The Canadian government is accepting expressions of interest for its $400 million Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative starting today.
The $400 million — managed by BDC over three years — will be given to VCs that meet specific criteria.
VCCI was first announced in the government’s 2017 budget as a followup to the Conservative government’s $400 million Venture Capital Action Plan launched in 2013, which aimed to spur VC fund creation by dedicating $1 from the government to every $2 from the private sector.
The government announced that the program met its goal by April 2016, supporting four Canadian fund of funds with $1.35 billion under management. That program leveraged $390 million in government capital to raise over $1.35 billion, and made $820 million in commitments to 25 Canadian funds.
“VCCI is one essential pillar of our Innovation and Skills Plan. The goal of VCCI is to support the growth and scaling up of our best start-ups to turn them into global champions,” said Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. This program will support Canadian firms in creating the jobs of today and tomorrow. I am also very proud of the fact that this new initiative is putting forward concrete steps to promote diversity and gender equality in the innovation ecosystem. An open society that values a diversity of ideas and perspective is good for business.”
Successful candidates will have to report on the gender balance of the fund managers and entrepreneurs they support.
VCCI will build its portfolio through two streams. Stream 1 will allocate $350 million to applications from large funds-of-funds, with the objective of increasing the availability of late-stage capital. Proposals that meet additional criteria including accelerating the Canadian venture ecosystem for the long-term, and address underserved sectors and Canadian regions, will be given additional consideration.
Stream 2 will allocate $50 million for alternative investment models that can provide a financial return to investors, but would not otherwise be addressed by Stream 1. This stream would include VC funds-of-funds and VC funds that invest in companies, but the government notes that these applicants should support underserved groups like women-run funds, emerging sectors, and financing models unsuitable for fund of funds such as matching funds, deal-based fundraising models, and micro-funds.
Whitney Rockley, chair of the CVCA and co-founder of McRock Capital, said that she’s particularly excited about the opportunity for alternative investment models.
“One comment I heard over and over from a variety of fund managers [is] that creative investment models or structures were not embraced by the investment community, by fund of funds and investors into VC funds. A lot of emerging managers were pushed to the side with the previous program,” said Rockley, adding that this program allows fund of fund managers to raise funds slightly smaller than under the previous program, opening it up to more players in the ecosystem.
The government notes that all applicants are required to to demonstrate how their strategies would advance the government’s objectives of addressing gender balance among VC managers and enhancing diversity in STEM. They will be evaluated on this basis, and successful candidates will have to report on the gender balance of the fund managers and entrepreneurs they support.
“Having access to venture capital can make all the difference in helping Canadian small businesses take their ideas to market. In recent years, Canada’s venture capital market has come a long way – more and more, innovative startups and small businesses now are able to find Canadian investors to support their ideas. Yet our government understands that more needs to be done, especially for underrepresented groups, like women, indigenous, or immigrant entrepreneurs,” said Bardish Chagger, Minister of Small Business and Tourism.
“Through our new Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative, we are taking important steps to enhance support for these groups – both in terms of the fund management and in the actual investments made. By focusing on strengthening diversity, we are building a more robust Canadian venture capital industry that embraces principles of fairness and gender equality, and helps entrepreneurs create the good, middle-class jobs of tomorrow.”
Of course, Rockley also expressed her own excitement about an emphasis on diversity, acknowledging the “long game” ahead. “That’s how people will stay the course a bit more, and we have a bunch of work to do make people feel like they belong, so they don’t feel like they’re outside looking in and [wondering] if they are accepted.”
The government’s call for proposals provides specifics on requirements for the two streams, including expectations of investment strategy, investment process, and the experience of fund managers.
Through VCCI, the government hopes to inject around $1.5 billion into Canada’s VC ecosystem. The government will establish a private sector selection committee to evaluate incoming proposals, and provide recommendations on selections to Bains.
Interested applicants should submit proposals by February 23, 2018.