OMERS Ventures ramps up with Howard Gwin & Derek Smyth

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It’s has been a long time since Canadians have seen the creation of a new 200MM+ venture capital fund. It was back in June 2010 that OMERS announced the creation of the INKEF fund. OMERS and ABP have since gone their separate ways with ABP running INKEF Capital focusing on high tech startups in the Netherlands. And OMERS creating OMERS Ventures focused on “investments in the Technology, Media, Telecommunications, Clean Technology and Life Sciences sectors in Canada and the US”.

A little more than a week ago, OMERS announced that they had hired Howard Gwin (LinkedIn, @howardgwin). Who I’ve been quoted as saying “he really is the best VC in Canada”, mind you Howard was buying the drinks at the time…

And it looks like they have added fellow Edgestone alumni Derek Smyth (LinkedIn, @derekjsmyth). I’ve heard the announcement is due later today, but OMERS Ventures announced Derek Smyth as part of the team today, Derek’s profile is already part fo the team at OMERS Ventures. Derek is another rockstar going to OMERS. Prior to joining OMERS Ventures, Derek co-managed two VC funds at Edgestone Capital Partners. He also has operational experience that includes his former roles as President and CEO of solutions provider Bridgewater Systems, and as COO of California-based Ironside Technologies Inc.

Derek and Howard were instrumental at Bridgescale in running the Digital Puck and Mentor Monday events that helped connect Canadian entrepreneurs. I’m hoping that these guys continue to invest in connecting, engaging and supporting all entrepreneurs (along with their portfolio). The ongoing support of the C100 and AccelerateTO already show that OMERS has a larger operational budget that allows them to support and sponsor community activities.

The future looks bright for OMERS Ventures.

Startup Life: Trough of Sorrow or Crest of Success?

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Kimchi Ho (LinkedIn, @kymchiho). Kim is an architect by training and has been working to build community spaces in the physical and virtual worlds. Kim’s post, “The Startup Girlfriend” was featured in Forbes Startup Life series. This post was originally published on Kim’s blog on November 16, 2011 and is republished with her permission. 

Entering Startup

Ilya Zhitomirskiy, a cofounder of Diaspora, passed away earlier this week due to unknown reasons, however it is suspected that it was related to his depression and the pressures associated with startup life. Startup culture is as much a lifestyle as it is a very small community. It is not a 9-5 job with the ability to turn yourself into “off” mode. Do people actually get that? Startup mode is always on. It’s fuelled primarily by passion and for those of us who find ourselves working on things we are passionate about, time is not a factor.

But as this taboo topic poses, where is the fine line between madness and sanity? Is the line so far away that it’s a dot?

Fill in the ______

I have the fortune to be surrounded by some good friends who share a love for startup culture. It’s not always pretty, like anything worth pursuing there are troughs of sorrow and crests of success. How do you put one foot in front of the other on those days? In startup culture, it’s a fairly intimate circle of people working on manifesting an idea, these people become your family, it’s a package deal (the good, bad, and the ugly). However, the ability to stay grounded and balanced, while pursuing such unveiled ideas can seem daunting and doubtful while also being awesome and fulfilling. All off these feelings are usually experienced many times a day in startup life. It is only human to have ideas reinforced by others, we are social creatures. However, ironically, the actual work itself is often a solo unsocial pursuit, you just have to get the work done to contribute to the bigger picture. For those hours spent hustling, coding, communicating, leading, experimenting, call it whatever you want, a bit of debt is incurred, maybe in the form of physical (you’re not exercising as much, you’re not eating as much, you don’t care as much) or mental, as in the case of Diaspora’s Co-Founder. Maintaining the optimistic front in light of setbacks and financial stress is not always easy. There is under-rated stressed from publicly press-released information about your start up and there is under-rated stress from the day to day that startup life demands. So how do entrepreneurs win? How do you put one foot in front of the other? Clearly there is a trend, Zhitomirskiy isn’t the first.

Ramen Noodles aka Top Ramen

Take preventative measures. When I socialize with friends who are startup doers, they literally live and breath their business. Can I blame them? Not really, it’s what they love to do. However, we make a point to try to do non-startup-esque things to get away from work, if only for a bit. We go rock climbing. We eat good food, away from our offices. We dance like crazy, also away from our offices. All these things can be great breaths of fresh air and are under-rated solutions that contribute to a healthier state of mind. I’m a firm believe in allotting time to do things that are not related to your start up directly, because the time spent doing those things is actually propelling the productivity and success of the time you do spend working on your startup. All of these ideas are summed up nicely in this Hacker News discussion which was initiated by this key topic: Dealing with Post Startup Depression. I think we can all empathize, startup or not.

Transparent Toaster

Be transparent. There are great listeners who are accountable confidants. It is worth engaging in these conversations. Don’t try to be a hero by holding down the fort. Know when to speak up, it doesn’t have to be closed doors. You know who you trust, speak to those people. Accountability & mentorships go along way. I’ve had some of the best insights when I can get past this threshold and voice my concern for something. We often think we’re the only ones struggling with these internal ideas, but if you speak up, chances are someone else can relate and has some insight. The act of sharing and engaging in someway is the premise of most startup ideas…why not use that same mantra to tackle those problems on a personal level as well?

There needs to be outlets, let’s un-taboo this.


Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Kimchi Ho (LinkedIn, @kymchiho). Kim is an architect by training and has been working to build community spaces in the physical and virtual worlds. Kim’s post, “The Startup Girlfriend” was featured in Forbes Startup Life series. This post was originally published onKim’s blog on November 16, 2011 and is republished with her permission. 

Startup Down Under

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Alyssa Richard (@AlyssaJRichard), Founder of RateHub, a Canadian mortgage rate comparison engine. While StartupNorth is focused on Canadian startups, with Winter on the horizon we thought some readers would enjoy hearing that our cousins in the Southern Hemisphere are building a thriving tech ecosystem.

The garage enjoys a special place in the mythology of tech entrepreneurs. It’s where Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and many other aspiring techies launched their first ventures. Whether it’s your garage, living room, or home office, I’m sure you founders out there will agree that startups are usually launched close to home. It’s where we’re most comfortable, have built strong connections, and, yes, it’s a way to reduce pressure on already burdened finances. Bolder souls might opt to move closer to cash and talent pools, such as Silicon Valley, and some even make the journey overseas to be closer to manufacturing. But with cold days and dark mornings closing in, I’m tempted to consider one final factor: climate.

The inspiration for this post comes from a recent trip to Australia, where I judged Univation 2011, a business competition for students and alumni of universities in Western Australia. The total prize pool was over $200,000 AUD. During my stay, I had the opportunity to meet many talented entrepreneurs in both Sydney and Perth. Suffice to say I fell as much in love with the startup scene as I did the beautiful beaches.

Here are some of the startups I met:

Shoes of Prey is a website that allows users to design their very own custom women’s shoes. From booties to stilettos, satin to sparkles, users can release their inner fashionista and wear the results within just a few short weeks.

Unique Aussie Benefit: Close to Manufacturing
Shoes of Prey’s proximity to China allows this largely Sydney-based business to travel from its headquarters to its manufacturing plants in 8 hours or less. No need for a 24 hour flight. Since both countries are located in the eastern hemisphere, there is only a 2 hour time change which makes communication and working together incredibly simple.

Unique Technology: 3D model shoe design
Bringing the customizable fashion trend (think to the shoe industry was no small “feet”. While the manufacturing industry has been set up to handle customizable items like shirts and suits, shoes presented a new challenge as a less experienced vertical. The young company has also overcome a major technological hurdle: the site was originally launched with a 2D shoe model, but found that customers were having trouble picturing the beauty of these $280 shoes in full. This week they’ve launched their new and vastly improved 3D shoe model after 6+ months of hard work.

Funding Stage: Bootstrapped and raising
Shoes of Prey has been bootstrapped to date with a $300,000 investment from its three co-founders but the company is currently in the process of raising $2M. With their impressive mix of technological and manufacturing expertise and 5,000 pairs of shoes sold, I don’t imagine they’ll have much trouble.

Fusion Books is an online yearbook system that makes building school yearbooks easy. Bootstrapped by co-founders Melanie Perkins (23) and Cliff Obrechet (25), Fusion Books now services hundreds of schools throughout Australia and will be licensing their yearbook system internationally in the coming months.

Unique Aussie Benefit: Underserved local market
While the yearbook industry has some major players in the North American market, such as Jostens, Melanie and Cliff are on their way to a significant share of the Australian market through superior technology and an incredible team on the ground taking the Aussie market by storm.

Unique Technology: Accessibility and ease of use
Melanie and Cliff launched Fusion Books because too many schools and businesses were wasting hours with complicated technology like Adobe Indesign and Photoshop. Worst of all these programs could only be accessed on one computer, allowing limited opportunities for collaboration. While their technology, designed by Melanie at the age of 19, is as easy as pie to use, don’t underestimate the coding. For example, editors can set up basic profile questions that students answer through an e-mailed URL, and crowd-sourced content is uploaded and formatted automatically for all students.

Funding Stage: Bootstrapped, cash flow positive
In a world where venture-funded startups attract a lot of attention, I was very impressed with this dynamic duo who have built and own 100% of a profitable business.

Posse is a social platform that leverages a brand’s most dedicated customers to help spread the word online. A brand’s customers, or “fans,” are given exclusive product/service offerings that they can share with friends to receive prizes in the form of cash and products. Posse captures the viral aspect of sharing deals online but allows brands to control the deal.

Unique Technology: QR codes track offline activity
It’s easy to see how a platform could be set-up for customers and fans to redeem pre-purchased vouchers, but Posse takes this one step further. Fans of a brand can share exclusive deals with their friends, through a voucher containing a unique QR code. When the friend goes to redeem the product, say a haircut, the business scans the QR code, collects payment and enters in the gross sales associated with the service. The original brand fan can now be awarded for their friend’s sale through a combination of deals and points. Essentially Posse has created a trackable affiliate program where companies/brands are in the driver’s seat.

Funding Stage: Seed, en route to Series A
With two rounds of funding under their belt, the company has built a platform, acquired users to test and refine the service, and will eventually raise additional funding. With this company’s unique spin on the group deals space, it’s no surprise angels have gotten so excited.

As the winter chill sets in, just remember you have options. With all the activity in Australia, I highly recommend exploring startup life down under, where technology and business have a home by the beach.

Top left: Beach in Margaret River with fellow judges including Bill Tai of Charles River Ventures

Top right: Kitesurfing with Dan Larsen of Qualcomm

Bottom left: Meeting with co-founders of Shoes of Prey in their Sydney office

Bottom right: With the winners of the Mobile App contest, the brilliant minds behind Big Help Mob