Funding for emerging Ontario companies dropped from $1.5 billion in 2000 to $236 million in 2007. The number of Series A rounds has reached a 12 year low. Clearly there is a problem, one with long term implications. And so the Ontario Government has stepped up to the plate, investing $90M into a fund of funds in partnership with OMERS Capital Partners, RBC Capital Partners, Manulife Financial, Business Development Bank of Canada, and TD Bank Financial Group for a total commitment of $205M.
This fund of funds will be managed by TD Capital Private Equity Investors who will in turn spread the $205M across Ontario venture capital and private equity groups who will be responsible for making direct investments.
A minimum of 80% of the funds will be invested into Ontario companies. 75% of funds will be allocated to venture funds who invest in emerging companies, the remainder being set aside for private equity funds who invest in mid-market companies. It is anticipated that the fund will be invested over four years starting this year. All this translates to approximately $123M to be invested in emerging Ontario startups.
“The decline in Ontario venture capital has coincided with greatly lowered investment by institutions such as pension funds and insurance companies. In 2000, institutional investors represented 21 per cent of venture financings. This has dropped to one per cent or less in the period from 2005 to 2007.”
It is rumored that the capital co-invested by the other limited partners is secured by the Government of Ontario’s $90M. If this is true, what the Ontario Venture Capital Fund is really addressing is the unwillingness of Canadian institutional investors to continue supporting Ontario’s venture capital funds. It seems dismal returns have soured LPs on the asset class or perhaps the venture funds they had previously invested in.
In the last three months two funds have closed rounds almost as large or larger than the OVCF. In March iNovia closed on a $107M fund and in May JLA closed on a $150M fund. Unfortunately, the $123M is likely to be spread across the same old funds. No one ever got fired for making the safe bet. The question is, what does an additional $20M in five preexisting funds do for Ontario? I would hazard to guess that the best possible result of the OVCF would be the creation of 1-2 new venture capital funds based in Ontario.
Ever the optimist, I suggest we focus on the bright side, three good things might come of the OVCF:
1. Institutional investors rediscover Ontario’s venture funds and pleased with returns from the OVCF decide to increase the amount of capital they commit for investment in early stage growth companies.
2. $123M is invested over the next four years across 15-30 Ontario startups. Some of who might not have been able to raise money otherwise. More money = More startups.
3. A new crop of venture investors emerge, with greater skill, luck, or just plain old good timing and reinvigorate the ecosystem, going on to raise new funds to provide all the growth capital Ontario startups need.
Ultimately the onus is on Ontario’s entrepreneurs to build companies that can scale. Money is everywhere. 59 per cent of foreign venture capital invested in Canada is invested in Ontario. Ontario’s venture funds are only as good as the companies they invest in. So get back to work! There is $123M more now available to fund your startup.