Updated #BCTech Strategy includes focus on STEM grads and encouraging US trade

christy clark

At the second annual #BCTech Summit in Vancouver, BC Premier Christy Clark announced updates to its #BCTech Strategy.

First announced in January 2016, the #BCTech Strategy includes a $100 million VC fund for promising BC companies, currently being managed by Toronto-based Kensington Capital Partners.

“Evolving initiatives in the #BCTECH Strategy reflect our focus on enabling tech companies to grow and reach their full potential.”

During the announcement, Clark placed particular emphasis on fostering tech talent through education. The province wants to increase the number of tech grads by 1,000 per year by 2022. Post-secondary tech degree program co-op placements will also be doubled to over 1,400 students annually, and the Mitacs student research program will be expanded to over 800 internships annually.

“BC’s tech community has told us their number-one priority is making sure British Columbians have the talent and skills they need so the sector can continue to grow and thrive,” said Clark. “The revised BC Tech Strategy is about giving British Columbians in all corners of the province every opportunity to build careers in tech.”

Clark also announced the creation of a new BC Science and Technology Research Chair program to support researchers and their teams of graduate students in work relevant to the technology and the life sciences sub-sector.

When the provincial government announced its budget in late February, the province announced that an $87 million would be contributed to its #BCTECH strategy, going towards ministries that support the tech sector. The government also announced that it would cut the small business corporate income tax from five percent to two percent.

Other announcements on the expanded #BCTech Strategy is meant to support four pillars: talent, capital, markets, and data.

Supporting tech talent

As the federal government promotes its Global Skills Strategy set to launch on June 12 — which includes a two-week fast-track visa for highly-skilled tech workers — the BC government expressed a commitment to reduce the time and costs of immigration processes, while increasing its own share of immigrants with tech skills.

The government has also pledged to entice more people into the tech sector; it’s working to enhance specialized and targeted tech skills-training programs for people unemployed and underrepresented in the tech sector. The government also said it would work with the First Nations Technology Council on their comprehensive skills-development program, Bridging to Technology.

“It is critical that Indigenous people have access to digital and connected technologies, comparable to all British Columbians,” said Denise Williams, executive director, First Nations Technology Council. “To achieve reconciliation through innovation, the First Nations Technology Council welcomes all opportunity to work in partnership to achieve total access to the knowledge-based economy and full participation in BC’s rapidly-growing technology sector.”

Over the next five years, the province will phase in expanded co-op placements for all institutional degree programs in tech, and create BC’s Innovation Network, which will act as a bridge between public postsecondary institutions and industry. The province will also make funding available to double the number of placements in the BC Tech Co-op grants program and Innovator Skills initiative, which will enable post-secondary students to gain work experience.

Encouraging trade and investment in BC

The province plans to increase the presence of Trade and Investment Offices in Seattle and Silicon Valley to attract investment to BC, and help BC companies connect with VCs, skilled tech workers, strategic partners, investors, and new customers. The province will also continue to work with Washington State on the Cascadia Corridor to create regional economic opportunities for innovation in the tech sector.

Considering the anxiety in the US from tech companies about how immigration bans will affect their workers — and the fact that US accelerators like Y Combinator are coming to Vancouver to address these concerns — it’s a timely announcement.

The province also plans to expand eligibility for the Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit (IDMTC) to include AR and VR products for entertainment, subject to the approval of the legislature. It will also increase the annual Small Business Venture Capital tax credit budget by $3.5 million.

As part of its focus on data, the province will create a Centre for Data-Driven Innovation in B.C., which will provide a secure platform to make new discoveries with government data, support better public policy, and transform and personalize government services for citizens.

Supporting market development opportunities

The government will create a Procurement Concierge Service to act as a matchmaker between government needs and tech companies of all sizes that can offer solutions, and pilot a Startup in Residence͟ program. The Startup in Residence program is modelled after a similar initiative in San Francisco, and allows startups to co-develop, test, and launch solutions to public sector challenges.

The province will also establish an Innovative Ideas Fund to encourage the purchase of new and innovative technology products.

The Strategy notes a focus on rural communities, as the province announced a $40-million expansion of the Connecting British Columbia program to provide high-speed internet service to citizens in rural and remote areas. A rural representative will be appointed to the BC Innovation Council to support regional innovation. The representative will match local challenges with home-grown solutions and showcase regional innovations and opportunities.

The government will also expand its Export Navigator pilot from four to six rural regional communities in 2017.

“BC tech is changing the world and creating new opportunities, including new jobs fuelled by five straight years of sector growth,” said Amrik Virk, Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services. “Evolving initiatives in the #BCTECH Strategy reflect our focus on enabling tech companies to grow and reach their full potential. We are creating the conditions that are helping the sector thrive, from clean-tech to life sciences to ICT.”

Read the government’s in-depth report here.

Photo via Twitter

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang is BetaKit's News Editor.