate BC CEO Raghwa Gopal.

Tipping added there is not enough Series A funding coming in to early-stage companies and government funding is lacking.

“I just think it’s time B.C. gets serious about its technology-innovation economy,” she said.

Her industry association offers programming to startups in a bid to help them scale and grow.

Jackson said one big issue for B.C. is that it doesn’t have enough tech anchor companies that can attract the right type of investment capital that would then filter down to early-stage companies — those most in need of Series A funding.

Her organization is currently embarking on a cluster initiative aimed at fostering collaboration between small-to-medium-sized businesses, corporations, academic institutions and investors in a bid to grow the province’s cleantech sector.

Three B.C. tech companies made headlines over the past two weeks after Burnaby-based legal-tech firm Clio (Themis Solutions Inc) announced it had raised US$250 million (C$332 million), Vancouver-based Terramera Inc. announced it had raised US$45 million (C$60 million) and Vancouver-based Trulioo Information Services Inc. announced it had raised $70 million.

And while Gopal echoed Tipping’s sentiment about the province’s tech sector already possessing solid fundamentals, he said funding from venture capitalists and angel investors “could be improved.”

If the province wants to become even more attractive for investment, Gopal said it must continue to invest in training and education to ensure there is enough access to talent.

He also pushed the idea of diversifying the tech sector from being mostly contained to urban centres.

Instead, Gopal said the tech sector must diversify further and develop regional clusters in places like Nanaimo or the Okanagan.