Behind the deals: Our 12 investments of 2021

Posted by Brightspark on Jan 14, 2022

2021 was a landmark year for Brightspark - our single most active yet.

We started the year by completing the final close of the Brightspark Canadian Opportunities Fund (‘BCOF’), Brightspark’s first “traditional” institutional fund since 2004. We welcomed five new portfolio companies to the Brightspark family, including our first investment in the Prairies, expanding our reach as a true coast-to-coast Canadian investor. We stayed strong on our SPV business, continuing to democratize VC access to private investors all across Canada, raising capital in 12 new Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) totalling over $15M. Our average pacing of one investment per month put us in the ‘top five most active private VC firms in Canada’, all while retaining our cherry-picking model at the early stage.

Our deal flow pace hit a record high, with over 1,000 companies passing through our pipeline. As widely reported, we witnessed the boom of mega-rounds across Canada, with investments and valuation sizes growing across all stages, and we experienced first-hand the influx of foreign investors seeking Canadian startups.

The founders of our portfolio companies, all of whom adapted their operations to weather the COVID disruptions, largely re-entered a growth mindset with larger ambitions to scale even more aggressively while taking advantage of a remote-first world.

From our perspective, 2021 was a year of cautious yet unbounded growth.

Monthly investment recap

January

Hopper | Montreal | Secondary Transaction

A data and ML backed travel marketplace offering the best prices and innovative products for travellers.

Hopper, unlike most other travel companies, leveraged the pandemic to raise meaningful capital and doubled down on their growth. With a financing round came the opportunity for Brightspark – an existing long time shareholder with a proprietary relationship with the company – to invest via a private transaction. Existing investors in our Hopper Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) had the opportunity to participate, which met with unparalleled demand: we were oversubscribed in under 2 hours!

We originally started our deal-by-deal SPV model with one goal in mind - democratizing individual access to VC investments across Canada. The Hopper transactions we completed throughout 2021 are a testament to the access we’ve been able to provide our SPV investors; through this model, hundreds of accredited investors had the unique opportunity to invest in a highly coveted company alongside leading institutions.


February

Classcraft | Sherbrooke | Follow-on

An engagement Management System gamifying the learning experience for better educational outcomes.

Following our initial Series A investment in 2017, we co-led Classcraft’s Series A Extension to enable them to capture the significantly accelerated adoption of classroom engagement and collaboration tools, brought on by the forced shift to online based learning.

Our initial thesis was further validated by the market demand for an innovative and differentiated solution to improve the learning environment for all students, and the Classcraft team’s track record gave us high confidence in their ability to deliver on this mission.


Haven (previously Tzoa) | Vancouver | $5M Series A

An all-in-one IoT-enabled smart home air monitoring solution.

Haven is a recent investment in the growing Vancouver tech ecosystem. After an introduction to the founders from a well-trusted fund, we deep dived in learning about the business. We came to firmly believe that Haven is well-positioned to be a market disruptor, with the potential to become a reference and leader in the Indoor Air Quality Market because of their unique approach.

We invite you to read further on the story behind this deal on the blog post written by Jacques Perreault, here.


March

Optable | Montreal | $4.3M Seed

A data connectivity platform answering the privacy and data security needs in the adtech world.

The Optable team is one we knew well - while building their previous company, which was successfully sold to Samsung, the team worked out of the Brightspark office for a few years. When the team got together to build a new and even larger venture, they came directly to Sophie Forest to raise their seed round.

This time, the team at Optable is building the infrastructure for the privacy-first future of online advertisements, tackling an enormous market impacted by regulatory headwinds. Optable has all the ingredients of a Brightspark investment: a close-knit veteran team building disruptive technology for a massive market on the brink of change.


Final closing of the Brightspark Canadian Opportunities Fund (BCOF) | $66.5M

After 15 months of fundraising, we officially closed BCOF. The fund’s thesis is to invest in strong management teams that have the ability to scale, with the potential to become a category leader; to focus on potential ‘home run’ Canadian companies across the tech industry, with solid barriers to entry, deep tech and strong IP. The fund invests at multi-stages, with a focus on early growth (pre Series A and Series A) and occasional Seed and later stage growth investments.

The lead investor in BCOF is VCCI, a program managed by BDC Capital for the Government of Canada - they chose us because we are unique, because we are diverse and because they share our vision of believing in the Canadian market. We are also proud to partner with some of Canada’s leading institutions such as Investissement Quebec, RBC, BMO, Fondaction, and Teralys. Over 16% of the BCOF was funded by individuals and family offices from within the Brightspark network.


May

Vetster | Toronto | $12.2M Series A

A telehealth marketplace connecting pet owners to licensed veterinary professionals 24/7.

We originally learned about Vetster through an introduction by a trusted partner. As soon as we got to know the team and traction they’ve built since their November 2020 launch, we were impressed. With the world transitioning to remote-first, it was clear to us that the future of pet care was going to be online - why wait to book an in-person vet appointment when you can see a licensed vet online immediately?

The team’s ambitions in transforming the Vet-client relationship is inspiring.

Coupled with favourable regulatory tailwinds, an extremely ambitious and competent founding team, and a large market with growing spending power, we built our thesis around Vetster’s ability to become a market leader in their field.

Data Sentinel | Toronto | $3.6M Seed

An enterprise sensitive data management platform leveraging AI and Big Data technology.

Brightspark met the Data Sentinel team in 2018 at the time of the founder's previous startup. Unfortunately for us, that company was acquired before we had the chance to finalize the investment. We fostered a relationship with the founders since that acquisition, and when these serial entrepreneurs came to us with their new Enterprise SaaS platform, we knew that it was the right opportunity for Brightspark – complementing our portfolio with a familiar model and an expert team.


August

Elevate Farms | Toronto | Private transaction

An indoor vertical farming company growing healthy and tasty leafy greens cost-effectively at mass scale.

When we led Elevate Farm’s seed round in February 2020, we came in with a thesis on the growing demands for a viable solution for indoor farming at scale, coupled with the decades of experience of the founders in this field. Indoor vertical farming is the future of leafy green agriculture - there is no denying that - the question remains of who will be able to bring this to fruition without sacrificing costs, taste, and nutrition. Our original thesis remains firm, and as the team continued to build out larger and more ambitious projects across the world, we were eager to double down with follow-on capital to enable their success.


September

Hopper | Montreal | Secondary Transaction

A data and ML backed travel marketplace offering the best prices and innovative products for travellers.

By September 2021, Hopper had closed two financing rounds - a USD $170M Series F in March and another USD $175M Series G in August, taking the company to a valuation of USD $3.5 Billion. Hopper rose to meet the challenges of COVID-19 successfully, and was now on track to hit unprecedented growth records and to meaningfully expand their business.

With the Series G closing came another unique opportunity for Brightspark to further invest in Hopper through our SPV model.


October

Callia | Winnipeg | $6.4M Series A

An ecommerce retailer setting a new bar for gifting experiences.

Callia is our first investment in the Canadian Prairies tech ecosystem. After multiple referrals from our trusted partners, we knew we had to meet with Callia to understand why this seemingly-traditional ecommerce company caught their attention! What we discovered was an incredibly capable first time founder building out a well-oiled logistics machine, with an impeccable track record of scaling it coast-to-coast while maintaining top-level growth metrics.

We knew this was the next ecommerce founder we wanted to work with, and provided the capital to fuel their growth beyond Canada. Callia is turning first generation Internet flower buying into a market leading business and transforming that experience.


November

Potential Motors | New Brunswick | Follow-on

AI software drivetrain developers building technology for the next generation of electric off-road vehicles.

Potential Motors was originally introduced to us by the founders of Radian6 (a very successful portfolio company of Brightspark's that exited in 2011 and returned 23x to our investors). We quickly understood the significance of what they were building to the future of all electric vehicles, and participated in their January 2020 Seed round.

In less than two years, this team of first-time founders proved that they were capable of delivering their vision, and expanded their ambitions with exciting new tech. We led their bridge financing to enable them to do so, and look forward to the progress they’ll make in the coming years.


Optable | Montreal | Follow-on

Data connectivity platform answering the privacy and data security needs in the adtech world.

After our Seed investment in March, Optable proved they were able to bring their technology to fruition as they began on the early steps of commercialization. We realized that the timing was right to add capital to fuel this stage of their early growth while doubling down, and participated in their Seed Extension investment.


December

To be announced soon!

While we cannot announce the details of our final investment of 2021 here, what we can say is that this is an incredible team that we’ve come to know well. Their consistent execution and ultra-focused vision has made this deal an easy one for us to decide on, and we’re excited to share more with you as soon as it is announced.


2022 and beyond

Looking ahead at 2022, our team is excited to build upon this landmark year and take Brightspark to new heights.

To our partners and investors, we look forward to continuing to deliver exceptional returns for you in this next era of Canadian venture. To our founders in the Canadian ecosystem, we eagerly await meeting you and seeing what role we might play in your journey.

Here’s to our 23rd year!

Your early-stage VC for the long run,

Brightspark Ventures

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