Photo (from left to right): Sophie Forest, Managing Partner, Brightspark Ventures, Michelle Scarborough, Managing Director, Strategic Investments and Women in Tech, BDC Capital, Yuri Navarro, CEO & Executive Director, NACO
Winner of Canada’s top angel investing award honoured at the National Angel Capital Organization’s annual conference on October 5, 2017.
Sophie Forest didn’t come from an entrepreneurial family growing up in Quebec in the 1970s and 80s; her parents and sisters had more traditional, stable jobs. Forest, the youngest of three daughters, says it was an interest in finance, a competitive streak and a drive to learn new things that shaped her career as an entrepreneur and investor in Canada’s flourishing technology sector.
“I was always a risk taker to some extent,” says Forest, a managing partner at Brightspark Ventures and winner of the National Angel Capital Organization’s 2017 Canadian Angel of the Year Award. The award, sponsored by BDC Capital, recognizes an individual who has made a significant contribution to the evolution of angel investing in Canada.
Forest says the award is recognition that the lines have blurred, for the better, between VC and angel investing.
“I think I and Brightspark represent that change,” Forest says, while pointing to Brightspark’s newer hybrid deal model, which includes both VC and angel investing opportunities. “It recognizes that, through angel investing, we are disrupting an industry. It brings a new community into investing in a start-up, which I think is good for Canada.”
Since joining Brightspark in 2003, Forest has led and managed more than 50 investments in tech companies, including playing a key role in growing Radian6, which was acquired by Salesforce in 2011 for US$326M. That’s a multiple of 23 times the capital invested and one of the most successful tech company exits in Canadian history.
Forest also points to her investments in companies she says have at least similar potential including Montreal-based Hopper, a mobile flight-booking app, and Toronto-based Jewlr.com, a leading online personalized jewelry company. She sits on the board of both companies.
Brightspark’s core thesis is to invest in tech startups in Canada, where Forest believes there are plenty of opportunities, especially as the industry continues to grow and mature. More investors, both private and institutional, are turning their focus to Canada’s startup scene in search of success.
“I can see the next 10 years as being very exciting,” Forest says. “I think we’ll see a more constant flow of good returns, where in the past it has been more random. There will be down cycles, for sure, but we now have a stronger base to cushion those.”
As for her own future, Forest will continue to invest in startups, mentor entrepreneurs and help investors like herself build on their passion and perseverance.
“I love working with companies and entrepreneurs. I’m also so impressed by what entrepreneurs can do and the energy they have,” says Forest, who is also a director at two accelerators; Wavefront and Centech.
She is also passionate about opening up doors for women in the Canadian tech ecosystem.
“Throughout my career I have often been the only woman in the room,” says Forest, who has three daughters and works with a number of young women in tech community. “I want to make sure they see that it’s quite doable to succeed in a more male-dominated industry such as tech. The way I see it, the next generation has everything it takes to be successful.”
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