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B.C. launching $500M investment fund for sustainable economic development

Horgan says InBC is the province’s first major attempt to address the future of B.C.’s economy post COVID-19
A new provincial fund is geared toward helping life sciences companies, post-COVID.

The B.C. government has announced a new, $500 million strategic investment fund aimed at helping local tech and life-sciences companies scale up and anchor within the province, Premier John Horgan said this morning.

The fund, called InBC, is the province’s first major attempt at address the future of B.C.’s economy post COVID-19, Horgan said. According to officials, InBC will be administered by a new Chief Investment Officer to be named later and will be aimed at small- and medium-sized local companies that answer to a “triple bottom-line” motto – “People, planet and profit,” signifying firms that not only grow B.C.’s economy but also its sustainability and progress in other social/environmental facets.

“The objective here... was, ‘What are we missing? What components are not there to anchor our talent?’” Horgan said. “... This is a step into another world. This is a step out of the pandemic, focusing on the businesses that will lead us to a de-carbonized environment.

“Too often in the past, good ideas that have come from our post-secondary institutions have migrated to other jurisdictions for a host of reasons. We want to stem that flow of brainpower out of British Columbia and encourage more people to come.”

InBC differs from typical private-sector venture capital investments in start-ups in that the provincial fund will not be focused solely on a company’s profitability as assessment for its eligibility to receive funding. Rather, the entire InBC portfolio will reflect both a financial return objective and a tangible benefit to B.C.’s goals in areas such as reconciliation, sustainability and inclusiveness. That, officials said, means that some companies receiving investment will be more profitable than others – but the overall goal is growth both economically and goals that “align with provincial values.”

Compared to a typical venture capitalist fund – which on average look for a 5-7 year exit time with a 15-20% return on investment – InBC’s overall goal will look for an economic return of about 5% over a much longer term, as long as it supports the provincial government’s priorities on social and environmental fronts.

The fund was created after what officials describe as 200-plus engagements with Ottawa, business associations and other private industry groups on what B.C. can do in terms of providing support for growing the local economy. The priority investment target for InBC, officials said, will be companies that provide “family-supporting jobs” in the low-carbon economy and those with intellectual property development that would be able to keep such innovations in B.C. (instead of having to go elsewhere to receive the proper support to scale up).

Greg D’Avignon, President and CEO of the Business Council of British Columbia, said he is happy to see this new development – given that the COVID pandemic has accelerated the pace of society change towards tech and innovation. B.C., D’Avignon said, cannot be left behind, especially when the province generates so many ideas that are then taken elsewhere to thrive.

“B.C. specifically is home to some of the most creative and entrepreneurial people you’ll find anywhere,” D’Avignon said. “They are in every part of our province, and they are relentlessly developing globally relevant and game-changing solutions.

“For decades, we’ve punched well above our weight generating ideas and taking them to to early stage. But what are we seeing is that we often fail to support those companies as they go through the critical stages of growth... for them to stay here in our province. The result is that these companies often move elsewhere to nurture the needs that they have.”

According to the province, InBC’s Chief Investment Officer will have sole decision-making power on deciding where to invest, following a provincial mandate. A nine-member board – including two deputy ministers and seven private-sector players – will oversee the overall strategic operations of the CIO to ensure transparency, officials added, with annual reports and a detailed review every five years.