Cleaning up at home and abroad

At a time when conventional venture capital has dried to a trickle in Ottawa’s high tech sector, the SDTC fund looks to be the best bet in town.

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By Tony Patterson
From SCAN's Print Edition

“We’re a big hearted VC,” says Dr. Vicky Sharpe, president and CEO of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (at right in photo), “because when we turn people away we’re much more helpful. We also coach people to come back and be successful.” They’re not just big-hearted at SDTC, they’re really big. A government-funded ‘foundation’, SDTC has a capital base which has just been doubled to a billion dollars, which makes it the biggest clean tech fund in the world. It’s all available for any Canadian with a better idea for cleaning or preventing pollution or for producing cleaner energy Around the corner and one block over, at International Development Research Centre, they live in a different world. Maureen O’Neil, president and CEO of IDRC (left in photo), is quick to say that they don’t have nearly as much money as SDTC, only $200 million. But they’re just as interested in sustainability. The IDRC thrust is to work on infrastructure in developing countries and emerging economies in order to make policy frameworks and regulatory regimes more friendly to initiatives aimed at environmental renewal.

At a time when conventional venture capital has dried to a trickle in Ottawa’s high tech sector, the SDTC fund looks to be the best bet in town. In the five years since its founding it has completed nine funding rounds and allocated a total of $241 million to 109 projects. That amount has been leveraged with an additional $617 million in funding from other project partners for a total project value of $858 million. SDTC has conducted 10 calls for statements of interest and received 1,249 SOIs from across the country — representing some $10.1 billion in project potential from more than 3,100 companies and institutions.

The practical outcome has been pretty favourable for Ottawa. As the chart above shows, Ontario has received the bulk of SDTC’s investment over the years. On the face of it, Ottawa has done better than anywhere else. Nine companies here have received SDTC funds, more than any other municipality. But this surface appearance is misleading when you recognize that many of the other municipalities where funds have been directed are all clustered in the greater Toronto area. There are only two entries from Toronto per se, but eight from Mississauga and a sprinkling from Markham, Scarborough, Newmarket and other GTA satellite communities.

IDRC works mostly in and with developing countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean. With regional offices in Cairo, Dakar, New Delhi, Montevideo, Nairobi, and Singapore, its environmental and natural resources program focuses on grass roots issues, specifically on improving human health by better managing ecosystems and securing sources of food and water. The focus is on institutional development, production technology and local resource management. IDRC supports local management and control of biodiversity in light of global initiatives and policies governing genetic resources.

One of its major initiatives at this time is the Climate Change Adaptation in Africa (CCAA) program. In May 2006, IDRC launched CCAA in collaboration with the UK’s Department for International Development. This multimillion dollar program aims to strengthen research around how African countries and communities can best deal with the expected effects of climate change, ranging from drought and flooding to crop failure and disease outbreaks. The CCAA program is run and executed in Africa by Africans, in the belief that it is important to build indigenous research capacity to help people achieve change. The program is managed by IDRC primarily from offices in Cairo, Dakar and Nairobi.

The technology centrepiece of the 2007 federal budget was $500 million over seven years available for SDTC “to invest with the private sector in establishing large-scale facilities for the production of next-generation renewable fuels. Next-generation renewable fuels — produced from agricultural and wood waste products such as wheat straw, corn stover, wood residue and switchgrass — have the potential to generate even greater environmental benefits than traditional renewable fuels. Canada is well positioned to become a world leader in the development and commercialization of next-generation fuels. For example, Ottawa-based Iogen is one of Canada’s leading biotechnology firms. It operates the world’s only demonstration scale facility to convert biomass to cellulosic ethanol using enzyme technology.”

Discussions between SDTC and the mandarins are currently underway to determine just how this new money will be rolled out.

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