President and CEO of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC),
Entrepreneurs are critical to transforming Canada’s economic and environmental prosperity, but they cannot do it alone.
Climate commitments call for the halving of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. To do this, every sector of the economy will have to transform in just over two business cycles and keep that pace if Canada is to reach its 2050 net-zero targets. Some may argue this is too difficult, but Leah Lawrence, President and CEO of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), says she has never been more optimistic about our climate future. The reason? The depth of innovation coming from Canada’s sustainability entrepreneurs.
According to a recent report by the International Energy Agency, only half of the technologies needed to meet global 2050 targets are known today. And while the pace of innovation in sustainable technologies is growing exponentially, it still takes, on average, 13 to 15 years for sustainable tech companies to reach commercialization.
“This is far too slow,” says Leah. “We need to stop fixating on silver-bullet inventions and focus on building a sustainable innovation ecosystem that can help bring a critical mass of companies from all sectors to a global scale.”
SDTC, an independent federal foundation which provides non-repayable contributions to Canadian entrepreneurs, is working to shorten the timeline to commercialization by funding companies at the seed, start-up, and scale-up levels.
Over the last five years, SDTC has increased the number of companies it supports by 360 percent, becoming the largest funder of sustainable small- and medium-sized businesses in Canada. At the same time, the organization has transformed to better meet the needs of entrepreneurs, moving at the speed of business to shorten timelines from application to first cheque.
“Before joining SDTC, I founded three start-ups,” says Leah. “I remember how difficult it was to build a business from the ground up. Worrying if you are going to make payroll. Paying yourself last. Bootstrapping. The last thing an entrepreneur needs is having to navigate more red tape.”
SDTC funding also serves as a springboard to help companies unlock future public and private sector investments, find new customers, and better connect with other players in local and national entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Leah underscores that building, strengthening, and connecting these ecosystems of suppliers, funders, and customers are critical to Canada’s ability to tap into the growing global demand for sustainable tech.
“The idea isn’t the hard thing,” she stresses. “It is the commercialization of the thing. It’s getting it to market. It’s selling it not once but a hundred, a thousand, or a million times. Because from a firm viability standpoint, and from the standpoint of meeting the world’s greatest sustainability challenges: if it doesn’t deploy, it doesn’t matter.”