BDC is a Crown Corporation wholly owned by the Federal Government of Canada, with the mandate to help create and develop strong Canadian businesses through financing, advisory services and capital, with a focus on small and medium-sized enterprises. BDC Capital is the investment arm of BDC, comprised of its venture capital (VC) and private equity teams. With respect to its VC activities, it has more than $1 billion under management and almost 30 years’ experience. It is the largest and most active early-stage technology venture investor in Canada. As part of its strategy to turn promising Canadian start-ups into global champions, BDC Capital invests in pivotal technology areas, such as cleantech and artificial intelligence (AI).
AI started attracting a lot of attention in 2016 when the Federal Government of Canada announced $213 million in funding to three Canadian universities for AI and big data research, with the goal of turning Canada into a leading hub in the sector. Furthermore, Microsoft and Google announced they were setting up AI research centers in Montreal, after acquiring top talent and contributing funding to other Canadian AI initiatives such as the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) and The Vector Institute in Toronto. Most recently, the Federal Government announced an additional $125 million Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy to support research and talent development. Against this background, one of the concerns is that private-sector machine learning is outpacing the government. However, AI is also a driver of public sector innovation. Thus, the BDC wishes to understand what the role of government is as both an end user and enabler of AI, in order to spur innovation within Canadian’s industrial base and increase the country’s global competitiveness (Crown corporations can advance certain policy objectives and, in this sense, can be instruments of public policy).