Canadian companies seeing venture capital funding boom, interest in fintechs high

TORONTO — Canadian companies trying to drum up venture capital during the COVID-19 pandemic raised billions more in the first half of this year than they did in previous years.

A new report from business analytics firm CB Insights said Canadian companies have raised US$6.3 billion so far this year, more than double the US$2.9 billion in funding they received throughout all of last year. Companies in the country raised US$4.3 billion in 2019 and US$3.4 billion in 2018.

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About US$2.1 billion was raised across 197 deals in the first quarter of 2021 and US$4.1 billion across 217 deals in the second quarter, amounting to an 89 per cent increase in funding between the quarters.

Venture capital (VC) and technology experts attribute the funding boom to a strong global market and growing interest in the country's technology and talent.

Canada lured an increasing number of foreign giants, including Microsoft, DoorDash, Amazon, Google, Wayfair, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit and Netflix, to open offices and expand their Canadian workforces during the pandemic.

There's also a "network effect" occurring among Canada’s entrepreneurs, said Janet Bannister, managing partner at Real Ventures, a VC firm that has backed estate planning company Willful, car sales business Clutch and jeweller Mejuri.

"Success begets success in startup communities," she said. "The more success that comes from an ecosystem, the more you have experienced entrepreneurs, founding teams and executives who know how to grow."

Canada's trove of experience has deepened in recent years as the number of exits — when VCs get their money out of investments as companies merge, get acquired or go public — has climbed.

There were 128 mergers and acquisitions and seven initial public offerings in the first quarter of 2021 and 102 mergers and acquisitions and eight IPOs in the second quarter, CB's report shows.

In 2017, the first quarter generated 64 mergers and acquisitions and three IPOs and the second quarter included 57 mergers and acquisitions and seven companies going public.

Bryn Jones believes Canadian companies have since become even more attractive and the pandemic has helped too.

"There was no excuse to not meet Canadians because everybody moved to (videoconferencing platform) Zoom," said the co-founder of PartnerStack, a Toronto company that helps businesses find the right partners to work with.

PartnerStack raised US$29 million in Series B funding in May. Rather than meeting with two or three VCs every day in-person to find that funding, technology helped him connect with up to 10 a day.

"That created a lot of competition for the venture capitalists...and that yielded a really great result," he said.

"It also allowed us to meet people that we previously would not have been able to speak to and those people have proven to drive an absolute ton of value, whether they have invested in us or not."

CB's report shows that just over half of the funding Canadian companies received in 2021 so far has gone to early-stage businesses, while 14 per cent and 12 per cent was snagged by mid- and late-stage companies respectively.

Much of that funding has gone to financial technology, often called fintech, companies, which have seen soaring levels of interest as Canada studies the idea of open banking and more people gravitate toward online transactions.

"I have never seen such an easy environment to raise money in as a fintech entrepreneur," said Raphael Bouskila, the chief executive of Mako Fintech, a Montreal company behind tools for automating administrative and compliance tasks, so wealth and asset management firms can spend more time investing.

Global fintech funding, said CB, reached a new high of US$33.7 billion in the second quarter of 2021, up 191 per cent from last year.

The report said 22 per cent of global VC funding in the second quarter of 2021 was allocated toward fintechs, amounting to $1 out of every $5 going to a company in that industry.

"The COVID pandemic has kicked into high gear the appetite of banks and established wealth managers to work with fintechs, and likewise for the venture capitalists," said Bouskila.

"The sharks smell blood so they're looking for deals to finance in that space."

But it's not just fintechs proving to be a hit.

The report listed Vancouver identity verification software company Trulioo with a $394-million Series D, Kitchener, Ont. education platform ApplyBoard's $300-million Series D and Toronto software business Vena's $242-million Series C as the top fund raisings in the second quarter of 2021.

Bannister doesn't expect numbers like that to stop any time soon.

"I think that we are just getting started and I am extremely bullish," she said.

"We really think the future is extremely bright and has never been brighter."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 1, 2021.

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