N.S. Crown corporation made over $100M off region's first startup 'unicorn'

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Meta Materials president George Palikaras sports a pair of metaAIR protective glasses in Dartmouth, N.S., in May 2018. (Fadila Chater/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Meta Materials president George Palikaras sports a pair of metaAIR protective glasses in Dartmouth, N.S., in May 2018. (Fadila Chater/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Nova Scotia government says it made $104 million from its investment in Meta Materials Inc., a Dartmouth startup company that makes high-performance materials used in the defence and aerospace industries.

The province's venture capital Crown corporation Innovacorp was an early investor, putting $3 million into the nanotechnology company.

In July, Innovacorp sold its shares shortly after Meta Materials was listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange. The sale produced a 35-fold return on investment.

"It's the outcome that you hope for, that every venture capital fund hopes for is this type of return," said Innovacorp CEO Malcolm Fraser.

"We've had a lot of successful exits from both our investments and others in Nova Scotia over the years, but this is by far the largest one. And so it represents to a lot of entrepreneurs and a lot of investors that we can build world-class companies from right here in Nova Scotia. And that is the milestone that we should be celebrating out of this."

What Meta Materials does

Meta Materials makes advanced materials that enhance, block or absorb light or other forms of energy. One product is a laser light-blocking film used on windscreens in airplane cockpits.

In a statement to CBC, Meta Materials president George Palikaras said "with Innovacorp's support we were able to scale and launch our first metamaterial application."

The company will soon move out of an Innovacorp facility on Research Drive in Dartmouth into a new state-of-the-art 6,300-square-metre manufacturing plant, also in Dartmouth.

Region's first 'unicorn'

The province is billing Meta Materials as Atlantic Canada's first so-called "unicorn" — a publicly traded startup valued at more than $1 billion.

"Here's a company that has reached unicorn status," said Fraser. "It's a big deal. Here's a company that's come from nothing, and it now has a valuation on the public, on the biggest public market in the world of over a billion dollars."

It was listed on the Nasdaq when it completed a merger with a Texas company, Torchlight Energy Resources.

It's not clear what will happen to the profits — whether they will stay with Innovacorp or be handed over to the provincial treasury.

Fraser would not speculate, beyond saying the Crown corporation is in discussions about that with the provincial government.

"We will continue to invest in other startups. It doesn't end our engagement in the ecosystem at all," he said.

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