Hard to tell if Canada venture capital fund will work: Reuters

It is hard to tell whether a $400 million Canadian venture capital fund will boost innovation as intended because there are few ways to measure its effectiveness, the country’s top independent watchdog said on Tuesday.

The previous Conservative government set up the so-called Venture Capital Action Plan (VCAP) in 2013 to stem the loss of young entrepreneurs to the United States and to rekindle investor interest in providing startup funds for new ventures.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson, who reports to parliament, said Ottawa had too few tools to measure its success.

“It is unclear what impact the government’s action plan will have on venture capital and innovation,” Ferguson said in a statement accompanying a probe of the fund.

The system Ottawa set up to assess the fund’s performance is limited and is not due to formally start monitoring progress until 2021, he added.

“This will not provide information early enough to support important decisions such as whether to launch a similar program in future,” said Ferguson.

Monitoring should be boosted to include data on how many companies who received funding were successfully floated, their export growth and financial performance as well as how many new patents they had registered, he added.

The $400 million was used to establish two new, private-sector-led national “funds of funds” to invest in other venture-capital funds, to recapitalize existing large private sector-led funds of funds and to invest in four existing, high-performing venture-capital funds in Canada.

Ferguson suggested the plan be changed to allow public sector partners to end their participation while the funds were still operating.

“An early exit of the public sector partners could send a strong signal of the private sector partners’ confidence that their returns at termination will be sufficient,” he said.

Ottawa wanted the funds to spur investment in such sectors as digital media, information technology, cleantech and telecommunications.

Private sector backers include Richardson GMP, Open Text Corp, Royal Bank of Canada, BMO Financial Group, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Toronto-Dominion Bank and Bank of Nova Scotia.

Ferguson said the government initially had trouble attracting private sector investors, who complained about low returns, strict international regulatory requirements and high management fees.

He also said there had been “significant shortcomings” in the selection process for fund managers which meant it was not fair, open and transparent.

The government was due to react later on Tuesday.

Update: VCAP helped to create four venture funds of funds: HarbourVest Canada Growth Fund, Kensington Venture Fund, Northleaf Venture Catalyst Fund and Teralys Capital Innovation Fund. The funds raised a combined $1.35 billion.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Frances Kerry)

(This story has been edited by Kirk Falconer, editor of PE Hub Canada)

Photo of Michael Ferguson courtesy of Reuters/Chris Wattie