In November, the Ontario government announced the creation of two new initiatives to support small- and medium-sized enterprises ("SMEs") across the province. These initiatives are part of the Ontario government's five year, $400-million Business Growth Initiative, the goal of which is to promote an innovation-based economy in Ontario by helping SMEs. According to the Wynne government, Ontario needs to transition to a knowledge-based economy and, through this Business Growth Initiative, the development, adoption and commercialization of disruptive technologies.
The first program is the Small Business Innovation Challenge directed at helping SMEs develop and implement technology in the public sector. The second initiative, the Scale-Up Voucher Program, is directed at providing "high-growth companies" with increased access to resources, such as talent development and recruitment, accessing new markets, and, most notably, intellectual property protection services. According to the Ontario government, high-growth companies are those with "20 to 100 per cent growth each year" and are responsible for "…half of all net new jobs in Ontario." As found by the Fasken Martineau IP Survey, access to capital for IP protection is key for businesses, particularly start-up companies, to protection their IP. Over the next four years, Ontario will invest more than $32 million for the Scale-Up Voucher Program.
Based on our IP Survey, the role that IP plays for high-growth and start-up companies seems to be split almost equally between attracting investment, increasing valuation, creating barriers for competitors and distinguishing the company from others. If any one of these appears to be more heavily weighted for start-ups when compared with those in other company stages, it is the combination of attracting investment and increasing valuation. This is not surprising given the space in which high-growth and start-up companies exist, where raising capital in order to survive and grow is a key priority.
High-growth and start-up companies often face challenges in accessing the IP expertise and assistance they need to grow. To assist in overcoming these challenges, the Ontario government plans to provide vouchers to appropriate companies to be used for various activities, including IP protection. It is encouraging to see the Ontario Government recognize the unique challenges these companies face and provide tools to help address these challenges.
As the programs are rolled out, members of Fasken Martineau’s Start-Up Group as well as its Technology and Intellectual Property Group will be providing further updates on how our clients and others can take advantage of these new initiatives.