(Vancouver Sun) Growing companies is part of nurturing the tech ecosystem

As seen on www.vancouversun.com

Support system: Startups get help to transform into mid-size firms through Centre4Growth program

VANCOUVER, BC, October 29, 2013 — Canada has a long history of innovation, particularly in the technology sector. The proposal of a system of international time zones by Sir Sanford Fleming in 1879, Alexander Graham Bell’s research on the telephone, and W.R. Turnbull’s development of a variable-pitch propeller in the 1920s are projects that have contributed a great deal to the international movement of people and information we know today.

But too often, the entrepreneurs behind the discoveries sell the results of their research because they lack capital to commercialize the discoveries or the expertise needed to grow the business. Canada, long characterized as a nation built by “hewers of wood and drawers of water,” has changed little. We’re still providing the raw discoveries for others to capitalize on.

The Business Development Bank of Canada released a report earlier this year indicating that the number of mid-size firms in Canada was down 17 per cent in 2010 from 2006 – a loss in real terms of more than 1,550 companies. Those companies employed between 100 and 499 people, meaning that more than 750,000 jobs went elsewhere. Some companies became smaller, but some companies were very likely purchased and rolled into a larger firm.

However, the net result is a hollowing-out of the middle class of companies, and the technology industry – while among the more vibrant corporate sectors – wasn’t immune. British Columbia’s technology sector, for example, boasts 9,000 companies but just 3.5 per cent of them employ more than 50 people. The majority – a stunning 70 per cent – employ five people or less.

That’s not to say the sector isn’t vibrant. Startups abound, and a dynamic cluster provides plenty of opportunities for creative workers to gain experience at different companies as projects evolve.

But without a stable of midsize companies, the impact of the sector is far less than it could be, a sign that the potential of business owners and workers remains unrealized.

Still, there’s good news.

Small and medium-sized companies are open to seeking support that will help them grow.

Here in B.C., we’ve developed a program to help small tech companies maximize their potential and grow into mid-sized businesses that provide jobs and make a greater contribution to the province’s economy.

B.C.’s technology sector has attracted almost a billion dollars of investment in the first nine months of this year. The financings provide essential fuel to lift the growth of many of these companies. Early-stage companies have also turned to BCTIA and its three-yearold Centre4Growth for guidance, support and assistance in developing partnerships and entering new markets.

A case in point is Daryl Hatton of Fundrazr.com, a fouryear-old Vancouver startup that facilitates crowdfunding campaigns. Hatton had plenty of previous experience as an entrepreneur – but he also knew from that experience he didn’t know everything.

“To compensate for this fact of life, I actively work to surround myself with very smart, very experienced people that are willing to share their knowledge,” he says.

He turned to the Centre4Growth for assistance developing a strategy that would take the company into new markets and develop partnerships. But they also helped strengthen FundRazr internally, addressing strategic personnel issues. Similarly, Jason Farmer of GetWorkers.ca, a human resources site, worked with the Centre4Growth to fine-tune its business to ensure it meets the need in the marketplace for matching workers with company needs.

“Centre4Growth has been instrumental in helping grow our business and tell our story. This program has saved us a lot of time, money and heartache by allowing us to learn from the successes of others in the community,” Harmer says.

The guidance Centre4Growth provides leads to stronger companies with better outcomes – ideally, companies that are more apt to become mid-sized companies. FundRazr, for example, has grown from two to 16 employees as the Centre4Growth has helped it advance. As small businesses grow and realize their potential, everyone benefits – the companies, workers, and the province as a whole.

Bill Tam is CEO of the B.C. Technology Industry Association.

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