Early capital could change life science industry

June 1, 2013
Author: Martin Cash

MANITOBA'S life sciences industry needs better access to capital, more business from customers in the home market and a larger pool of professional management to draw from to go along with the high concentration of scientific expertise that already exists here.

Those were some of the findings from a first-ever baseline survey of the province's 220 companies conducted last fall by Deloitte LLP for the Life Science Association of Manitoba.

It will be used to help direct a new strategic plan LSAM is about to embark on with the help of a $132,000 grant from the National Research Council -- Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRD-IRAP), that was announced on Friday.

LSAM convened a group of about 50 people on Friday to begin discussions on that strategic plan.

Tracey Maconachie, LSAM's executive director, said even though many of the members are small or medium-sized businesses, in total they represent a power in the provincial economy.

The 220 companies in the sector generate more than $800 million in annual sales, employ more than 7,700 people and contribute more than $1 billion to the provincial economy.

The survey found more than 50 per cent of the companies have between one and seven employees and 57 per cent spent less than $250,000 on research and development.

Keith Maclaren, the Deloitte partner responsible for the report, entitled Life Sciences in Manitoba: Poised for Growth, said companies across the country struggle to gain sufficient access to capital.

He said sometimes that pressure is relieved in a regional market when entrepreneurs sell a business and then reinvest proceeds in other companies coming up behind them.

"If we can keep those kinds of entrepreneurs around to invest in the people coming up behind them as angel or venture capital, that would help," he said.

Maconachie said there is a growing number of active angel investors in Manitoba. She believes this market would benefit from a certification mechanism that exists in Minneapolis whereby a certain level of vetting takes place that can be used by angel groups. It determines whether minimum pre-investment criteria have been met.

Maclaren also said a review of the province's equity tax credit showed not only is it more restrictive than a similar program available in B.C. but it also goes under-subscribed.

Maconachie said the industry believes it could get a little bit of a leg-up if it received more support from the local market in the early stage of the commercialization phase.

For instance, she said, Intelligent Hospital Systems, a Winnipeg company that makes robotic pharmacy-dispensing technology, has been gaining sales traction in the U.S. and elsewhere after a lengthy development process. But it is only now in discussions for its first Manitoba installation.

She said lack of sales in a company's home market can raise eyebrows with other potential customers.

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