Feb. 7, 2020Print | PDF
What does it take to have a career in the venture capital (VC) industry? A panel of industry experts spoke to a packed room of business students and community members on Monday, Jan. 20 at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics.
The panel was moderated by Dave Ceolin, graduate of the Lazaridis Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) Co-op program, founder of a marketing-tech firm in the dot-com era, author of international best-selling book “The Idea Guide”, and partner in Innovation Grade Ventures.
Ceolin led a discussion among panellists from VC funds ranging from one of the largest in Canada, Round 13 Capital, to one of Canada’s most active funds, MaRS’ Investment Accelerator Fund. Panellists represented Google’s Sidewalk Labs, Manulife and the new Dream Maker Ventures, which was created to support diverse, under-represented, under-estimated entrepreneurs. The five panellists gave attendees a competitive advantage on the VC industry and they shared thoughtful advice and tips on how to succeed and stand out.
“There will be a significant number of Venture Capital career opportunities created over the next few years as we enter the growth phase of the Canadian venture-capital industry, evidenced by the continued creation of new Funds aimed at specific industry sectors both in the seed stage and later lifecycle stages,” said Ceolin.
Ceolin started the fund at Innovation Grade Ventures because there weren’t many funds in early stages of seed funding at the time. Having grown and sold his own marketing company, Ceolin also offers entrepreneurs advice based on his expertise. He is a founding volunteer of the Laurier Startup Fund and gives strategy advice to the Lazaridis School as part of the Dean’s Advisory Council.
“It is really hard to be an entrepreneur and to grow a business from ground zero. If you don’t understand that, you are not going to be successful in the job and the founders are not going to respect you in the VC seat.”
– Aaron Bast, Lazaridis BBA Co-op ‘06, Investment Director, MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund
Aaron Bast talked about his 15-year career working with high-tech firms as an investor, operator and service provider in Waterloo Region. Prior to joining the Investment Accelerator Fund at MaRs, he helped to scale Miovision Technologies as its Chief Financial Officer.
When asked to tell the students how he spends his time, he broke it down as 30 to 40 per cent with his existing portfolio companies – going to board meetings, supporting them with their fund raise, etc, 40 per cent on new deals – evaluating the pitches, meetings, giving feedback, doing detailed due diligence and talking to syndicators, etc., and 20 to 30 per cent being in the community and having a presence to grow sources of new deals. Bast also volunteers his time helping business students in the Laurier Startup Fund.
“If you’re straight out of school and this is one of your first gigs and you have a finance background, you’re really only going to be able to differentiate yourself by going above and beyond in the quantitative analysis. You’re not going to have the qualitative aspect unless you are a founder or have worked in a startup,” said Bast.
“If you can go to pitch competitions and source deals from people, that can give you an advantage.”
– Danielle Graham, Lazaridis MBA Co-op ’14, Principal, Dream Maker Ventures and Founder of Communitech’s Fierce Founders program
Panellist Danielle Graham is principal at a new fund, Dream Maker Ventures, Canada’s first VC Fund founded by people of colour and women that focuses on investing in diverse, under-represented, under-estimated entrepreneurs. While the Fund has not publicly launched, she spoke of her previous roles in the VC industry.
Prior to starting Dream Maker Ventures, she ran the Ontario Centres of Excellence Market Readiness Fund, which is Ontario’s most active seed-stage fund investing in up to 40 deals each year between $125,000-$250,000. Additionally, she founded Communitech’s Fierce Founders program – a boot camp for women entrepreneurs. She is active in championing women’s initiatives including Lazaridis Institute board member, Jodi Kovitz’s #MovetheDial, the Big Push and the Golden Triangle Angel Network’s first angel group training program for female investors.
Graham said she differentiated herself in the industry by focusing on diversity. She also recommended that students build their network of connections and stay involved, stating she sourced a lot of her deals from university campus incubators like Laurier’s LaunchPad.
“Ask if you can tag along to the board meetings and take notes, prep their board packages, ask them what they are going to ask the company about. In order to stand out, you need to go above and beyond in some form.”
– Nicole LeBlanc, Director of Investments, Google Sidewalk Labs
While Bast and Graham spoke about seed stage funds and building networks within the community in order to secure deals, panellist Nicole LeBlanc, gave a different perspective. LeBlanc is Director of Investments for Google's Sidewalk Labs, a company that imagines, designs, tests, and builds urban innovations to help cities meet their biggest challenges.
Google’s Sidewalk Labs is a corporate fund that looks for alignment of goals and partnership opportunities in building community and corporations. She referenced the upcoming Quayside Venture Partners, which is an initiative of Sidewalk Labs that will develop the Quayside neighbourhood in Toronto with a $30-million to $40-million urban tech fund as a standalone VC fund. It is set to launch later this year.
She advised the entrepreneurs in the room, “whatever you pitch to us will not be what you actually scale.
“We hired a co-op two terms ago because of their experience with the Laurier Startup Fund. It elevates the candidates so much. It is unbelievable.”
– Robert Scully, Director, Manulife Capital Ventures
Robert Scully offered perspective from Manulife Capital Ventures – a fund that invests in later-stage companies in Series B funding rounds, which are typically much larger and help the company grow to new markets or expand in a significant way.
Scully spoke of the importance of having experience as a founder of a startup or working with a startup. He co-founded a mobile software startup, mobilSemantic, and was head of business development for another mobile software startup prior to joining the VC industry.
He shared the differences between a company investing in Series B or higher funding rounds, like Manulife Capital Ventures, “We are looking to make money, first, and if strategy aligns, that’s nice.”
Scully advised students to be curious. “The most important part about getting into this industry is having a natural curiosity or interest in this,” he said. “I’ve been really impressed in the last eight months or so by the Double Degree students in the Laurier BBA and University of Waterloo Math program who have gone above and beyond. When someone has done some heavy lifting for you that saves you a lot of hours, it is unbelievable. A natural curiosity around a particular topic helps with that.”
Scully also underscored the importance of having empathy for founders. “The ability to understand the sleepless nights and the fog of paying the bills and finding the right team is huge. You cannot think you are above an entrepreneur,” he said.
“Start building relationships. Start your own company. Relationship building allows you to leapfrog the line on your resume.”
– Rohan Wadhwa, Principal, Round13 Capital
Standing in for Bruce Croxon, who was unable to attend, Rohan Wadhwa is principal at Round13 Capital, which was co-founded by former Dragons’ Den celebrity Bruce Croxon. Round13 invests in growth-stage technology companies in Canada at a Series A funding level, which is typically the first significant round of funding a company receives from VCs after developing a track record of revenue. Series A companies are often looking to scale their product across different markets and need the guidance and financial support of investors.
Wadhwa co-founded and sold an educational services business, called ExamBlitz, that provided comprehensive course tutorials to more than 1,000 university students each year in applied science, math, accounting and finance.
He shared with students a breakdown of the typical entry-level analyst job in the VC industry. He advised that students would spend the majority of their time on diligence reports and analytics of diligence in later stage funding. Students should expect to spend about 60 per cent of their time on diligence, he said. This includes looking at the management of the company, the produce, the size of the market, how competitive the market is, the deal situation and valuation terms.
If you are interested in watching the video of this event, please email Laurie Lahn, Associate Director, Co-operative Education & External Relations, for a direct link.