Michael Denham is President and CEO of BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada)
A lot of people don’t really know what BDC is, can you explain what you do and your focus?
Denham: BDC is Canada’s bank for entrepreneurs. For 75 years and counting, our sole purpose has been to support entrepreneurs in all industries and stages of growth with financing and advisory services. Our clients open businesses, create one million jobs and generate $350 billion in annual revenues each year. Every day, we pride ourselves on understanding these bold and innovative thinkers that make a difference in their communities. We focus on their success. Our work in Alberta continues as we’ve been taking a leadership position on several fronts. We’ve extended our presence in Alberta and recently added business centres in Calgary and Edmonton and a permanent presence in Fort McMurray and Medicine Hat. We are also expanding our partnerships with strategic and innovation groups like, Calgary Chamber, Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), Calgary Economic Development, Women’s Enterprise Centres and Indigenous entrepreneurs.
In 2015 and 2018, we established loan programs (totalling $1.35 billion) aimed at helping businesses in the energy sector get through tough times. The financing is to help businesses reinvent, diversify, find new export markets, increase operational and environmental efficiency, or purchase new technology and equipment.
What initiatives have you launched recently?
Denham: Canadian cleantech companies are best in class but scaling up to global markets is their biggest challenge, so we launched a national $600-million, five-year cleantech initiative to support the growth of the industry. Our national, multi-disciplinary team of investment and financing professionals actively looks for cleantech companies with huge transformational potential. As Canada’s development bank, part of our mission is filling market gaps and assisting companies with a higher risk profile; supporting cleantech firms grow and achieve global scale is fundamental for our economy.
We also launched the Industrial Innovation Venture Fund to revitalize the industrial sector. The fund will support innovation in manufacturing, mining, agriculture and food tech to increase competitiveness. It will also focus on innovation in the oil and gas sector, which is very important in Alberta.
We’re becoming more accessible and responsive to underserved entrepreneurs. For instance, BDC took on a leadership role in advancing women entrepreneurship by supporting them on all fronts with financing, partnerships, capital and mentorship. We have a goal of lending $1.4 billion to women entrepreneurs over three years and are well on our way to achieving it.
BDC is investing in enhanced mobile capabilities to make it simpler and faster for clients to secure financing. Our clients can apply for loans 100 per cent digitally, online at bdc.ca or with their account manager via a BDC mobile device. Entrepreneurs can access funds in 48 hours.
What is your vision for BDC in the coming years?
Denham: Our intention is to keep advancing our digital capabilities to make sure we move and evolve at the speed of entrepreneurs and help them grow. We are determined to stay easy to do business with and accessible to all Canadian entrepreneurs, so they have the same opportunities to succeed.
Doing the right thing, for the right client at the right time makes it easy to work with BDC. We are making things simple for our clients so they can focus on what really counts: their business. So, we’ve developed nine custom intuitive iOS apps to simplify their lives and the lives of our account managers. It’s been highly effective and has enabled us to increase access to our services while helping entrepreneurs make better decisions. We are now supporting more entrepreneurs than ever and are broadening the diversity of those we accompany; more women, Indigenous and newcomer entrepreneurs are turning to BDC for advice.
BDC is taking a leadership approach to technology, where technology enhances interactions with our clients and within the organization. The Bank also has a team specifically in place to help companies with capital for new technology innovations. We’ve recently appointed national tech sponsor in Calgary.
What are the biggest challenges facing entrepreneurs in Canada?
Denham: Running a business is challenging: 75 per cent of entrepreneurs say they have to deal with financial insecurity, overwhelming amounts of stress and the lack of benefits compared to people in corporate jobs. They don’t count their hours. A third of all new businesses go under within five years. It’s not easy.
Also, Canada’s working age population is basically growing at the rate of … zero. This puts pressure on the labour market. BDC found out that 53 per cent of Canadian SMEs are holding back investments because of labour shortages. Businesses are being forced to refuse orders, delay deliveries, increase wages and work longer hours. The problem is here to stay for at least a decade.
The pace of technological change is accelerating. Game-changing innovations are the norm. Artificial intelligence, big data analytics, 3D printing … all these new technologies are changing the way we do business and have an impact on every sector of the economy. However, most SMEs are not tapping into the full potential of technology. Only 19 per cent of Canadian SMEs are digitally advanced, which means many of them risk falling behind.
What’s your advice to entrepreneurs who want to grow their business?
Denham: Talk to us! Growth might just be one of the most important issues facing entrepreneurs. While most entrepreneurs want to expand their business, few have a solid plan to map out their long-term growth. Failing to plan is planning to fail and creating a clear roadmap for growth is the first step. It’s fundamental and BDC can help.
Michael Denham was interviewed by Calgary’s Business reporter Mario Toneguzzi.