When Glenn Cowan worked with Canada's elite special operations unit, Joint Task Force 2, he had a front-row seat to security threats and the wide range of technologies being developed to fight serious problems.
But he quickly realized “there's no real motive or plan for commercializing or monetizing the technology.”
“It's just about building the technology to solve the problem,” said Cowan, who has since retired from his role as a squadron commander.
He and Daniel Weinand, one of Shopify Inc.’s co-founders, are looking to change that with a with the launch Tuesday of a new venture capital fund aimed at financing national security companies.
"It’s important that leadership within the national security environment really understand if they just maintain the pace of trying to go through government procurement channels and funding companies through federal grants that can take eight to nine months to approve, they're going to miss the window and miss the boat on capitalizing on the talent we have in Canada," Cowan said.
He and Weinand will serve as general partners and preside over a $10-million anchor commitment from Kensington Capital Partners, which has also backed travel startup Hopper, financial reward company Drop and credit education firm Borrowell.
Cowan and Weinand, who met through a mutual friend, have a fundraising target of $50 million.
They’re open to investing in most security companies, but will stay away from funding anything involving guns, bullets and weapons.
Despite being "small and new," Cowan believes the pair will be an asset to any companies they get involved with because he compares his military experience to a more extreme version of a U.S. technology accelerator key to the success of Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe and DoorDash.
"I'm a firm believer that a special forces unit is like a Y Combinator on steroids," said Cowan, who launched ONE9 Venture Partners in October 2020 and attracted former defence minister Peter MacKay as a special adviser.
"We've been the people that are downrange in a high threat environments saying ‘Oh my God, we need a technology that can do this and we need it really fast.’ A lot of these funds don't understand what it takes…to solve some of these really scary problems, but that's intuitive to us."
While the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association says last year saw a record $14.7 billion invested over 752 deals, Cowan believes not enough of that money went to companies in the security space.
With a power struggle forming between the U.S. and China, and Russia invading Ukraine, Cowan said Canada can’t overlook security and his efforts can be key.
“The time is right for this type of fund,” he said.
“We're in a very unique spot to be able to really help position and drive some of these changes and bring technologies to market that are of critical importance.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2022.
Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press