Trailblazing into VC Platform

Posted by Brightspark on Aug 27, 2019

My name’s Jason, and I’m an incoming senior in the Ivey Business School program at Western University. I joined the Brightspark team for the summer, where I was tasked with laying the foundations of a VC Platform strategy within the firm.

What is Platform in Venture Capital?

The raison-d’être of a Platform role is to offer value-add to founders in a firm’s portfolio – going beyond capital and direct VC support to companies (such as mentorship, or meaningful connections). Leading VC firms such as Andreesen Horowitz, First Round, and Google Ventures have all embraced Platform, and have set the bar quite high.

Platform initiatives can take many forms - especially because they should always be tailored to the needs of portfolio companies (which vary widely based on stage, industry, and context). Generally speaking, the top priorities of a VC Platform team are community and expert network development, event planning, content creation and marketing, business development, and internal operations.

For Brightspark, building a Platform strategy meant evaluating the current value-add we offered and establishing new initiatives to support our current and future portfolio. We interviewed our founders and worked backwards to identify gaps and areas of improvement (more on that later). And, staying true to our firm’s philosophy, we ensured that our vision for new Platform projects would not be at the expense of the highly relevant, meaningful value that we provide to the individual companies in our portfolio.

Why invest in VC Platform?

Platform helps better capture and formalize the value of the networks and intelligence naturally created by performing VC firms.

As highlighted below, an intentional Platform strategy can create a positive feedback loop back into deal flow and investments:

Circle Up: The Rise of the VC Platform

With Platform initiatives, founders are better equipped to tackle their mission, more likely to hit higher operating performances, are enabled to grow even faster, and potentially become the outsized start-up – the difference-maker for that specific fund.

At the same time, the more a firm invests in Platform, the more it can communicate its differentiated value proposition. This results in larger, and better deal flow, which increases the chances of the firm selecting more promising start-ups. This can have a tangible impact on the firm’s performance, allowing them to raise a subsequent fund, and increase their budget for Platform.

Access to broad deal flow is becoming increasingly important as the VC funding space is becoming more mainstream and the barriers to entry are lowered – firms must find new ways to differentiate. In a reality where even the best VCs have to look beyond the strength of their immediate network to access quality deal flow, a Platform team can give a firm a real edge in attracting founders.

Highlights and lessons learned

Events: cutting through the noise

There is no shortage of “tech community” events for founders to attend, but we found that there is deep value to be created by building smaller-size, actionable events that specifically cater to our portfolio.

When I attended the annual Brightspark Investor Summit, I had the chance to speak directly to our founders. We identified the opportunity to bring together our portfolio founders in an event specifically designed to address their pain points, where they could develop relationships with each other, and ask the hard questions. I worked towards creating a series of events exclusive to Brightspark Founders – creating more opportunities for our portfolio founders to connect with each other, and scale the value we can provide far beyond the capability of individual partners.

Offer value from the get-go
Another project I developed was a standardized onboarding resource for portfolio companies to receive once we complete the investment. I identified valuable resources ranging from an explanation of our unconventional investment model, to a list of curated service partnerships, and more. I took the initiative to develop perk partnerships with Google, Amazon, Carta, Airtable, and more – services that I would have used if I was building a company.

Internal collaboration is key

Another insight is that the Platform team cannot work siloed against the Investment team, they must work in tandem. For example, one of my Platform projects was to develop a detailed map of the Canadian ecosystem, identifying all of the stakeholders such as accelerators and other funds and evaluating our current relationships. While I was not specifically looking at deals, this project greatly contributed to the Investment team and ties back to the MIT positive feedback loop.

Brightspark is one of the firms with the richest history and network in Canada - I'm really excited to see how they can capitalize on their 20 years of experience to launch leading Platform initiatives for founders!

About Brightspark
Brightspark is one of Canada’s top-performing venture capital firms, actively investing in exceptional entrepreneurs since 1999. The firm is led by Mark Skapinker and Sophie Forest, two industry veterans with decades of tech entrepreneurship experience and deep knowledge of venture capital. 

We provide growth capital and expertise to disruptive, market-transforming Canadian tech companies in seed to growth stages. Our investments tend to cluster around tech, consumer, hardware, and SaaS, but that’s not where our curiosity ends; we are an industry-agnostic firm. Brightspark’s sweet spot is at the Series A stage, and our cheque sizes vary from $500k to $5M.

We have a great track record of working with repeat entrepreneurs. Our active portfolio includes Hopper, Hubba, Classcraft, Chatkit, Nudge Rewards, and many others.

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