Just as they used to say in an old TV commercial for Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale, the people putting together the regional venture capital fund are taking the time to get it right.
Of all the accusations that may be hurled against the planning committee, obsessive punctuality won’t be among them. Premiers Darrell Dexter of Nova Scotia and David Alward of New Brunswick said last year the manager of the fund would be announced in February, then word on the street said March.
Well, I’m hearing rumblings on this brief again and people familiar with the matter say there is a movement afoot to have an announcement in early June. A lot of people would be pleased to get the announcement – assuming it comes.
Here’s what we know so far: Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have committed to investing $15 million in a venture capital fund, and have invited other parties – provinces, the federal government, private investors – to back it as well. The goal is to assemble a strong enough management team that the fund can grow, raise more money later, and attract co-investors when it backs a company. Press reports say the two finalists to run the fund are Tony Van Bommel, a Dalhousie grad now managing cleantech investments for BDC in Vancouver, and Patrick Keefe, the Oxford-educated VP of Investment at Innovacorp.
All that was public information last winter, and what has happened since then is a few other parties have come to the table so it appears the fund will open with $65 million in commitments. That’s just large enough to allow the fund to operate efficiently and make initial and follow-on investments in several companies around the region.
I don’t know the exact composition but this is my best guess from talking to people familiar with the situation: $15 million each from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and the Business Development Bank of Canada, and a private investor coming in with $5 million. Nothing is written in stone yet, but this is the way it’s shaping up.
Though the private investor will likely come in with less money than the governments, the presence of a non-governmental backer is huge in launching this fund. It means someone in the region who’s so successful that they have $5 million feels comfortable enough with the fund’s management to back it. It elevates this fund above the status of a bureaucratic regional development tool.
Organizers have been delighted with the contribution of the government of Newfoundland. Since the election of Kathy Dunderdale last autumn, the government in St. John’s has been active in developing the framework for the fund and committing to financing it. So far, people say, Prince Edward Island has not joined the project, but the door is still open and likely always will be.
So why has this whole thing taken so long? Part of it is the complexity of the project. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia set out last fall mainly to hire a fund manager but also to recruit other limited partners (the bodies that inject money into VC funds). So they had the unenviable task of finding the right individuals and terms for a fund that could satisfy the ambitions of all the parties.
Beyond that, as one person told me, the cabinets of three different provincial governments have to suck in their breath, and say, “We’re going to do this.” Nothing like this has ever been attempted in Canada, and it’s being done in a region where politicians have never been rewarded for interprovincial cooperation. It is taking a lot of political courage, and I’ve heard that there’s been an admirable lack of squabbling between these governments.
I'm hoping for a June announcement. The new managers need to find an office, hang their name on the door and get down to work. There are companies out there screaming for money, and this new fund will be key to helping them get it.