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Something Ventured:
Dec 18th

Insight For BC Technology Entrepreneurs

By Brent Holliday

A BC VC Santa Wish List

"Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.
What if Christmas doesn't come from a store?
What if Christmas meant something a whole lot more? "
-Dr. Seuss - How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Dear Santa:

How are things Nick? Me? Well, been better. I have tried to be a nice VC all year in order to justify some wishes for 1999. Just in case your crystal ball was a little cloudy (Who knew it would rain for three months straight in Vancouver?), I can give you a brief overview of BC and the technology scene here. As I see it, it's a Tale of Two Cities kind of time: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

It was only 1993 when I started surveying the BC tech scene (for a job). I remember talking to some long-in-the-tooth technology people and they were praying for the day when a $100 million a year technology company would emerge in BC. Well, Mr. Kringle, I am proud to say that we have half a dozen now. Three of them are foreign owned or controlled, but at least the jobs are still here.

The place where I tend to play in the tech scene is with the early companies that people haven't heard of yet. The good news is that many of the ones we, in the VC community, invested in a few years ago are maturing nicely. Make sure you send lots of toys to those in charge of Prologic, Pivotal, AnorMED, Angiotech, Creo Products, HotHaus, TerraGen, Xantrex and NCompass Labs. There are many more that have done great things and hired many people this year. To them, send some luck. We all need it now and then, to supplement the hard work.

I have to tell you that, despite all of the technology community strides forward, this a miserable place to do business these days. We really need you this year, Santa. There are a lot of people struggling to put a turkey on the table this year because their dollar ain't what it used to be. The foreign currency traders have royally kicked it. Now, 6 months after the big drop, we will all start to see higher costs of imports, like food. In Vancouver, the salt in the wound is that we already live in an expensive place. I know what you are thinking. We could live in Regina and still get your reindeer to land on our roof. The fact that the Regina roof costs 1/3 of what the Vancouver roof costs is not to be overlooked. In BC, we have the final nail in our economic coffin. Taxes. Corporate and personal taxes hurt us even more that the rest of Canada. And Santa, you know that some people have up and left. 33,000 to Alberta in one year!

Oh, it's ugly all right. I think that the rain over the past months is actually our collective despair. If everyone in BC has a black cloud over his or her head, well...

So, with that setting here is my wish list:

1) That the government at all levels stop planning "what is good for BC" and start planning "what is good for the future of BC". It can't get much worse today. Let's make plans for tomorrow. Ireland, Oregon and Ontario are three easy examples of seemingly radical actions that have resulted in competitive, vibrant economies. Santa, deliver some common sense in their stockings.

2) I already mentioned some luck for the entrepreneurs. Can I also get some perseverance for them? It will be a struggle to find and keep really good people in their companies. They need the fortitude to get through this.

3) I know its kind of mushy, but how about some harmony. In the last part of the year, it has been quite fashionable to have a summit and discuss ways to improve things. A collective voice will help keep the pressure on for some changes.

4) For me, nothing much. How about more R&D money and facilities for early stage research? Can I get a new media incubator facility that can add some focused expertise to a talented, but scattered group in Vancouver? While you're at it, how about more money for investment and more smart VCs to invest it. Hey competition can't hurt us. Smart partners help everyone succeed. That's it. Oh, and a raise, my kids are getting expensive.

That's it. I'll look forward to your visit on the 25th. If you can deliver this list for 1999, then I think we'll all be a lot better off in this province.

Yours hopefully,

Random Thoughts

- So, Totally Hip is leaving BC for California. Randall McCallum had some juicy quotes for the newspapers. He even made national newspapers with his rant. I have only one beef with his characterization of BC. He said that he needed to move to California where the investment community would be more willing to invest in him. Last I looked, Totally Hip was extremely overvalued, even as a penny stock on the ASE. And his brightest technology mind left the company 18 months ago. Even so, he probably will succeed in California because he is a fighter. I wish him the best of luck, but I think it's unfortunate if the the rest of Canada thinks that his self-professed "hot company" is indicative of the community here.

What Do You Think? Talk Back To Brent Holliday

Something Ventured
is a bi-weekly column designed to supplement the T-Net British Columbia web site with some timely, relevant and possibly irreverent insight into the industry. I hope to share some of the perspective and trends that I see in my role as a VC. The column is always followed by feedback (if its positive or constructive. I'll keep the flames to myself, thanks).

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