NDP MP introduces private member’s bill to create venture capital fund

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NDP Economic Development and Innovation Critic Deron Bilous is again calling on the Alberta government to create a venture capital fund to attract investment in the technology sector.

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Bilous on Thursday introduced a private member’s bill, Bill 203, the Technology Innovation and Alberta Venture Fund Act, which, if passed, will establish an advisory board and venture capital fund managed by the Alberta Enterprise Corporation (AEC) to invest in start-ups, startups and scale-ups.

The NDP launched a similar fund in February 2021, calling for $200 million in seed funding, but the new legislation does not include a dollar request. Since its previous proposal, the NDP said industry leaders have suggested the fund should be professionally and independently monitored by the government.

Bilous told reporters before introducing the bill Thursday that the global tech sector has seen strong growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Alberta needs to do more to be competitive.

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“We are losing ground to other provinces,” Bilous said, adding that the fund would catapult Alberta’s growth and allow Albertans to invest and earn returns.

The Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (CVCA) reported that 2021 was a banner year for venture capital investments in Alberta and across the country. The CVCA estimated investments at $14.7 billion, while Alberta recorded a total of $561 million in deals.

“We have grown, but our growth is actually much slower than other jurisdictions. The industry has told me and us that if we want to be leaders, we have to take big, bold steps. This concept of venture capital funds is unique and currently does not exist in the country,” said Bilous.

Following the release of the CVCA report in early March, Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer said the investments show Alberta becoming a major player on the global tech scene.

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Tricia Velthuizen, Schweitzer’s press secretary, said in a statement Thursday that the government was still reviewing the bill, but the minister was a strong advocate for the tech sector. In January, the government announced a $31.2 million investment for the AEC in three venture capital firms.

“Any attempt to turn venture capital numbers in our province into less than exponential growth is a mistake. Since the formation of the government, investments have increased by almost 500%, which was never seen under previous administrations,” Velthuizen said, adding that the number of tech companies has more than doubled since 2018.

Trent Johnsen, founder and CEO of Liveweb, spoke in favor of the NDP bill.

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“We’ve actually gone from over 10% of total investment in Canada to less than 4%. We’re not even tracking our Canadian peer provinces, let alone the rest of the world,” Johnsen said, adding that Alberta’s lack of incentives, such as investor tax credits, are slowing growth relative to d other jurisdictions.

Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec lead the list with $7.4 billion, $2.9 billion and $2.8 billion in investments respectively in 2021. The NDP noted in a press release that while these provinces experienced growth between 180% and 270%, Alberta’s year-over-year increase was only 23%.

“My request is that industry help amplify this conversation. Let’s get Albertans talking about concrete ways to help grow the economy and invest in businesses back home,” Bilous said.

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