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Social enterprises should be part of Atlantic innovation plan, say MPs

Social enterprises, and not just businesses with potential for high growth, should be part of the federal government's innovation plans, says the federal Atlantic growth strategy innovation subcommittee.

Wait times for federal programs are diluting business growth, subcommittee hears

The Stone Hearth Bakery in Halifax, which provides employment opportunities for people living with mental illness, describes itself as a social enterprise. The Atlantic Growth Strategy report suggests more government support for social enterprises. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Social enterprises, and not just businesses with potential for high growth, should be part of the federal government's innovation plans, says the federal Atlantic growth strategy innovation subcommittee.

The subcommittee, made up of four MPs from around Atlantic Canada, released its report Monday. It was result of public consultations from a tour around the region.

The subcommittee makes a number of recommendations, including a stronger focus on supporting social enterprises.

The report says providing social enterprises with access to funding commensurate with that offered to for-profit companies will allow them "to demonstrate their value in reducing more expensive government intervention."

The report notes social enterprises are not eligible for 95 per cent of federal programs and services, but are significant job creators.

New pre-seed capital fund proposed

The report proposes a partnership including federal and provincial governments and private enterprise to create a new pre-seed capital fund.

The fund would make investments in early-stage companies to support their growth.

A high-risk tolerance would be required for such a fund, the subcommittee notes, because there is a high failure rate in early-stage companies, but this can be offset by the possibility of greater successes.

Speed up the process

The subcommittee says it heard from many people that application processes for federal programs are too slow.

Some reported processing times at ACOA have increased from 30 to 90 days over the last 18 months.

In particular, the need for ministerial approval and to find matching investments from other sources were cited as slowing down the process.

"Long processing times dilute business growth, and create inefficiency and uncertainty," the report says.

The four members of the subcommittee are Fredericton MP Matt DeCourcey, Charlottetown MP Sean Casey, Halifax MP Andy Fillmore, and St. John's East MP Nick Whalen.

About the Author

Kevin Yarr is the early morning web journalist at CBC P.E.I. You can reach him at kevin.yarr@cbc.ca.