As 500 Canada team grows nationally, focus is on fueling next generation of entrepreneurs

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Betakit | July 20, 2016

500 Startups Canada

Sanjay Singhal’s start as the head of 500 Canada — 500 Startups’ $30 million fund dedicated to Canadian startups — began with Singhal not wanting to be a venture capitalist at all.

“I invested in 500 as an LP, and then, three years ago, fell in love with the organization. I would go to San Francisco, attend events, and just get to know people. And I liked it more and more, so the question was how I could get involved with 500, not how I could become a venture capitalist,” Singhal said.

So when the opportunity to start 500 Canada came up, Singhal jumped at the chance. The serial entrepreneur was moving away from his role as CEO of Audiobooks.com and thinking about the next way that he could make an impact on the startup community.

First announced back in March, the 500 Canada team has now expanded beyond Singhal, who has been hard at work convincing other startup heavyweights ready to pursue their next big project to join him. “I told my story and it resonated with the other partners, who were in similar situations to myself, trying to figure out what to do with their lives, and I just caught them at the inflection point,” Singhal said.

“500’s model is based on massive diversification, though there’s a notion that 500 is ‘spray and pray’. That comes from a foundational of lack of understanding of our portfolio theory.”

The team has grown to include Neha Khera, who formerly acted as a senior investment manager with the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund. Khera has also held roles like Scotiabank’s manager of business innovation, and organizes Toronto’s Girls in Tech meetup. “I’m a huge supporter of women in tech. Just recently, I was added to a mailing list of all women VC partners at funds across both Canada and the U.S. Everyone knows that so much of venture capital is based on network and relationship, and I feel fortunate to bring my female network to this fund to ensure we diversify our investments,” said Khera.

“500 Startups overall is dead set on diversity, and it’s another reason why I chose to join the team. Prior to joining, I actually made a trip down to the Valley to meet the U.S. team and was blown away with the number of female partners.”

Mike Cegelski, a well-known angel in Montreal named NACO’s 2015 Angel of the Year, will run 500 Canada’s Montreal office with David Dufresne, working with analyst David Bureau. Dufresne, for his part, has eight years of experience as a VC, and has spent the last five years as CEO and executive in two web companies.

“When Mike told me about the plan to launch 500 Startups in Canada, what got me excited is that we will quickly become one of the most active seed-stage investors in the country,” said Dufresne. “We’ll be able to leverage the 500 global network, provide our startups with growth education and training, and find experts within the network that can help at all steps of each deal’s lifecycle. Then, our best companies will have access to the most strategic investors for later rounds, and to the right connections to maximize exit values and ultimately the return for our investors.”

iStockphoto co-founder Patrick Lor, one of the first microstock photography websites that sold to Getty Images for $50 million, will be heading the Calgary office. Rounding out the team is Emily Dagneau in Toronto, who is acting as 500 Canada’s community and portfolio manager.

It’s an experienced team well-versed in many aspects of the startup world, but what stands out when talking to all of them is that they joined mostly because they really like each other.

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“Joining a fund is a long-term commitment, so there has to be a high level of respect amongst the partners, and additionally, they have to like working with each other,” said Lor. “I really admire Sanjay for pulling together a team that has achieved so much. We also met a vast majority of the 500 Startups team from the U.S. and the rest of the world, and it’s amazing to see what a diverse, talented, and passionate team this is. It’s a team that has had many successes, and yet humility prevails.”

Singhal characterized the approach to building the 500 Canada team as atypical, as similar 500 Startup funds across the world tend to employ younger, enthusiastic partners with good deal flow networks, but not necessarily as well-connected in fundraising. Currently, the 500 Canada team is still looking for partners in Vancouver, Waterloo, Ottawa, and Atlantic Canada.

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The National Crowdfunding Association of Canada (NCFA Canada) is a cross-Canada non-profit actively engaged with both social and investment crowdfunding stakeholders across the country. NCFA Canada provides education, research, leadership, support and networking opportunities to over 1300+ members and works closely with industry, government, academia, community and eco-system partners and affiliates to create a strong and vibrant crowdfunding industry in Canada. Learn more at www.ncfacanada.org.

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