Katherine Barr Discusses Canada's 2017 Budget

March 23, 2017

PUBLISHED BY Craig Daniels

SOURCE Communitech News

Less than 24 hours after Finance Minister Bill Morneau had unveiled his second federal budget, Kurtis McBride was already taking and making calls to help position Waterloo Region as a beneficiary of one of its key initiatives — the Smart Cities Challenge.

McBride is the CEO of Miovision, a traffic data and infrastructure company that helps cities improve their traffic management. He’s also one of the driving forces behind Catalyst137, a former tire and footwear warehouse in Kitchener that is being repurposed into a 475,000-square-foot facility to house the manufacturing of smart devices connected to the Internet of Things.

McBride believes the Smart Cities Challenge, a $300-million program — a contest, in effect — designed to spur municipalities to implement a smart-cities strategy, is tailor-made for a region like Waterloo, and has begun the process of contacting and assembling various local stakeholders to build an application designed to do one thing: Win.

Morneau’s budget, tabled in the House of Commons Wednesday, was chock full of initiatives designed to spur innovation, including $950 million for supercluster growth, the launch of a national strategy for artificial intelligence, a venture capital initiative and a skills program, to name just a few.

Former Communitech board member Katherine Barr, a Canadian who is a founding partner at Wildcat Venture Partners, a Silicon Valley VC firm, was among those particularly enthused by the budget’s tech focus.

“A common theme we’ve heard from the Canadian tech ecosystem is a need for increased funding, increased talent in certain key areas to help companies scale, as well as the government being more open minded to procurement and becoming a customer of our tech ecosystem. I think all three of those points were hit in a material way.”

Barr was a member of Canadian government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth, and many of the council’s recommendations vis-à-vis technology found their way into Morneau’s budget document. In particular Barr’s recommendations focused on skills and talent. Specifically with respect to skills, the budget announced:

  • The creation of a new skills agency ($225M over five years, $75M ongoing), aiming to provide training for Canadians.
  • $221M to triple the number of co-op placements that Mitacs – a not-for-profit research and training organization – can offer, bringing the number to 10,000.
  • $50M to help teach children from K-12 to code.

“With automation kicking into gear, Canadian companies are going to need people who are highly resilient, flexible, technically competent and creative problem solvers in an applied way,” said Barr. “We’ve got to build that base now. That’s why we suggested support for new and innovate ways to create these critical skills and the government moved on it, which I am really happy to see.”

Barr also gave thumbs up to the money — $400 million — that the government is injecting into the Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative, money that will be directed to the Business Development Bank of Canada. She thinks that as the limited partners which invest in venture firms see money flowing into companies, they’ll be more likely to support the Canadian venture and tech ecosystems, as well.

“When the government steps up and says we really believe in the Canadian venture ecosystem, and the Canadian technology ecosystem, that’s important for the continued growth of skilled venture firms and meaningful technology startups in Canada,” she said. “This support, in combination with strong returns from the funds and the companies they invest in, will help to attract limited partner dollars from inside and outside of Canada to invest in Canadian venture funds.”

Read the full article on Communitech here.