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CEO of B.C.’s new $500M investment corporation faces triple-bottom-line challenge

CEO of B.C.’s new $500M investment corporation faces triple-bottom-line challenge

Technology Sector Program Entrepreneurship

The chief executive of B.C.’s new $500-million strategic investment fund knows she has a tough job ahead of her.

Author: Aleksandra Sagan,  The Logic

“It’s definitely going to be a bumpy road, and we’re not going to be able to please everybody,” Jill Earthy said this week. “We recognize that — but we’re definitely going to do our best.”

InBC Investment Corporation, which Earthy leads, has a mandate that goes beyond just closing B.C.’s tech funding gap. Though it’s independent, the provincial government created it to pursue a “triple-bottom-line” approach that focuses not only on financial returns, but also on environmental, economic and social impact.

That means Earthy, and the organization’s soon-to-be-appointed chief investment officer, have a lot to do — and with an eager local tech community already knocking on the door for funding, there’s clearly some urgency.

“I think we may not make everybody happy right out of the gates, right?” she said. “We’re not going to be able to provide funding to everybody who needs it.”

Legislated into existence last year by the province’s NDP government, InBC’s policies and programs must enhance public services and affordability, help with Indigenous reconciliation, tackle equity and anti-racism, fight climate change and strengthen the economy, according to the mandate letter Innovation Minister Ravi Kahlon sent to board chair Christine Bergeron last May .

Earthy — who started in her new role on Dec. 13 after holding the top post at WeBC, a non-profit that boosts female entrepreneurs in the province — knows InBC won’t be able to do it all at once.

The organization is close to announcing its chief investment officer, who will craft the fund’s investment policy and be responsible for investment decisions, starting to deploy capital as early as this summer, Earthy said.

The search is down to the final candidates, with a decision likely by the end of March and the person in place before the end of May. They will immediately start working on an investment-policy statement, which will define how the fund decides where to put its money — though it will be an evolving document.

Earthy has worked with the existing team — so far InBC has a staff of six, including three seconded from their government roles — to get that document started, but the CIO will “put their own lens on” it. The document will further outline the organization’s triple-bottom-line approach, she said, and look at asset allocation, specifying where the fund will start investing.

“Are we going to start potentially looking at investing in funds first? Are we going to dive into direct investments out of the gate?” Earthy said, asking questions she admitted she couldn’t yet answer. As it goes, the fund may also look at other mechanisms, such as a loan program or debt product, to help fill the gaps in the ecosystem.

The organization has already been fielding calls from both companies and funds seeking investment. “I think that’s fantastic,” said Earthy. InBC’s staff is gathering information from them to share with the incoming CIO.

Earthy expects the team to choose an initial area of focus and suggested some areas where she thinks the fund can have an immediate impact. “There’s still a gap that exists between the seed (fundraising round) and Series A” in the province’s tech funding ecosystem, she said, which could be a “key opportunity for us to zero in on.”

She also said she wanted InBC to map the different sources of capital and support available to B.C. companies along each step of their growth trajectory to identify other gaps it can help fill with capital or partnerships. Earthy suggested it could partner with organizations such as Innovate B.C., a Crown agency focused on growing the province’s tech sector, and provide funding once startups graduate out of the programs offered by those groups.

There’s also pressure to prove InBC’s model — one that hinges on being inclusive and funding a more diverse group of entrepreneurs than traditional programs — can work. “We have a lot to prove,” she said. “We want to demonstrate that an inclusive approach to capital can be very effective. You don’t have to compromise returns for impact.”

Once the investment policy is finalized, the CIO will look to hire an investment team of eight or nine people, and Earthy expects InBC’s team to grow from its current six to over 20 within the next 18 months.

As for “the question everyone’s asking” — when will the fund announce its first investment? In the interview, Earthy was cautiously optimistic, initially saying late summer, then hedging. “If it happens earlier, that’s a great thing. But, just to be realistic, I’d say early fall.”

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