Relentless Leadership: Rob Antoniades
Rob Antoniades knew from a young age that he wanted to pursue a career in business and finance and that, once he had some experience, he would leverage those skills to help give back to the community.
Today, the successful venture capitalist is not only helping to launch and grow a series of technology start-ups through his firm, Information Venture Partners, but is supporting philanthropy by co-founding the Upside Foundation, which enables companies to pledge a piece of their future upside, in the form of equity to a favourite charity.
Earlier this year, the CVCA named Antoniades as the 2018 winner of the prestigious Ted Anderson Community Leadership Award for his role in starting and growing the Upside Foundation. The award honours an individual CVCA member for outstanding community involvement and their commitment to fostering corporate social responsibility as a foundation for building solid and vibrant communities.
Antoniades, who is also the foundation’s chair, says he’s driven by a desire to give back as well as to change the stereotype of venture capitalists. “Some people think of VCs as money-grubbing and greedy investors,” he says. “While there are certainly some people in this business who focus only on the money, like in every other industry, there are a lot of people in this business who don’t — who also want to give back and to help others.”
Antoniades started the foundation in 2013 with Mark Skapinker, co-founder and managing partner at Brightspark Ventures and Janie Goldstein. They considered a few different models before coming up with Upside Foundation, which encourages companies to pledge about 1 per cent of their early-stage equity. These companies usually pledge stock options or warrants to the foundation, which are convertible into equity. When the company has a liquidity event, such as an IPO or acquisition, the foundation sells these options for cash and donates the proceeds to registered charities in Canada. The goal is for high-growth companies to “share the upside” and positively impact the community.
Heading into 2017, the foundation had signed up about 75 companies and set a goal to double that to 150 companies by Canada’s 150th birthday on July 1. They succeeded and today the foundation has more than 200 companies that have agreed to pledge some of their equity to charity. At least three Upside Foundation member companies have already been acquired to date, leading to donations to charities in their communities.
Today, VCs and leaders see the foundation across the tech industry as an important way for startups to give back, says Skapinker.
“Rob’s drive at the Upside Foundation has caused many startups, VCs, and private-equity firms to evaluate their social impact contribution and rally together behind a single organization,” Skapinker says. It’s also driving a conversation about social responsibility in tech, while making it easy for the founder to share their wins with Canadians in need. “When a single company wins, the entire country wins alongside them,” he says.
Skapinker describes Antoniades as “tireless” and “relentless” as he helps the foundation grow, alongside its team. “He has taken it from its startup status to having a full time employee, a Canada-wide board and recognition as the common platform for the tech community to give back,” Skapinker says. As the tech industry grows, so too will the impact of the Upside Foundation, he says.
Antoniades has a long history of volunteer work in the U.S., where he lived earlier in his career, and in Canada. He’s the past chair of both Distress Centres of Toronto and Flemingdon Neighbourhood Services (now part of The Neighborhood Organization) in Toronto.
“I do fundamentally believe that, at least one measure of wealth of is not how much you have, it’s how much you give. That can be time, or resources — it’s anything you have to give,” says Antoniades.
He has certainly walked the talk in his career to date. Congratulations on the award.