NEWS & ARTICLES

A Plea For Immediate Action

March 18, 2020

The Voice of Cleantech Series – Trevor Burgess from VoltSafe

BC’s cleantech startup ecosystem is already a world leader. These startups are expected to revolutionize sustainability initiatives and will undoubtedly serve as Canada’s economic engine of the future.

Unfortunately, without swift government action, these Canadian economic seeds may be lost and scattered to the wind, due to the overnight evaporation of liquidity and access to funding. Especially vulnerable are pre-revenue startups that do not yet have cash flow that offsets operating costs. These companies are unable to get debt financing or most other forms of financing and typically depend on equity investments, which have largely dried up.

For many pre-revenue companies, with little liquidity, this is an impossible situation, and is very concerning.

One of my concerns is that in the macro/big picture response, the smaller and emerging companies that are working on important cleantech innovations will fall by the wayside.

My other key concern is the debt financing gap for startups that are pre-revenue – how can they navigate this gap? This pain point is especially true for capital-intensive tech startups, like hardware or infrastructure, with their underlying patented technologies. As an SME, we can cut back costs as much as we can and operate on fumes, but without a path forward on financing, the flame will flicker out and die.

My hope for the days ahead, as the government responds to the deepening crisis, is that they, as Jeanette Jackson, CEO of Foresight calls it, “double down on the support of Cleantech SMEs”. Supporting these companies to navigate the debt financing gap is supporting the future of this economy, and the future of our country. If the government only gives attention to the big economic buckets of today, the economic engine of tomorrow will fail to materialize.

If the government finds innovative, low friction ways to ensure continued funding to promising Canadian startups (that are in pre-seed, seed and series A stages), I believe Canada can emerge as a clear global leader in the future of the global economy… clean technology. It will ensure the Canadian economy bounces back ahead of other countries, serving to reposition Canada on the global economic food chain.

As the global crisis begins to unfold, I believe we all should take pause, look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “who will I be able to say I was at the height of this crisis, how did I help, what did I do, was it enough”, because when the dust settles each and every one of us will have to look in the mirror again and be able to live with the answers. As Canadians, diversity is strength, unity is strength. As individual Canadians, as a country led by our Government, we must be proactive and come together with the foresight to ensure that our culture, our way of life and our economic future remains stronger than ever.

Here are some of my recommendations and ideas that I believe would maximize the talent and job-creation and growth potential of Canada’s cleantech startup ecosystem:

LIQUIDITY-DEALFLOW

  • Equity financing
    • Leverage BDC as a funding deployment tool – modify current lending qualification requirements to include deserving pre-revenue companies (i.e.startups with validated tech and previous significant successful $ raises could receive follow on at previous rounds raise up to 50% of prior raise amount – with a cap. This would equate to 6-9mo of additional runway for these companies.)
    • ITC’s – Provincial/Federal temporary boost to ITC’s so liquidity trickles back sooner vs later. Instead of 30% BC Tax Credit change to Federal and boost this to 50% or higher temporarily… 100%. If people stop spending, stop investing, Canada has a much bigger world of hurt ahead
  • Debt Financing – liquidity
    • BDC – modify requirements to deploy more capital
    • Banks – modify existing 350k CSBLA so govt guarantee go from 80% to 100% (remove restrictions that limit funds usage to just leasehold improvements and capital purchases)
    • WEDC – reduce friction to include pre-revenue startups and elimination of startup requirements to match WEDC funding for 2020.

GOV SUPPORT – operational expense offsets

  • Temporary wage/EI support NOW to reduce internal burn rates to prevent the permanent loss of key employees/talent critical to future company success

I have been a part of Foresight’s programs and supportive ecosystem for Cleantech, and support the work they are doing to amplify the voice of Cleantech SMEs and energize this entire industry toward a sustainable future. The heart of this ecosystem are many amazing startups, led by brilliant minds, that are creating game-changing technologies.

These companies will be the job creators of the future…but they need the government to step up and support them until full traction and healthy recurring cash flow is achieved.

About the Guest Author

Trevor Burgess

CEO of Voltsafe

With a history of creating numerous successful startups over the past 17 years, Trevor holds an MBA from Cornell and Queen’s along with a BSc. His core competencies reside in broad based knowledge with a specialization in developing startups from ideation and incorporation into companies with 100+ employees.

Note: Guest posts and articles represent the diversity of opinion within the cleantech world and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Foresight. They are presented here as part of our mandate to share the voice of the Cleantech community in Canada.