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We Sat Down with Three of Canada’s Top Angel Investors

Three angel investors are being recognized by the Canadian Startup Awards for their support in growing Canada’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Without these three award finalists—Allen and Eva Lau, Harley Finkelstein and Manny Padda—a number of founders might still be slogging it out in their parents’ basements.

Below is a Q&A with each of these angel investors, including information on how they got started, some of their successful investments to date, and their outlook on Canada’s tech scene.

Allen and Eva

Eva Lau is one of the fish from Two Small Fish Ventures, along with her husband Allen Lau. The couple started angel investing in 2014, leveraging their 20-plus years of experience. The firm has made nine investments to date.

Techvibes recently spoke to Eva.

TV: How did you get started as an angel investor?

EL: Allen and I have been in the tech industry for more than 20 years. Before Wattpad, we both worked at Brightspark Labs and helped many entrepreneurs at the time to [turn their ideas into products]. Wattpad certainly has been one of the most thrilling experiences for us — to be in the driver’s seat of a startup. We decided to get into angel investing so we could not only share our experience with other entrepreneurs, but also our capital and more importantly our network.

What has been your biggest investment to date?

Our biggest investment to date is Hubba. We’ve invested $30,000 in the company.

What has been your best investment to date?

The best investment to date is SkipTheDishes [bought recently by Britain’s Just Eat]. Over two years, we’ve had a 12x return.

What’s the angel environment like today, versus five years ago?

The angel environment is certainly more vibrant today. Other than traditional angel capital from high-net-worth individuals, we are seeing more and more entrepreneurs becoming angels. Allen and I are great examples. Canada desperately needs more entrepreneur-turned-angel investors who are recycling knowledge and capital into the ecosystem.

What are you looking forward to the most in 2017?

I look forward to seeing more startups from the AI realm given that Toronto is the world leader in this field.

What main challenges lie ahead for angel investing, in your view?

The challenge I see at the moment is that entrepreneurs are not as aggressive as they should be when it comes to market domination. A lot of the times, entrepreneurs come to us with a plan of taking on a niche market or be very content to take a small percentage of the pie. We certainly need more startups that are ambitious and working towards market dominance. Other than the potential return that they will bring to the investors, they will help scale the tech ecosystem in Canada by focus on building world-class companies.

Manny Padda

Manny Padda built his first multi-million-dollar company at age 26, recruitment agency PM Search Partners. He is also the founder and managing director of New Avenue Capital, a venture capital firm that has invested in a handful of startups such as myBestHelper, ShareShed and G-Cup. Padda received the 2016 Canadian Angel of the Year Award from the National Angel Capital Organization. He is also a cofounder of GradusOne, an organization that connects students and new graduates with mentors and provides them with resources to help them refine their career path and achieve success.

TV: How did you get started as an angel investor?

MP: I’ve always been interested in early-stage investments. When I built my executive search firm, I began working with early-stage companies and took a portion of my fee in stock. This introduced me further into the space. I have now been an angel investor for seven years. I enjoy working with these companies and especially the founders. I believe we bet on the “jockey” not on the horse. It is engaging to see people build their business and I take great pride in knowing the investment I put in can assist in their success.

What has been your biggest investment to date?

My cheque size typically ranges from $25,000 pre-seed to up to $350,000 in follow-on rounds.

What has been your best investment to date?

There have been a few: Fantasy 6 (Invested over $350,000); NFC Games (Invested over $200,000); and six other companies with investments of $100,000 or more.

What’s the angel environment like today, versus five years ago?

I believe in Canada we are seeing more angels emerge. A few years ago a number of angels had made their money in different sectors (real estate, oil and gas, and mining). With recent exits, however, we are seeing more angels that have had exits in the space and can provide a lot of guidance to entrepreneurs in addition to capital.

What are you looking forward to the most in 2017?

The increased quality of deal flow of startups in Canada. We are seeing better companies every year who think globally.

What main challenges lie ahead for angel investing, in your view?

Vetting of deals. There are multiple platforms now where Angels can invest and the inundation of companies. The supply of angel capital is still low compared to demand in the sector. There is not enough capital to fund some very viable businesses.

Harley Finkelstein

Harley Finkelstein is perhaps best known for his role as chief operating officer at Shopify and a “dragon” on CBC TV’s Next Gen Den. Finkelstein in also a successful entrepreneur, lawyer and very active angel investor.

TV: How did you get started as an angel investor?

HF: I’ve been an entrepreneur most of my life, and I have always invested my time in helping and supporting other entrepreneurs. [They] are my tribe. They are my people. But until pretty recently, I couldn’t afford to make any financial investment into these startups and businesses. More recently, and as Shopify has grown, it has allowed me to begin investing more than just my time into Canadian entrepreneurs, and now I can also make financial investments. I feel I now have a deep responsibility to support the Canadian ecosystem, and I am very proud that I can play a role in helping other entrepreneurs.

What has been your biggest investment to date?

I have invested between $20,000 to $50,000 in about seven startups over the past 12 months.

What has been your best investment to date?

Probably SkipTheDishes [bought recently by Britain’s Just Eat]

What’s the angel environment like today, versus five years ago?

There seem to be many more angel investors today than in the past. I think that’s wonderful. I love that so many Canadian entrepreneurs that have had a bit of success with our own startups feel a deep responsibility to pay-it-forward and help others.

What are you looking forward to the most in 2017?

The Canadian startup ecosystem has never been stronger. We are building world leaders right from here in Canada. I am excited that many more Canadian entrepreneurs are deciding to grow their startups to be large independent leaders – rather than selling out too early.

What main challenges lie ahead for angel investing, in your view?

Simplicity. We need to make it easier for startups to meet new investors – not simply because of their cheques, but also because of their support, advice, and their network.

Vote for who you think deserves to be Angel of the Year 2016 here.

Real Ventures, iNovia Capital, Relay Ventures are Finalists in Canadian Startup Awards

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