Canada’s Inspirational Private Capital Industry – Inspiring Fifty 2018 (Part Two)

May 11, 2018 | By: Jon Jackson

New in Canada, Inspiring Fifty, is a partnership with the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Canada, supported of the Senate of Canada which strongly promotes the advancement of diversity in the STEM fields. Both Canada and the Netherlands recognize the recruitment and retention of women and girls in these sectors will foster greater innovation, as well as a more inclusive and impactful workforce.

Not surprising, in 2018 an incredible four CVCA members were recognized as inspirational female role models in the tech and innovation sectors, as well as advocate for increased diversity and gender-parity. Shirley Speakman, Senior Partner, Cycle Capital; Janet Bannister, Partner, Real Ventures; Jeanette Stock, New Venture Associate, Highline BETA; and, Dr. Gerri Sinclair, Managing Director (Vancouver Office), Kensington Capital were among the fifty women being recognized in 2018.

At the award ceremony that took place in the Senate offices in Parliament Hill on May 7, Dr. Parinaz Sobhani, Director Of Machine Learning, Georgian Partners presented the keynote on the importance of diversity in artificial intelligence. It was here where Sobhani reasoned why it’s urgent to address diversity in AI now to avoid incomplete AI growth; for the benefit of every individual.

In this two-part profile on the CVCA members who were recognized as part of the 2018 Inspiring Fifty, we discuss the sustainable future of the Canadian private capital industry, diversity and inclusion and what it’s like to be a role model.

Shirly Speakman, Senior Partner, Cycle Capital Management

Shirley Speakman receiving Inspiring Fifty Award, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, May. 7, 2018

Can you share with us your path to your current role?

I would like to say it was all a predetermined plan, but in reality, it has always come down to opportunity and choices. Being presented with an opportunity, seeing the potential of that opportunity and choosing to pursue the opportunity at the expense of other options and other definitions of success.

Did you ever think you’d be a role model? Do you think that will change any way that you move forward professionally?

I never thought of myself as a role model and have a tough time thinking of myself that way. But, with a little reflection I realize that there are people in my life who made a meaningful contribution to who I am today; changed my course. I would like to think that I can consciously do that for others; particularly young women who are trying to figure out their role in the private capital world.

Do you hope to accomplish anything specifically (for advancing diversity and inclusion) in your current role?

I came of age in venture capital during some interesting times, times driven in part by great uncertainty and simultaneously, opportunity. My hope is that in my current role as Senior Partner at Cycle I can demonstrate that you can achieve professional success without having to compromise the things that get you excited, day-in and day-out.

How can organizations or individuals contribute and improve the private capital ecosystem?

My recurring theme for 2018 will be to be conscious. Be conscious of the decisions you make. Once you force yourself to be conscious of the decisions you make you begin to ask questions like “why?” And, in the “why,” you find both convenient and inconvenient truths that help you make better decisions.

What would you tell decision-makers about the benefits of having a variety of experiences at the table?

The best answer to this question came to me from a male CEO who told me, “I can’t believe the change in the quality of conversation we are having now that you are at the table…its so much better.” What more do I need to say other than that?

What is your elevator pitch for young people who may be considering a career in private capital or know nothing about the industry at all?

Is there something that you care passionately about?  Then VC is the way to fund it.

Gerri Sinclair, Managing Director (Vancouver Office), Kensington Capital

Can you share with us your path to your current role?

I’ve had a very long and winding path to where I am right now.

I started off as an academic involved in technology. I started Canada’s first R&D group in digital media at Simon Fraser University. And, I grew it from a couple of people, to ending up having 40 people working with me. One of the people that I hired, one of the brilliant people who was on my team, created a new software algorithm. From that, we decided we would start a company. I was the founder and CEO of the company and we ended up selling it to Microsoft just as the bubble was bursting. So that was clearly a good thing.

From there, I lead British Columbia’s Premier’s Technology Council. On the council, the top technology CEOs in the province got together to transform BC in terms in of developing a robust technology sector in the province. Shortly after, I was appointed the chair of a three-person blue ribbon panel, to advise the federal government on a new and reinvigorated telecom policy; the Telecom Policy Review Panel. On the panel we developed a report that’s had, I would say, tremendous impact on transforming the telecom landscape and the CRTC.

From there, I switched back to the academic world to create a state-of-the-art master’s degree program in digital media, focusing on video games, animation and mobile apps at the Centre for Digital Media in Vancouver at Great Northern Way campus. Around the same time, I also spent quite a bit of time working with the people who were building the Digital Media Zone (DMZ) at Ryerson University.

Since that time, I’ve been on a number of corporate boards. I’m on the Board of the Toronto Stock Exchange and I’m on a number of non-profit boards. In the fall of 2016, I joined Kensington Capital as the Managing Director and head of the Vancouver office where I lead the $100 million dollar BC Tech fund and the $90 million BC Renaissance Capital Fund (BCRCF).

Did you ever think you’d be a role model? Do you think that will change any way that you move forward professionally?

I take being a role model extremely seriously because when I was building my company, I was a green CEO, and I was the founder of a technology start-up, one of the first internet start-ups in Canada, and I could not find another woman across the country who was leading a technology company.

As the CEO I was constantly raising capital. I think we did three and a half, four rounds, before we sold our company to Microsoft. I was presenting not only in Canada, but in Silicon Valley, New York and Asia. There must have been 150 men who heard me pitch. And in the room, I think there might have been THREE women? In total. And, they were not senior people, they were not the people who were not the managing directors by any means.

So, there were no women who were in my venture capital investment group; all my board members were male, and when it came for me to create my senior management team I ultimately had all males as my VPs. So, I was very, very isolated.

So now that I’ve successfully steered a company to successful exit, I feel a real responsibility to be a role model. And to help women find other role models as well.

Do you hope to accomplish anything specifically for advancing diversity and inclusion?

Just this week, we launched a really interesting project; The Female Funders and Founders Project which is creating a video database of the real stories of women, both as venture capitalists and as entrepreneurs. There’s stories in both attempting to raise money and there’s stories about investment, investing in women-led companies, and how they dealt with being a woman in a man’s world.

On Monday (May 7, 2018), five master’s degree students, at the Digital Media Master’s Degree Program that I created – all women students – have been assigned to start building the video database and collecting stories. We expect to launch in the early fall. We’re looking for sponsors who want to make this and roll it across the country.

What would you tell decision-makers about the benefit of having a variety of experiences at the table?

Well, that’s really obvious. The world is changing incredibly quickly. We’re a more and more a global economy. We need people of diversity, of every kind you can imagine. And whether it’s gender diversity or ethnic diversity or socioeconomic diversity or diversity of cognitive styles, the more diversity you have, the better solutions that you create to be able to respond to the dynamic changes of the marketplace, and the customer.

What would be your pitch to young people who may be considering a career in private capital?

Well, they can take my advice or listen to my experience. When I was raising money for my own company, I was much younger; I always thought that I could do a better job at venture capital than my own venture capitalists. So that’s the reason that I got into it when the opportunity came to work for Kensington and manage the BCTech fund. But the point is, it’s a tremendously exciting and dynamic place to grow a career. You can actually make a difference. By encouraging companies, working with young companies, helping them grow the business, grow their management team, the rush of that kind of excitement and feeling good about what you’re doing is hard to come by.

Some of the companies we’re seeing both at the Kensington Venture Fund and also our BC Tech Fund, are transforming the world. They are actually driving social change, environmental change and the medical transformations that are going to have an amazingly positive effect on the world.

This is part two of a two-part profile on the CVCA members who were recognized as part of the 2018 Inspiring Fifty. In 2018 an incredible four CVCA members were recognized as inspirational female role models in the tech and innovation sectors, as well as advocate for increased diversity and gender-parity. Read part one here.

If you would like to submit an idea for content, contribute to an article, or are interested in submitting an op-ed, contact the CVCA’s editorial department here.