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Nova Scotia's Innovacorp outlines venture capital challenges in accountability report

Innovacorp President and CEO  Stephen Duff
Innovacorp President and CEO Stephen Duff

Nova Scotia early-stage venture capital investment agency Innovacorp has released its 2015-2016 Accountability Report, revealing that of the roughly $49.6 million managed under its Nova Scotia First Fund (NSFF), $24.6 million (50%) has been advanced to 44 companies, while $6.9 million (14%) has been advanced to Build Ventures and Cycle Capital L.P. I & II, and $13.6 million (27%) has been committed to funds, venture investments as well as the most promising graduates of Propel ICT’s regional accelerator program, leaving $5.5 million undrawn and available for follow-on and new investment.
While the accountability report demonstrates that the government agency has been meeting its stated goals of providing risk capital to early-stage, high potential companies, while also accelerating the growth and maturation of Nova Scotia’s regional start-up ecosystem, it has also highlighted the effectiveness of government investment in private enterprise.
The recent bankruptcy of Unique Solutions Design Ltd., which received $5.6 million from Nova Scotia Business Inc.’s venture capital portfolio, attracted the ire of Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie, who called on the government to “Get the government out of the job of picking winners and losers, because they pick too many losers.”
Nova Scotia’s Tories favour using the money currently going to NSBI and Innovacorp for venture capital purposes to instead lower the small business tax rate to allow the “real winners rise to the top”.
NSBI’s 2014-2015 report showed a devaluation of its portfolio from $58 million to $15.5 million, causing it to cease further investment in companies, leaving Innovacorp to handle the task of investing in early-stage Nova Scotia companies.
Innovacorp has seen only one major exit in recent years, with the 2012 sale of Halifax’s GoInstant to Salesforce netting a reputed $1 million return on a $100,000 investment.
Otherwise, it saw two small all-share transactions in 2015-2016, which provided lnnovacorp with some non-exit revenue, namely the sale of Innovacorp’s equity in Livelenz, bought in January by Arizona-based Mobivity Holdings Corp. for C$1.032 million, and the acquisition of InNetwork by Barrie, Ontario’s gShift Labs.
Innovacorp points out in its report that while the fund made 18 investments in 17 companies in 2015-2016, totaling $6.7 million, an additional $8.4 million in venture capital and private equity was leveraged, mostly from sources outside Nova Scotia.
The fund further expects to deploy $11.7 million in up to 12 investments in 2016-2017, a portion of which will be follow-on investments in existing portfolio companies, leveraging a further projected $19.2 million from private sector investors and venture capital investors.
lnnovacorp can also point to the fact that its  portfolio companies generated $34 million in revenues through export of products and services outside Atlantic Canada, exceeding their $30 million target, while total employment in portfolio companies was 491, exceeding the annual target of 400 employees.
Aggregate payroll of portfolio companies was $37.4 million, exceeding the $30 million target by 25%.
In 2016-2017, Innovacorp expects export sales to rise to $40 million and employment to fall to 420 employees with aggregate payroll expected to be $31.5 million, due to a combination of company exits from the portfolio and company wind-downs.
Innovacorp describes its mission in the report as being “to find, fund and foster innovative Nova Scotia start-ups that strive to change the world, and our vision is that this region will one day be among the top 10 start-up ecosystems in the world.”
With government revenue in the province scarce and the diminished status of Nova Scotia Business, it had better hope that it reaches next year’s targets, since the government in waiting has already stated that it believes Nova Scotians will be better served by austerity than with government agencies “picking winners” and working with local entrepreneurs to develop the region into an ambitious technology entrepreneurship hub.

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