June 14, 2024

Pulse Bliss

most important health challenges

Ontario Budget 2024 tops up existing funds and innovation centres, allocates funding to healthtech procurement

Province hints that the OSC is developing new rules to support angel investors.

While the Government of Ontario’s latest annual budget was light on new innovation funding, it did include some notable new commitments to the province’s technology sector.

In recent years, Ontario has advanced various innovation-related policies, with budgets that have only lightly touched on tech. Budget 2024, tabled March 26 amid continually challenging economic conditions, offered some more of the same. Ontario, which expects to see slower growth, inflation, and higher interest rates take a toll on its economy this year, has put off balancing the budget until 2026 and prioritized investments in infrastructure and healthcare.

“Innovators understand that there are competing priorities and a range of challenges that [Ontario] is navigating.”

This was no surprise to the Canadian Council of Innovators (CCI), which represents tech scale-ups across the country. “In recent years, the Ontario government has been an ally to innovators, advancing meaningful policy on intellectual property, data governance, labour market regulation and procurement reform,” CCI president Benjamin Bergen said in a statement. 

“Innovators understand that there are competing priorities and a range of challenges that the Ontario government is navigating, and we did not expect 2024 to be an innovation-focused budget,” Bergen added.

On the tech and innovation side of the equation, Ontario’s Conservative government shared a few items of note, including an additional $100 million CAD for the Invest Ontario Fund (IOF), plans to create a new healthtech procurement fund, new capital commitments for Ontario’s Regional Innovation Centres (RICs) and advanced research computing, and news that the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) is developing rules to support angel investor groups.

Ontario disclosed plans to allocate another $100 million to IOF, which was established in 2020 to help attract foreign investment and help businesses expand their operations in the province, prioritizing firms in advanced manufacturing, life sciences, and tech. This investment is in addition to the $100 million promised in 2023 and brings the size of IOF to $600 million.

The province also outlined plans to create a $12-million Health Technology Accelerator Fund to help healthcare service providers buy and use promising new tech to improve patient care. According to the Government of Ontario, this fund will hasten the review and adoption of healthtech solutions and give innovators in the space, including Ontario companies, more opportunities to partner with healthcare players.

RELATED: Saskatchewan government doubles cap of startup investor tax credit to $7 million

The new fund “likely won’t make headlines, but it represents a promising pathway for Ontario health technology companies to sell their innovative products and services into the provincial health care system,” CCI’s director of Ontario affairs, Skaidra Puodziunas, said in a statement. “This is the kind of mechanism that innovators have been asking for, and we hope that as this new program finds its footing, it can prove to be a model for more significant funding and better government procurement.”

The province also shared plans to invest an additional $1 million per year into Ontario’s RICs and create a new one in Barrie. It also allocated an additional $18 million over the next three years to support the ongoing operation and maintenance of Ontario’s Advanced Research Computing systems. 

The government also committed $5 million to explore the use of digital twins to deliver its public infrastructure projects and promised an additional $5 million annually to the Critical Minerals Innovation Fund, which funds, among other activities, the research, development and commercialization of technologies, techniques, processes and solutions for the critical minerals sector.

Ontario also noted that the OSC is working to develop rules to support angel investor groups and broaden potential sources of capital by adopting a self-certified prospectus exemption. To help smaller issues secure funding, the OSC also intends to broaden investment dealer participation in prospectus offerings.

RELATED: Federal Fall Economic Statement promises to expand Payments Canada eligibility, introduce open banking legislation in 2024

Angel Investors Ontario (AIO) interim executive chair Mark Lawrence hailed these moves as “positive news” for the local angel investment ecosystem on LinkedIn. Lawrence’s comment comes at a time when AIO’s own long-term future looks unclear now that its federal funding has dried up and the organization is seeking fresh support from Ontario.

Government procurement has been a priority for CCI for some time. For his part, Bergen noted that Ontario has been “a national leader on innovation reform, with the establishment of Supply Ontario and the implementation of the Building Ontario Business Initiative.” He said CCI had hoped to see updates on these measures in 2024 but will keep working with Ontario on these fronts.

“Whether it’s advanced research computing facilities, or experiments with digital twins for public infrastructure, throughout this budget we see examples where domestic procurement from Ontario technology companies could improve government services while also driving real economic benefits,” said Puodziunas.

Feature image courtesy Pixabay. Photo by Jermaine Will.