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An Interview With Danny Robinson, CEO, British Columbia Innovation Council (Part 3)

Posted on Wednesday, Feb 9th 2011

By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold

Irina: You fund programs and events but you don’t directly invest in companies, right?

Danny: Yes. Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to do that.

Irina: How many programs do you support?

Danny: I didn’t count them, but out of the list, there are probably 20 different things that we focus on, that we look at.

We have four major universities here in the province. We fund each of them and try to commercialize some of the technology that develops there.

We also fund different secondary school programs like science fairs and things like that. And, we fund a number of different organizations and industry associations and regional science councils around the province. All of those add up to maybe a little over 20.

Irina: What is the process of applying for and getting funds from you?

Danny: Candidates apply for it, and we have an internal process to review the applications.

We’re in the middle of changing that process to an online application and be a lot more transparent in terms of reporting where the money’s going and how it’s spent. We’re going to even delegate some of the decision making to the entrepreneurs themselves to help us decide where it goes.

Being an entrepreneur myself, I feel pretty confident that the entrepreneur knows more about where this money should go than any government institution or organization. So, I want to really engage them to help us decide how to help them.

We’re still working that out, to be fair. But, since I’ve been here, we’ve been figuring out exactly how to make that work. We’ve got some ideas, but we just haven’t fully fleshed them out yet.

Irina: What are the ranges of your sponsorships or grants?

Danny: It’s all over the map. It depends on the program and on the situation; we have no set range.

Irina: What are the main challenges for entrepreneurs in Vancouver?

Danny: Each sector has different types of challenges and different stages of their development and that kind of thing. So, it’s hard for me to pinpoint one. I can tell you about the Internet sector, which is where I came from – I know that area a lot more intimately.

I can say that the biggest challenges for them are going to be in the seed capital stage, you know, raising that first round of funding to try something out. It’s very difficult area to raise money in at the moment. It’s getting a little bit better, but we still need more there.

Irina: How do you think this particular challenge could  be addressed?

Danny: There are lots of ways. We’re working on a number of them, engaging companies to create ideas and funding to fund some of the research development that’s outside of the corporate wall.

So, for example, we have large companies here in Vancouver, and they should be helping the entrepreneurial community. That’s one way.

I think every more remote area wants to have a technology industry in their town. They also want to have a few anchor tenants, a few big companies, in their town.

Those big companies spin out more entrepreneurs. Most companies, on the way to being big companies, end up selling or failing. If they sell out, for example, governments have traditionally looked at that as negative.

If you sell out before you get to be an anchor, you’re not really providing the value that a company’s providing to the economy. I’m trying change that view, because [selling] generates angels. Angel investors are born usually from exits. We need more of those.

So, helping to change the belief that exiting is bad is one of our goals. Also, it’s the same thing with failing. Failing is also good. Well, it’s not failing that’s good. Trying is good. We shouldn’t condemn failing. If you fail, get back into it and try again.

That’s another hard concept, culturally, for Vancouver to accept. We’re showing some proof and some reasons why that is extremely important for the ecosystem to agree with, so that we can encourage people to try in the first place.

If they try and fail, and they realize that they’ve got another shot at it, then a lot more people will try.

This segment is part 3 in the series : An Interview With Danny Robinson, CEO, British Columbia Innovation Council
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