Canada is back, and it needs to stay back in a big way!

On the eve of CVCA’s annual conference, the ‘rebirth’ of the country’s PE and VC markets draws attention from around the globe

First published on the nextMontreal blog and in the Spring 2012 Private Capital Privé magazine

In October 2010, the CVCA released a report entitled “Think Canada (Again).” It is obvious that the PE and VC markets were paying attention, and have spent the past 18 months heeding the call. Call it a reawakening, rebirth or revolution – call it whatever you want, but the story is simple: Canada is back, and back in a big way.

In the world of venture capital, the most noticeable sign of change has been the influx of U.S. investors seeking out early stage opportunities and backing Canadian category leaders in pursuing aggressive growth strategies. The launch of organizations such as the C100 kick-started this trend, helping secure over $400 million in cross-border venture capital since inception. These Canadian deals included industry titans such as Sequoia Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Andreessen Horowitz, Accel Partners, Greylock Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, and Union Square Ventures (amongst others), all of whom made significant investments in Canadian start-ups in 2011.

In fact, over 30 high profile Canadian companies capitalized on this trend in the past year, numbers not approached since the heady days of the dotcom boom years. Montreal-based Beyond the Rack, Toronto-based Fixmo and Ottawa-based Shopify made the largest splashes at the end of 2011 by raising almost $80 million between them (post). However, unlike some of their turn of the century counterparts, these companies raised capital on the basis of quickly rising revenue growth curves and extremely profitable business models. There are no signs of this foreign interest abating, as strong Canadian companies looking to accelerate their path to market leadership continue to attract the attention of investors eager to back the best and brightest entrepreneurial teams, regardless of location.

” For more insights, don’t miss hearing about what the main actors have to say at the CVCA Annual Conference in Montreal, May 23 to 25.”

Early bets
Of course, it’s not just U.S. VCs who are taking advantage of the dynamic growth of the Canadian startup ecosystem. Early bets on talented entrepreneurs by CVCA members have provided the bulk of early stage financing for Canadian companies raising follow-on capital from foreign funds. Local funds have profited handsomely from this renaissance in Canadian tech startups that saw nearly $2 billion in early-stage exits in 2011 alone.
A whole new generation of talented founders is now being mentored by experienced advisors and investors through incubator/accelerators such as Vancouver’s GrowLab, Montreal’s FounderFuel and Toronto’s Extreme Startups. Events such as the Canadian Innovation Exchange (CIX) and the GROW Conference are cementing the bonds between the Canadian entrepreneurial and investment communities, as well as providing a showcase for the talented and experienced leaders who are at the forefront of each. The foundations are now in place for an explosion of value creation over the coming few years, the rewards of which will flow back into supporting the growth of future Canadian success stories.

Canadian private equity funds have also been hard at work, reasserting their standing amongst the world’s best investors and operators in the buyout industry. Canadian firms were buoyed in 2011 by the rebound of the broader M&A market. According to data compiled by PwC’s Deals Team, Canadian deals represented 10 per cent of the global M&A market in 2011, up from seven per cent at the 2007 market peak. The overall value of Canadian acquisitions into the U.S. outpaced the value of U.S.-led deals in Canada in for the first time ever. Domestic funds were still very active in Canada, with involvement in 215 deals worth $52 billion. This represented 28 per cent of all Canadian M&A activity, measured by value, up from market share in each of the three years prior. Unlike their foreign counterparts, Canadian PE buys outpaced sales by $7 billion, signalling a robust appetite for continued growth.

Headline making deals such as CPPIB’s active participation in the $8.5-billion sale of Skype to Microsoft and OMERS Private Equity teaming up with Berkshire Partners to buy Onex Corp.’s Husky Injection Molding Systems for $2.1 billion were just a few of the transactions that propelled the Canadian PE industry to the forefront of the international stage. Low debt yields, government austerity measures, public market volatility, and a baby boomer-driven family succession wave are just a few of the factors uncovered by PwC that are expected create even more opportunities for the Canadian PE industry, proving that it indeed is a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.

CVCA 2012 Conference
And now, this spring, CVCA members and industry leaders will congregate in Montreal to focus on sustaining this momentum well into the future. We will host our  industry’s outperformers. The city provides the ideal setting for such a gathering, having long served as a symbol of Canadian excellence around the world in finance,  aerospace, transportation, entertainment, commerce, technology, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and fashion.

With strong public and private sector commitments to both the VC and PE industries, Montreal is also in the midst of redefining itself as a global hub for  entrepreneurship and investment activities. Canada’s entrepreneurial capital is fostering an environment that is conducive to creating opportunities by leveraging  traditional industry expertise, access to capital and extended personal networks to carve out a global leadership position for both its entrepreneurs and investors.  Initiatives being held in Montreal the same week as the CVCA Annual conference, such as the Cirque du Soleil and Sid Lee sponsored C2MTL event, the  FounderFuel Demo Day and C100 AccelerateMTL events, are testament to the commitment of our local potential and recent performance.

In light of these developments, perhaps it is appropriate that instead of inviting others to “Think Canada,” we encourage ourselves to “Think Global.” We stand on the verge of an era in which Canadian entrepreneurs and investors can carry their domestic strength to the international arena, and stand as shining examples for the rest of the world. All eyes will be on Montreal from May 23 to 25, 2012 to see if CVCA members are indeed up to the challenge.

“We stand on the verge of an era in which Canadian entrepreneurs and investors can carry their domestic strength to the international arena – Chris Arsenault”

See you in Montreal in May!
Chris Arsenault is Co-chair of the CVCA 2012 Conference
and Managing Partner at iNovia Capital

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