VANTEC is modernizing investing in Vancouver

The longtime organization has two new leaders, who have a plan for boosting angel investing in seed and pre-seed companies.

VANTEC’s new leaders Aaron Stuart (left) and Lindsey Volker (right)

VANTEC is a familiar acronym for many in the business community. A network of angel investors founded 24 years ago, the organization brings together members who want to fund companies in the local ecosystem and has helped them write cheques buoying hundreds of Vancouver startups. Its co-founder, Michael Volker, is a stalwart of the investment community, and has worked for more than 20 years in the field as CEO of WUTIF Capital and director of TIMIA Capital. And now he’s passing the baton.

Taking up the mantle at VANTEC are Aaron Stuart — current COO at WUTIF — and Lindsey Volker, Michael’s daughter-in-law and a realtor with a background in marketing, branding, and events. Both significantly younger than traditional angel investors (the pair are under 40), Stuart and Volker have an ambitious vision of modernizing the angel landscape in Vancouver.

“What we're doing is breathing a fresh breath of air in; bringing some more energy,” Stuart tells Vancouver Tech Journal. “Our mission is to grow this group and the ecosystem in general.”

VANTEC’s ultimate goal, says Stuart, is to attract and retain great companies in B.C. by helping fund businesses locally. He believes achieving that objective requires new investors to join the fold, which means tackling long-held stereotypes.

“We want to grow diversity, equity, and inclusion in the [VANTEC] group,” he says. “We want to bring younger angels in — or I should say new angels, because you can become an angel at any point. Basically [we want to] be that door to entice and attract people in, but then help them find their footing, set them up for success, and grow angel investing.”

VANTEC provides a hub for angel investors to meet, but more importantly to learn. Many potential funders have decided they’re ready and able to get involved, but Stuart suggests that lots of people don’t know where to start investing — and they don’t want to look stupid by asking questions. VANTEC offers opportunities, tools, and resources for investors to learn from their peers, experienced angels, and the investment funds that are involved with the group. Stuart describes the organization as a doorway into putting money into private markets.

“A lot of people just don't know where to find deals, and then once they do, oftentimes it's difficult to gain that confidence to know what you're doing,” he says. “I've talked to so many angel investors that love VANTEC for the volume play — there's so many companies that come through and pitch. But it's also a place for people to build their network of investor peers, to help them grow as investors — become sophisticated — by learning from one another. And so I think [VANTEC] needs to be that community for investors, to be able to gain that access and learning opportunities and networks.”

As well as catering to those holding the purse strings, VANTEC also plays a role in helping early-stage companies. The organization runs monthly pitch sessions for businesses to get their products in front of VANTEC members, and since 1999, the group has presented more than 2,500 entrepreneurs to angel investors. In 2019 alone, VANTEC members put in more than $8.4 million to 32 small- and medium-sized businesses.

“There's incubators and accelerators that are our partners, and they help to get companies ready for investors,” says Stuart. “Then we take on the baton, as it were, to help them through that next stage of getting the early investors in at the pre-seed or seed stage of their funding cycle, and then prepare them for the next step. And so I think VANTEC is a launchpad opportunity for companies to build relationships with investors, and gain that experience in pitching their company.

“We also want to support companies in becoming investor-ready,” he continues. “So we have strategic sponsors, we have partners, we have funds like WUTIF that are going to be helping these companies with their presentation, making sure the calibre is really high, so that we can increase the chances that we do get these cheques written.”

To fulfill the objective of helping both investors and companies, though, Stuart and Volker believe the organization has to modernize. First up is adding efficiencies, like due diligence sessions after the organization’s pitch events. One week after companies have presented to VANTEC members, for example, Stuart wants to run a two-hour session for each of the four startups. That means the founders don’t have to have the same conversations with multiple investors, while also allowing other investors — especially new ones — to ask questions and learn from others.

Next on the new leaders’ hit list is technological innovation.

“There is some low-hanging fruit for us to integrate technology that's out there; to streamline the processes to make things a little bit easier for people,” says Stuart. “Especially [for] new angels that are trying to find their footing. We want to show them a process, really hold their hand throughout. And so on the tech side, we’re looking to do things like build a new website, and integrate technology in that way. And then also, with creating the community, just have more opportunities for people to meet.”

Keeping with his thesis to bring greater diversity to VANTEC investing members, Stuart also hopes to foster greater interdisciplinary collaboration. He cites fund managers, lawyers, financial advisors, pitch advisors, and salespeople as roles he wants to bring into the fold to help create more value for investors.

“Why don't we all get on the same page and work together on how to help these companies?” he asks. “So that's really what we're looking to build out, is bringing more people in. We do have two partner funds that have been with VANTEC since the beginning — eFund and WUTIF. But we're bringing in more partner funds to help with making sure the deal flow is really high calibre, helping with due diligence, helping with pre-screening, helping with giving feedback to these companies. And I think that by doing all of those things, we can get rounds funded.”

For investors new to the process and hoping to put some money back into the ecosystem, Stuart says that the most important thing to look for is a good team: mission-driven founders who are building novel or game-changing technologies or innovations are most likely to pick up a cheque. Recently though, as the old guard shifts to a younger set, Stuart is seeing an uptick in investors who require companies to also have a positive impact goal at their core.

“For the newer demographics, impact means more,” he says. “Really making sure that companies that are getting off the ground have a positive impact on the environment, on inclusion, or on just society in general. I am seeing a lot of companies get funded because of that reason. And it's not all about the money. That's a beautiful thing about angel investing. It’s about the positive impact you can have, and helping others that want to change the world for the better. I see a lot of people rally around companies not just because they think that they're going to produce the biggest financial return, but because they think they're going to have the biggest positive impact.”

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