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Our “teens” are in trouble

Updated: Apr 19

April 17th, 2023

By Rick Peterson

Dealing with teenagers can be tough. No news there, right?

As difficult and challenging as teens can be, however, who would think of kicking their 14-year old out the door or refusing to feed them just because they aren’t yet self-dependent?

Nobody. Yet that’s what we’re doing in Canada with our very own “teenage” private sector clean tech companies that we all are hoping will grow to build a green economy.

These are the companies that are no longer babies. They are past the incubation and childhood stage. They show promise but still need feeding, nourishing and support for a few more years before they’re on their own. They’re like any teenager, without the pimples.

In Canada today, these corporate “teens” are often found among the 1700+ publicly traded companies on our TSX Venture Exchange. Many of them, if not the majority, are linked to the clean growth sector. They are explorers and developers of critical minerals that one day hope to be mines. They are entrepreneurs in the hydrogen, lithium, helium, biofuel, solar, wind, natural gas and carbon capture spaces.

They all have a credible business plan, serious people running the companies who’ve put their own capital and reputation on the line, and a market for their product or services .

Here’s the bad news: today, many of them are in trouble and struggling to find financing during a period of rising interest rates and poor capital markets. Investors are backing off just when they are needed the most.

Ask anyone in the public venture capital markets about this and they will nod their head in agreement. They see companies laying off staff, pulling back on R&D or exploration or looking at “strategic alternatives” – in other words, putting themselves up for sale.

Is there anything that can, or should, be done to help these companies?

Yes, there is.

Markets ebb and flow, as they always have, and the easy response to this problem is let the market pick the winners and keep the government out.

In a perfect world, that’s the right answer. But we’re far from that scenario in Canada today.

The federal government is placing big, big bets with taxpayer dollars. It always has and always will. The problem is that very little of it today flows down to this promising “teen” sector of the clean economy.

The feds are betting on the babies and the adults: on R&D, incubators and start-ups on one end, and then on larger companies (think Bombardier, TMX or Volkswagon) or massive bets on whole sectors.

In the last federal budget Canada committed $80 billion over ten years on “clean economy focussed initiatives”. We still don’t know how much money Volkswagon was promised to build an EV battery factory in Ontario.

How will these bets turn out? Nobody knows, least of all, the feds.

If we wanted the feds to support our green teens, then, how much is needed and where would we find the money?

Let’s see if we can answer that by looking at what these companies are raising for capital on the TSX Venture Exchange and also see some interesting comparisons with what capital the larger, more mature “adults” are getting on the TSX:

The secondary and supplemental financing requirements for the teen cohort on the TSX Venture Exchange are highlighted in orange. That’s what they need to survive and thrive and where we need to focus on supporting them.

These aren’t big numbers. The average financing required is in the range of $5-6 million.

Should all of these companies receive government funding? Of course not, but shouldn’t they be put on equal footing as the early stage incubators or the Bombardiers. TMXs , Volkswagons and others in pet sectors the government has picked?

Absolutely. And it’s an easy fix.

If Canada is committed to spending $8 billion per year over the next decade on clean energy initiatives, why not take an extra $2 billion of that annually and co-invest in our most promising publicly traded green companies? Why not leverage the expertise and due diligence of the capital markets professionals and support the best bets with additional public capital?

If the average green teen financing is in the $6 million range, that $2 billion annually from the feds would be additional help to another 330 or so companies that we might save or help accelerate their growth. It would be easy to find a blue-chip investment committee to oversee the process and make the final decisions.

These companies need our support, just as much as our own teens do at home. If the feds insist on picking winners, let’s give our teens a shot at our money as well.


Rick Peterson is founder and chair of Peterson Capital of Edmonton, a capital markets advisory firm with offices across Canada and in Europe. He’s co-founder and director of Centre Ice Canadians.

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