For the long run.

Posted by Matthew He on Jan 30, 2024

If you’ve met me over a deal call in the past year, chances are you would’ve heard me say ‘if we do this right, our relationship will be measured in decades’. If you would indulge me for a minute, I’d like to expand on that idea, share a few things that I’ve learned since joining the Brightspark team 2.5 years ago, and what you may expect of us in this next chapter of the Canadian ecosystem.

Ours is a young industry, and an even younger ecosystem. At 25 years in the market, Brightspark ranks as one of the oldest institutional VCs in our nation. While I can claim no credit in the history of our firm, I do gratefully stand in a position to play a role in its future. Within that capacity, we have a straightforward positioning - to be your early stage partner for the long run.

I started my venture journey in 2019, first investing in student-led startups with Front Row Ventures, then working with early stage founders at FounderFuel and White Star Capital. In those first years, a decade-long investment horizon felt intangible. It wasn’t until these past few years at Brightspark that I’ve come to appreciate how we go about finding, building, and fostering these relationships, and how that informs our investment thesis and practices as an early stage investor.

I’ll skip the fundamentals here - the parts about backing best-in-class founders operating in large and growing markets with generation-defining technologies, as I’m certain we share that thread (appropriately) with most other VCs. More interestingly is where we may differ, which I’ve come to summarize as follows:

Double down, triple down, and invest with supreme patience

    BCOF II is our largest fund to date, and over these next four years, we will deploy ~$100M across 12-15 companies. This makes us extremely concentrated investors, given our early stage focus. We’ve seen first hand the power law at play; with a few large wins such as Hopper, Radian6, Jewlr, and ThinkDynamics making up the bulk of our returns in our previous funds. This experience is precisely why we typically reserve double our initial investment in order to continuously support our founders in their subsequent rounds, especially in turbulent times such as now.

    We don’t give up easily, but more importantly, we believe in seeing the journey through with each of our founders to the very end. That may sometimes mean a 17+ year partnership, as we’ve had with Hopper, and for that we’ve learned to become adaptable and creative in our structure to enable true long-term relationships. Beyond viewing the singular startup journey with a farsighted lens, we deeply value the founders that have seen it through before, either with or without us, and oftentimes those relationships bear tremendous fruit in decades two and three.

    Our work in decade one paves the trust for founders to return to us for their second or third bat, providing us what may seem as ‘proprietary’ opportunities from the outside. Whether it be partnering with Fred LaLonde in Deep Sky, backing the Radian6 proteges at Potential Motors, or working again with the veteran team at Optable, the true returns of our patience comes in the form of tripling down on the founders that we have come to trust, whom we are grateful to have their trust in us.

    What we do on rainy days counts far more than what we do under clear skies

      One benefit of starting in venture in 2019 is experiencing a real boom-and-bust cycle right out of the gates. For a moment during COVID, it felt that venture valuations could only go up, and success and liquidity was no longer a function of threading an incredibly difficult needle, but rather one of time and capital invested. We all know where that went.

      If you’ve worked with us before, you would know that we are available but not intrusive partners during the best of times. However, everything I’ve learned in my board observer roles came over these past six quarters, when the winds changed and fairweather partners proved themselves as such, often at no fault of intention but rather circumstance. Our value is stability, trust, and a steady, fundamentals-oriented outlook that does not give in to short-term market shifts. With a ten-year cycle, it’s almost guaranteed that any early-stage venture will inevitably run into these conditions. We have learned to navigate this as a course of the business, just as our partners did through the dot-com bubble in ‘00 and the GFC in ‘08.

      This isn’t afforded blindly. Rather, this may be part of the reason behind our longer-than-average diligence cycle, as we drill carefully into the fundamentals of a business and build deep conviction with plans that are not reliant on favorable short-term market conditions and capital availability.

      Look deeply where others may not, with an open mind and a generational outlook

        The Canadian venture ecosystem is incredibly young, with many of our most active GPs today being there at the inception of venture in our country. In that time, Toronto and Montreal have established themselves as major hubs for entrepreneurs and capital allocators. While our offices are based in those two cities, we’ve learned the value of diving deeply into the less scrutinized geographies of Canada, and building roots with a long-term outlook.

        Radian6 is the natural example for us to talk about, given the significant returns it created. However, more significant than those returns is the new generation of entrepreneurs the founders inspired and mentored within New Brunswick and the Atlantic ecosystem at large, and our good fortune to play a role within this next generation of talent.

        In these past few years, we have truly become a coast-to-coast investor, with our first investments in Manitoba through Callia, Alberta through Drugbank, and doubling down on the Atlantic region through the support of the NBIF as one of our new LPs. We’ve also come to know the lean and ambitious Prairies ecosystem well, through our friends at CoLabs, Connexus, and TNT, and formally established our presence in BC by welcoming Andrew as a Venture Partner based in Vancouver. All to say, we believe world-class venture startups can emerge from all corners of our nation, and we’re always on our toes in search of the next ‘black swan’.


        In so many words, I hope to share with you a more transparent view of how we operate as a firm and the Brightspark philosophy as I’ve come to understand it. Fit is a two-way street, and I understand that this may not resonate with everyone. That’s ok. However, if you do find this making sense to you, and share the beliefs that have come to shape us, don’t hesitate to reach out and begin day 1 of what may be a decades-long journey together.

        As for what’s to come, I’m excited to announce here my promotion to Associate at Brightspark, and to share my deep gratitude to our team of exceptional investors who have mentored me with patience and trust in this journey so far, our partners who have entrusted us with their capital, network, and resources to do this work that we love, and our founders who prove to us each and every day that we are working with the best in the ecosystem. With tremendous gratitude and excitement, we look forward to being your early stage partner, for the long run.

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