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Cisco Canada to head $150-million fund for innovative startup companies

TORONTO - Cisco Canada plans to invest $150 million over 10 years in a variety of Canadian startup companies, technology development incubators and new technologies that it thinks have the potential to affect the global market.

Cisco Canada's president Nitin Kawale said Canada has many innovative entrepreneurs but that there is a lack of funds and expertise to turn their ideas into commercial products.

"This is the void we're trying to fill," Kawale said Thursday at a Toronto launch announcement that included federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver.

Oliver said no federal matching funds have been allocated to the Cisco Canada Innovation Program.

"This is a private-sector initiative. After all, the private sector is entitled to, and should be, pursuing their own initiatives. Government doesn't have to be everywhere. It shouldn't be and, in fact, we're going to achieve our balanced budget next year because we're going to be acting responsibly with taxpayers money," Oliver said.

However, Oliver said the effort does complement the federal government's plan for stimulating investment in Canadian innovation.

Under the Venture Capital Action Plan announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in January 2013, the government will deploy $400 million over a period of several years and expects to attract nearly $1 billion in new private sector investments in small- and mid-sized innovative companies.

About $250 million of the total is to establish large "funds of funds" that will partner with institutional and corporate investors as well as interested provinces.

Kawale said that Cisco's investment program and the federal government's fund-of-funds approach could be "symbiotic."

"The funds that are created by the federal government could conceivably, and most likely, invest in the same kind of companies that we're investing in. So we see this as a symbiotic thing, as opposed to a completely separate thing."

Kawale said there have already been investments made under the new Cisco investment program, adding that there are short-lists of potential candidates, but he declined to identify any specific deals.

"Today was really about announcing the initiative. Stay tuned, there will be lots of announcements to come."

Cisco has already made a number of investment announcements for Canada, including a 10-year deal with the Ontario government that was signed in December by Premier Kathleen Wynne, whose Liberal party was recently returned to power with a majority government.

Under that agreement, Wynne said Ontario would provide up to $220 million over the next decade to support a Cisco initiative that the company says will add up to 1,700 jobs in the province, expanding its current Ontario workforce to 3,000 over six years and to 5,000 within a decade.

Cisco later announced in March that it has identified Toronto as one of four new innovation hubs it plans globally. The other cities are in South Korea, Brazil and Germany.

Kawale and Hilton Romanski, the Cisco executive who heads the company's overall venture capital investment program, both told Thursday's event in Toronto that they see Canada as a source of resource-oriented technological innovation.

"If you look at the industries that are material to our GDP — oil and gas, utilities, agriculture, mining, health-care, manufacturing, etc. — these industries are ripe," Kawale told reporters after the presentation.

Romanski, Cisco's senior vice-president for corporate development, said the Canadian innovation fund will invest both directly in innovative companies with global potential and indirectly in funds that are investing in such companies.

"Our direct investment activity will tend to be closer to the core businesses of Cisco, where we have the ability to bring expertise and resources to the table to help those companies," Romanski said.

Cisco — which made its name as the leading global supplier of Internet equipment for large businesses — was at one time considered a potential buyer of Nortel Networks, before the Ontario-based company collapsed. Cisco has continued to thrive and broaden its product lines, including for the home, but it is still largely a supplier of communications equipment.

— Follow @DavidPaddon on Twitter

The Canadian Press


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