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‘Back in Person’ starts with ‘Back in Victoria’
14 Apr 2022 by Pieter Dorsman

The last Western Angel Investment Summit took place shortly before the pandemic broke in February 2020. It was clear that people were ready to get back together again and this year’s (third) Western Angel Investment Summit kicked off in a packed downtown Victoria pub, this time Swan’s. Great atmosphere where investors, founders and others got together drinking and chatting, in some cases investors meeting the founders of the company they had invested in for the very first time in person.

So, a lot happened in two years and Pieter Dorsman opened the summit on Friday morning by reflecting on this and outlining the challenges and opportunities ahead for both founders and investors. The theme of the summit was ‘Back to Basics’ the goal of which is to understand how angel investors actually work and how they have dealt with the high valuations and COVID-fueled tech boom that characterized the years 2020-22. All players in the ecosystem have learned and become smarter, including governments. Following the opening, InBC’s fresh CEO Jill Earthy gave some insights into how the brand new British Columbia crown corporation is going to fund the tech sector with fresh investment. It appears that InBC is getting ready to get things going as early as this fall and many in the audience approached Jill to get a better handle on timelines and investment approaches. After that Chris Neuman (Panache Ventures) and Casey Lau demystified the world of Web3, Metaverse, NFTs and DAO for a hungry audience and guess what? A new Angel Forum event on DAOs is on the list of events for later this year as a result.

After this the audience was ready to hear from Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps. She could have been a contender for most promising pitch: her presentation on the future of Victoria as a growing tech hub was truly inspiring. So good that you could hear some in the audience weighing the option of just moving to this great friendly BC town. Following that James de Greef and Pieter Dorsman challenged each other on how to go back to basics when it comes to angel investing. Both were in agreement on almost anything, in particular on getting involved in deals early on and helping founders get ready for the multitude of things that come their way once the venture is launched. Relationship building remains the key ingredient.

Before the new pitches got going it was time to see how the companies that presented in 2019 and 2020 were doing. VINN’s Caleb Bernabe gave an update of their incredible progress and explained how the pandemic served as an accelerant for his company. He then queried Cuboh’s Juan Orrego, Zennea’s Rachel Chase  and Redlen’s Jim Balcom on this. All panellists had seen successes through the pandemic period with Balcom discussing Redlen’s US$400m+ exit to Canon and Orrego talking about his progress to raise multiple rounds as Cuboh took off. Orrego’s not so subtle message to investors: always answer your e-mails.

After that it was time for the first batch of pitches: Nyoka, Swede and VoxCell BioInnovation. James de Greef introed the companies by explaining how in each area an existing industry needed to be disrupted. So for Nyoka that meant ‘glowsticks suck’, for Swede ‘kitchen renovations suck’ and for VoxCell it meant that ‘cancer sucks’. We loved the very clear definition of the problems solved and the founders discussing their solutions and capital needs. Just before lunch James launched the traditional investor’s bingo, further breaking the ice (as if that was still really necessary!) and getting a much better understanding of the sometimes ridiculous investor lingo. 

After the lunch break – great food at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel it has to be said – the pitches continued with Plantsome, Signalytic, NANOSentinel and Frontly. Great pitches in a variety of verticals with solid founders talking about their journeys and what they need to get further. The audience was invited to vote for the ‘Most Promising Pitch’ and the award went Nyoka’s Paige Whitehead. It is was clear that glowsticks no longer suck, there is now a bio-based alternative ready for the market.

The finale involved Open Ocean Robotics founder and CEO Julie Angus telling her story and querying Lucent’s Michael Riedijk, We-BC’s Melanie Rupp and Focal’s Lachlan Shum on the subject of how to deal with hard to finance start-ups. Riedijk pointed to the important fact that investors need to really understand the value that your product brings to the market whereas Shum highlighted some guerilla tactics to successfully connect with Silicon Valley-based angels. The lesson here is to be well prepared, but to not be afraid to be suitably aggressive while attacking the funding market from different angles.

The summit wrapped up with drinks and lots of food at VINN’s newly minted head office (two floors no less) in downtown Victoria. Thanks Caleb and team for hosting and thanks Victoria for always being such an incredibly friendly and fun host town. It was the right place to get back together in person again. Of course also a big thanks to the organizing committee: Stephanie Andrew, Irene Dorsman, Nagma Dhillon, Pieter Dorsman and James de Greef and thanks to our solid supporters at the City of Victoria and VIATEC. And finally of course a warm thanks to our sponsors Harper GreyPWCOKR FinancialeFund, Blankslate, Renzoku, Western Pacific Trust, Engel&Volkers/Alexandra Dawes, Strategic Decisions Institute, InWest Ventures and Nimbus Synergies.

We have booked next year’s summit in Victoria for February 23-24, 2023, mark your calendars!