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NACO Academy Podcast

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NACO Academy Podcast leverages the collective wisdom of 4,200 angel investors that have invested $1.12 billion into 1500 companies. Join us on a journey into the depths of the innovation economy and bring you the knowledge you need to build, grow and scale at the intersection of innovation, capital and entrepreneurship. Learn more about the National Angel Capital Organization (NACO) at




NACO Academy Podcast leverages the collective wisdom of 4,200 angel investors that have invested $1.12 billion into 1500 companies. Join us on a journey into the depths of the innovation economy and bring you the knowledge you need to build, grow and scale at the intersection of innovation, capital and entrepreneurship. Learn more about the National Angel Capital Organization (NACO) at






Why Canada needs a post-pandemic prosperity strategy

Benjamin Bergen is Executive Director of the Council of Canadian Innovators, a national business council led by the CEOs of Canada’s fastest growing technology firms. It’s easy to be a pessimist these days. We have now been slogging through the turmoil, strain and heartache of a global pandemic for more than a year — long enough to grind anybody down. But by their very nature, innovators are optimists. We don’t accept the world as it is today. We insist that it can be better, and when we see problems, we work to make it better by building the solutions. Innovators have helped carry us through COVID-19. E-commerce, cloud computing and an array of other technologies have saved countless lives by allowing us to continue working in our socially distanced reality. What’s more, innovative, cutting-edge techniques allowed us to develop vaccines at breakneck speed. As we look toward putting COVID-19 behind us, our world will only be more data-driven and technology-infused, and when the post-pandemic recovery comes, we can be sure that it will be led by innovative companies. There’s no guarantee, though, that Canada will enjoy the full benefit of this economic boom. If we aren’t engaged and proactive, Canada can’t expect to claim its share of the global knowledge economy. If we don’t put the right policies in place to support homegrown Canadian innovators, there is a very real possibility that Canada will be left buying technologies and services from the countries that get it right, and we will all be poorer for it. A thriving innovation economy is an ecosystem, and everything is interconnected — high-growth scale-ups, emerging startups, established players, research institutions, venture capitalists, angel investors and public policy experts. A growing, prosperous ecosystem creates wealth in terms of equity and intangible assets, which get invested back into the ecosystem, driving the next generation of growth. This growth also creates public wealth in the form of taxes, which help pay for the social services we all value as Canadians. Learn more and subscribe at


Season 2 Preview

Season 2 is packed with actionable content and intimate conversations. For pure concentrated knowledge on mobilizing capital and scaling the next massive global success story, we will be interweaving content from a Practical Guide to Angel Investing and you will hear from over 100 prominent thought leaders at the intersection of entrepreneurship, capital and innovation, including:


Absolutely Critical to Preserve Diversity of Tech Sector: Laura McGee, CEO and Founder of Diversio

“We crunched data a few weeks ago and the risk that the pandemic poses — in terms of erasing the gains that Canada has made on supporting diverse entrepreneurs — is significant and undeniable. The proportion of women-led business in a ‘do-nothing scenario’ will drop from 17% to 12%. Businesses everywhere are struggling and failing. According to our statistics, the diverse ones are going down quicker and more frequently. We all know diversity leads to better results so, in my view, it’s absolutely critical to preserve that diversity to the extent that we can in order to have a thriving economy that comes out of this.” — Laura McGee


Small Business is 98% of Our Economy: Frances McRae, Assistant Deputy Minister of Small Business and Marketplace Services Innovation, Science and Economic Development

“You’ve heard the government say they are not afraid of adjusting the measures that have rolled out. Getting money out there as quickly as possible was important, but there would be adjustments. I think that’s what you’ve seen the government do the last number of weeks — they’re not afraid of saying they need to tweak, add more programs, expand eligibility and change program parameters.” — Frances McRae


Government Should Leverage Angel Investors: Michael King, Finance Professor at the Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria

“To get to the punchline, the government should set up a co-investment fund that matches angel investments dollar for dollar. It should adopt a national tax incentive scheme that already exists in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia. And it should consider replacing the loans that are being made available through its support packages with convertible notes. The Canadian government should leverage angel investments to ensure that early-stage, high-growth companies are going to survive and thrive despite the pandemic.” — Michael King, Finance Professor at the Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria


Government Funding to Survive the Crisis: Opening Remarks by Claudio Rojas, CEO at NACO

The combined impact of the health pandemic and economic crisis hit hard and fast. This resulted in initial government relief taking what was described as a “people first” approach, with an emphasis on employees at risk of layoffs, and trying to minimize the impact on individuals. –– All of this was focused on helping to flatten the curve. And the curve is flattening. As provinces begin to slowly open up, the longer-term economic realities are starting to take hold. In a recent survey conducted by the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI), 76% of respondents said that without capital and customers, their companies will continue to be reliant on government relief programs to sustain themselves and their workers. Compounding this issue is the lack of available capital in both the current environment, which was already an issue in emerging ecosystems prior to the crisis. In preparing NACO’s Canadian Angel Activity Report, to be released next month, our research indicates that angel investment activity continues to be distributed unevenly across Canada. Central Canada (Ontario and Quebec) account for 86% of investments compared with 13% in Western Canada and 1% in Atlantic Canada. Central Canada’s dominance is even greater in terms of the amount invested, accounting for 94% of the total. Big cities do not have a monopoly on great founders or world-class companies. When entrepreneurs in emerging ecosystems don’t have adequate access to local capital, as a nation – we miss the opportunity to produce more world-class companies like Skip the Dishes in Winnipeg, Slack in Vancouver, Solium in Calgary, and Verafin in St. John’s. According to Entrevestor, most funding generated by Atlantic Canadian companies comes from outside the region. St. John’s based Verafin - supported by local investor Mark Dobbin from Killick Capital and Toronto-based Information Venture Partners - speaks to the importance of national connectivity between regions - and the power of local capital within an integrated national funding continuum. The combined effect of local angel investors in St. John’s and venture capital from Southern Ontario, is Verafin – a company that has 300 employees in Canada, over $100 million in annual recurring revenue, and this past September announced the completion of a $515 million equity and debt recapitalization. Verafin is a massive Canadian success story. What does all this have to do with unlocking government funding to survive the crisis? As has been discussed in past roundtables, the current focus of the policy response is emergency relief – with the view that later, weeks or months from now, the role of startups in the “economic recovery” will move into greater focus. However, if high growth companies don’t survive the crisis, there will be nothing to recover from. Startups in particular are at risk with a lack of financing options available to them. That said recent announcements to extend relief to pre-revenue companies is promising. And we commend the government on their efforts. But the point still needs to be made ––– Without startups there are no scale-ups. Without angels, there is no funnel of high growth companies for venture capital. In our last roundtable Janet Bannister, Managing Partner at Real Ventures, referred to the narrow focus on scale-ups in recent years, as equivalent to Canada producing a strong cohort of graduate students, and pulling back support for earlier education. In the economic recovery following the crisis, we need an even stronger and more vibrant pipeline of startups than existed in the past, to produce a stronger and more robust wave of scale-ups and high growth companies to lead the economic recovery. The stakes are high and Canada’s economic future hangs in the balance.


Innovating at the Speed of the Crisis: Opening remarks by Claudio Rojas

Innovating at the speed of the crisis is a concept that speaks to the importance of angel investing in early-stage start-ups and scale-ups, as well as the government’s decisive response to supporting the ecosystem. “We’ve already seen our government lead the way innovating at the speed of the crisis with unprecedented collaboration to catalyze and harness the power of the private sector. This level of speed and a willingness to take bold steps to support the economy can and will usher in a new era of inclusive economic prosperity,” said Claudio Rojas, CEO of NACO. “Many successful companies emerged after the 2008/2009 recession—WhatsApp, Slack, Airbnb, Uber and Waymo, for example—and grew to global success. It’s critical that angels continue to invest during the crisis. We cannot afford to leave any entrepreneur behind.”


Massive Tech Companies Grow From a Robust Pipeline of Start-ups: Janet Bannister, Managing Partner at Real Ventures

“I use the analogy that you can’t grow a tree without planting a seed. And similarly, there’s no way you can build massive tech companies in Canada without supporting a robust pipeline of young, promising start-ups. Fostering of these early-stage tech companies must be done in Canada by Canadians.” “We need to keep investing in seed and pre-seed ecosystems. I sometimes get concerned when I hear a narrative that says that we should shift our priority from early-stage to later-stage companies. I have heard people said, ‘Hey, we solved that early-stage problem. So now let’s focus on scaling companies.’ I would consider that as the equivalent of investing a lot in early education, seeing that you’re producing great graduates and then saying, ‘I guess we don’t need to worry about continuing to educate the next generation of primary school kids.’” “Going forward, it’s extremely important that the government continue investing directly into accelerators, seed-stage funds and incentivizing angels via tax incentives. The government can have a huge catalyzing impact and their dollars can have a multiplying impact. But it’s not just about putting incentives and dollars in the hands of early-stage investors—the government enables people who have skin in the game in terms of the outcome of those companies to not only pick the winners, but also to add value beyond their dollars.” —Janet Bannister


Canada's Moment to Shine: Dr. Kamran Khan, CEO and Founder at BlueDot

“History is unfolding right before our eyes. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that this pandemic is maybe one of the most important and significant events in human history. We’ve never had a moment where the entire planet has been crippled by a tiny little virus in the way that COVID-19 has impacted us,” said Dr. Kamran Khan, the founder and CEO of Toronto-based BlueDot, on the National Angel Capital Organization’s (NACO) collaborative roundtable on Thursday May 7. “But I think this is a moment for Canada to shine in terms of its ability to innovate—to demonstrate its creativity.” – Dr. Kamran Khan, infectious disease physician, CEO and Founder at BlueDot


Canadian Entrepreneurs and Angel Investors Must Lead the Way: Ali Ehsassi, Parliamentary Secretary to The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry

“Over the past few months, we’ve been working hand in hand with companies as they retool and rapidly scale up to produce critical equipment such as masks, face shields, ventilators, medical gowns and test kits. This is an excellent opportunity for Canadian innovators. As many of you may have heard, Minister Bains likes to say this often and loudly—our approach to personal protective equipment has been buy, buy, buy, build, build, build.” “We will need Canadian entrepreneurs to lead the way and we’ll need angel investors to activate capital to support them. And while the innovation sector is playing a key role in the fight against COVID-19, we know that the economic shutdown has had a significant impact on early-stage companies. During these uncertain times, they are the kind of businesses that are facing supply-chain disruptions, cashflow issues, a collapse in demand and even an inability to maintain staff. What’s more, because they are at the start-up stage, they likely do not qualify for other wage subsidies or liquidity measures. That’s why we decided to inject $250 million in new funding into the National Research Council's Industrial Research Assistance Program to assist innovative early-stage companies that are unable to access existing COVID-19 business supports.” —Ali Ehsassi


Ecosystem in Crisis: InterGen CEO Sandi Gilbert, The OMX Founder Nicole Verkindt, and The DMZ Executive Director Abdullah Snobar

Sandi Gilbert, CEO at InterGen and Board Chair at NACO moderated a discussion with Abdullah Snobar, Executive Director at The DMZ and Nicole Verkindt, Founder at The OMX on their leadership journeys and insights on sustaining a business in crisis mode. Originally Recorded on April 30, 2020. Click here to join future roundtables.


Unleashing the Full Potential of Our Ecosystem with Cathy Bennett and Shelley Kuipers

“About 51 percent of our population are women, and we get four percent of venture-capital funding. Quite frankly, that’s an awful lot of capital to leave, and a lot of people out of the competitive ecosystem underutilized.” “We really need also to remember that when you think about women as a whole, there’s significant underrepresentation of women of color, Aboriginal women, LGBTQ women. These are sisters who I want to include in our fund because by teaching and training and deploying their capital, what we’re going to see are stronger female founders supported. We’re also going to see men thinking about investing in female-led companies.” –Cathy Bennett “We are 51 percent of the population. So there’s an opportunity to unlock our capital, our innovation and our spending power. It’s going to be a huge economic force and economic engine inside of Canada to really help drive that transformation and that diversification. And if we think about women today, there’s a wealth transfer going on. So over the next 10 years, women will amass much more wealth and capital that needs to be deployed.” –Shelley Kuipers


Activating Capital for All Entrepreneurs: Claudio Rojas, CEO and Amanda Filipe Director at NACO

NACO’s fifth weekly collaborative roundtable on Thursday April 30th focused on activating capital for the next wave of great founders. In partnership with The51 and Atlantic Women’s Venture Fund, NACO welcomed an impressive panel of industry insiders and experts well-versed in the intense need to support enterprises led by women and to remove barriers standing in their way. In the wake of COVID-19, there’s an urgent need for high-potential entrepreneurs — both male and female, from urban cities and rural communities — to gain rapid access to the resources they need to grow and scale. “If the pipeline of startups shrinks dramatically, there will be a massive ripple effect across the entire Canadian economy. As a nation, we need to harness the power of all entrepreneurs as we invest our way out of the crisis” Originally Recorded on April 30, 2020. Click here to join future roundtables.


TV Host and Author Amber Mac on the State of the Ecosystem at NACO Roundtable

I would argue that over the past couple of decades, there has been an overemphasis in the startup world on growth for the sake of growth. Employees hired, companies acquired. There have been startups that I’ve interviewed that can barely explain what they do, and leaders who have been praised for a lack of a moral compass. Today, I believe that we are looking in the rearview mirror at these realities. The old ways of doing business are fading away.” “While many businesses, mine included, are relying on a framework to survive and thrive over the next few months, there is something bigger than just business that is happening today. We are all accepting that we’re vulnerable and, through this recognition, I do believe that we’re finding the courage to do things that we’re meant to be doing and the realization that it is okay to ask for help.” “If we dig deeper than simply building and scaling companies and focus on building and scaling companies right now that the world needs, I think we can all agree that the return on investment is greater for everyone.” –Amber Mac Originally Recorded on April 30, 2020. Click here to join future roundtables.


In Conversation with Rachel Bendayan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and Internatio

Rachel Bendayan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, in a conversation with leading entrepreneurs, Bobbie Racette, Founder & CEO at Virtual Gurus; Dr Franziska Broell, CEO at Motryx; Stephany Lapierre, CEO at tealbook; and Jennifer Wagner, President at CarbonCure Technologies. "I think we're going to get through this, and we'll get through it by government and the private sector working together and doing whatever it takes in order to get our Canadian economy back on track. I hope that you feel the support of the government and that you know that we're behind you 100 percent in this. Let me just say that I'm here, I'm listening, and we know that the work is not over." "If there's one thing that I think has been a theme it's the importance of adapting and changing your business model in a crisis situation. And we've seen a lot of very small businesses and startups do that very successfully." –Rachel Bendayan Originally Recorded on April 30, 2020. Click here to join future roundtables.


Activating Diversity: Nicole LeBlanc on Atlantic Women's Venture Fund

“A lot of people understand diversity is important, but they actually don’t know how to translate that into action and really don’t understand how to bring more diverse perspectives, whether it’s female board members or female executives or female staff,” said Nicole Leblanc, the Toronto-based Director of Investments at Sidewalk Labs. Originally Recorded in September 2019. Sign-up to our newsletter for an invitation to future events.


Founding a Movement: Rhiannon Davies, Co-Founder of the Atlantic Women's Venture Fund

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, we had the opportunity to speak with three founders of the Atlantic Women's Venture Fund at the NACO Summit in Halifax. Their words still ring true in the current environment. More so, perhaps. Originally Recorded in September 2019. Sign-up to our newsletter for an invitation to future events.


Cathy Bennett on Unleashing a New Wave of Wealth

This untapped segment of the population signifies incredible opportunity for investors and innovators. Increasing access to capital remains a persistent impediment to growing world-class companies. “This generation of women is going to inherit or have earned the most amount of wealth that women in Canada have ever had before,” says Cathy Bennett, entrepreneur and cofounder at Atlantic Women’s Venture Fund. “And we need to ensure that that’s deployed in the communities, not only in creating female founders, inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs, but also female investors, who are willing to participate and play in the ecosystem to help grow businesses and grow the economy.”


COVID-19 Has Changed Health Care and There Is No Going Back: Dr. Benjamin Fine, Physician and Co-Founder at HaloHealth

“Everyone knows that post-COVID-19 — the next two years — are not going to look like a month ago. It’s not a switch you can just turn back on. We have glimmers of what that’s going to look like for anyone who’s been to Loblaws or any grocery store, and the question is healthcare providers need help from startups to think about what does the ‘X’ service look like in the post-COVID-19 world? What does the Loblaws for endoscopy look like? Or medical imaging, or the operation room, or the emergency department, palliative care, etc. They’re all going to look very different.” —Physician and Co-Founder at HaloHealth Originally Recorded on April 23, 2020. Click here to join future roundtables.


Introductory Remarks at Roundtable on Innovations in Health Care

We all know the idiom credited to philosopher Plato: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” It means, of course, that new ways of doing things are often created or discovered when there’s a real, intense need for them. And as we navigate this COVID-19 pandemic together, it’s fair to say this adage rings true louder today than in recent history — especially when it comes to the rising number of brilliant innovations materializing and flourishing in the health-tech sector. The National Angel Capital Organization (NACO), in partnership with HaloHealth (Canada’s first physician-led angel network) was proud to host a collaborative roundtable on Thursday April 23 that featured an esteemed group of industry insiders who shared insights about the state of the med-tech ecosystem in light of COVID-19. This session — the fourth in the popular weekly series delivered by NACO — brought together experts in early-stage startups, angel investors and physicians on the frontlines to discuss the incredible need for innovative solutions to help the country’s 89,000 doctors (and thousands more healthcare providers) better serve Canadians. We know that your collective strength can help us find solutions and shape policies that have impact. We have entrepreneurs, angel investors, angel groups, incubators, accelerators — champions of Canada’s innovation economy from around the country listening in and contributing to these discussions. Originally Recorded on April 23, 2020. Click here to join future roundtables.