The UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) came to an end a short while ago, leaving governments and businesses at best cautiously optimistic in the fight against climate change. Canada’s new Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, said it best, ‘’We have made progress on several fronts, but it is not enough’’.
The progress is not enough, but we should not use the results of the COP26 conference to point fingers since that will get us nowhere. Instead, it should be motivation to unite, think bigger and think creatively.
This is where starts-ups fit in. There are endless opportunities for Canadian clean tech and sustainable companies to grow and scale-up. Governments need to do more to help these start-ups reach their full potential so that Canada can accelerate towards a greener economy.
So, what’s next? For inspiration (and motivation), I turn to this quote from actor and activist Mark Ruffalo: “Climate change is the greatest threat to our existence in our short history on this planet. Nobody’s going to buy their way out of its effects.”
While Ruffalo is correct, we can get part of the way to winning this existential battle through some well-considered funding and innovation solutions; this is where government can and should do more. There is, quite rightly, a lot of focus on how to help existing businesses and large emitters to innovate greener. While a lot of focus is being put on big business, it is unfortunate that start-ups are all too often either overlooked or pushed aside because they are seen as an ‘’investment risk’’ rather than an opportunity.
To help Canada to reach net-zero by 2050, the government should build a national green business accelerator initiative whose mission would be to make more capital seed funding available. Such a government-backed investment — targeting funds at business opportunities with the potential to have the highest impact on reducing emissions in communities from coast-to-coast — would give private investors and accelerators the confidence they need to commit themselves to help put start-ups on a track for success.
Canada has the expertise to make this a reality. Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC) has been able to leverage $35 million of public funding to raise capital from private backers and support innovators to reduce CO2 emissions by a documented 1 megaton (Mt). We did so by directly investing $17.3 million in 30 early-stage companies while leveraging over $250 million from angel groups, venture capital firms, family offices and investment bankers. Oh, and these companies created more than 4,400 jobs in the process.
This impressive track record should be built out on a national scale as part of a coordinated strategy to capture the leveraging power of government funding combined with the business expertise of accelerators and the ingenuity of Canadian entrepreneurs who wish to make a difference.
Canada has an opportunity to become a globally-recognized leader in sustainability. Let’s give our start-ups the capital dollars and guidance they need to help them scale up and commercialize their inventions for the betterment of our planet. The time is now to shift our perspective towards viewing Canadian clean tech start-ups as economic and environmental opportunities instead of risks.
Climate change is a challenge that governments can no longer address on their own, and by supporting innovative start-ups, they no longer need to. The time for delay and consideration has passed. The state of our climate now demands a commitment to action and cooperation though a national business accelerator program.
Jim Grey is the Chair of the Board of the Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC), a national not-for-profit business accelerator based in Ontario, and a leader in the development of the Canadian bio-economy, providing critical strategic investment, advice and services to business developers of clean, green and sustainable technologies.