Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Another Dear John (Wilkinson) Letter

Dear John,

I know you don’t like it when I call you at the office, but you don’t seem to return my calls or emails, and, well, I’m beginning to think that you don’t care. We need to talk. About us.

And by “us,” I mean you, me and Ontario’s entrepreneurs. We understand why you’ve been busy with all those VCs and university and hospital researchers. I mean, they prance around you in their pretty white lab coats and their black investor-style mock turtlenecks, talking about genome projects and the loss of future generations of entrepreneurs and investors. What man wouldn’t be distracted?

But you need to turn away from all these fancy promises of future job creation and focus on our needs: the retention of innovation economy jobs that exist today. After all, where have these researchers and investors been when you needed someone to cook your dinners and create jobs for the innovation economy? And when you couldn’t find your socks before the Budget Speech, or VCs who could access the Venture Fund you set up for them, who was there for you, bootstrapping like mad to launch companies to boost your statistics about Ontario’s high tech clusters? We were, and now we want a little respect.

Come July, when the Emerging Technologies Fund is activated, we want you to ensure that investment funds are deployed to match investments in innovation businesses that are made not just by VCs, but by a broad range of others. Let’s face it - until the OVCF deploys more capital, and other VC limited partners ante up alongside them, there just aren’t going to be many VCs with money that, come July will be able to co-invest with ETF, anyhow.

Which means you need to consider whose investments you’ll match. This all turns on who you decide is an “eligible private sector investor.” For example, how do you determine what individual investors trigger matching funds? There is no accepted definition of “angel” nor should we try to craft one now. What if family and friends want to top up an investment offer made by an “eligible private sector investor” – will their funds also be matched by the fund? You want suggested wording for the guidelines? You know all you need to do is ask.

We know you’re concerned about how the Ontario taxpayers will be repaid, and we think that we’ve got you covered. Most investment terms include a right for investors to sell (or “put”) their shares to the Company after a period of time (usually 7 years) has lapsed without a sale or IPO. Which means that, we can ensure the taxpayer is repaid if we don't try and sell or publicly trade our shares (and right now, most innovation companies won't). You need specifics? We can provide them.

We know we haven’t got flashy labs or enhanced portfolios like some of the people you’ve been hanging out with. We’re not asking you to give them up; after all,we’re not ready for a permanent commitment, either. All we want is a little respect. And maybe flowers on our birthday (coincidentally, we were all born Nov. 28).

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