Thursday, May 21, 2009

Does Ontario's Innovation Minister Wear Pajamas?

I once dated a man I thought was the perfect match. After a particularly romantic night on the town in Manhattan, I decided it was time to take things to the next level. I decided wrong; soooo wrong. We returned to his apartment where he dimmed the lights and (really, I wish I was kidding)……donned pajamas. The same jammies he wore for the rest of our (short) doomed relationship.

The term “jammie man” has since been used by my friends to describe anyone who falls short of their initial promise, either romantically or professionally. Golfer John Daly? Jammie Man. The Segway? Jammie Innovation. Remake of Beverly Hills, 90210 ? Jammie show.

It looks like there's another name to add to this list - our current Minister of Research and Innovation. As June approaches, we have learned nothing about the promised guidelines for Ontario’s Emerging Technologies Fund. You may recall that in March the Ministry announced that guidelines for the fund would be available in June, with matching funds being deployed in July. Now, the Ministry has posted that guidelines will now not be available until the end of July. It is widely expected that won’t see any money deployed until the fall at the earliest.

What seemed to be a savvy, brilliant move by a Ministry that understood how to preserve start-up innovation in the absence of venture capital now appears to have fallen victim to implementation bloat. John Wilkinson, I regret to inform you, may be turning out to be a jammie man.

Timely implementation of the fund is critical to Ontario's innovation economy. There are scores of Ontario companies who have bootstrapped themselves and raised modest friends and family/angel rounds in the last 18 months. Matching funding deployed now would preserve those jobs, plus those Ontario investor dollars that have stepped in to support those businesses.

While there may be additional thought and debate required on how the guidelines should work for 2010-2014, that should have no bearing on the present, very real need to bridge companies in 2009. Easy criteria: if an an accredited investor (as defined by the Ontario Securities Act) wants to invest in you, the Ministry will match that money. A good starting point. One could expand that in a variety of ways, but loosen the coffers first, and deal with intricacies later.

Is there anyone who disagrees that there is an innovation cash crisis? Now is not the time for pajamas. We need a tee shirt and boxers guy.

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