Photo: Peter Dowse, Chief Financial Officer & Partner, Ironbridge Equity Partners and Chair, CVCA.
When Peter Dowse first encountered an opportunity to work in the private equity space in 2003, he was both intrigued and puzzled.
“At that point in my life, I was familiar with venture capital but not private equity and can’t say I had any designs on a career in the broader field of investing,” says Dowse, who started his private equity career at Toronto-based EdgeStone Capital Partners and is now a partner and chief financial officer at Ironbridge Equity Partners, also in Toronto.
He was initially lured to the sector by Pierre Schuurmans, a colleague from a previous company, Borderfree, who had a friend at EdgeStone looking for an associate.
Years later, Schuurmans connected Dowse to another opportunity, to replace him as treasurer of the CVCA in 2016. Dowse has since been appointed the CVCA chair for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
Dowse says he’s excited and looking forward to helping the organization highlight and advance the contribution the venture capital and private equity sector bring to the broader Canadian economy.
“People need to realize that risk capital is critical. Entrepreneurs start businesses; some of them are successful, some of them fail, but people need to be able to take those risks to move things forward,” he says.
Dowse grew up in Mahone Bay, N.S. the son of a surgeon father and physiotherapist mother. When he turned 18, he went to study at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. He took a year off during his post-secondary studies to work in a computer programming role with Andersen Consulting (now part of Accenture) in Ottawa. It was a career-defining moment, in its own way.
“It was a great experience, but the best thing the computer programming job taught me was that I didn’t want to be in computer programming,” Dowse says. He found the field restrictive compared to his more entrepreneurial private equity career today.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce from Queen’s, with a focus on information systems, Dowse got a job at the consulting firm Monitor Group, which is now part of Deloitte. From there, he worked in finance at Borderfree, an international logistics software business, before landing his first job in private equity at EdgeStone. In 2006 he moved over to Ironbridge and became a partner at the firm a year later.
Ironbridge has more than $400-million in assets under management today, with a focus on Canadian companies in the lower middle-market in traditional sectors such as manufacturing and distribution, consumer products and services and business products and services. The firm makes equity investments from $15-million to $40-million with an investment horizon of about five-to-seven years.
“We view ourselves as having different skills to offer companies in our target size range, which you don’t normally get in that part of the market,” Dowse says.
Advancing private equity
What Dowse loves about private equity is the challenge, risk-and-reward nature of the work and the various skills required to be successful.
“Beyond the world of professional sports, this is about as close to a direct pay-for-performance business as you can get. Your investments are successful, or they’re not,” he says. “You have more control over your own destiny, good and bad.”
He also wears several different hats, which he enjoys. “You have to be a bit of a lawyer, an accountant and an operations consultant,” he says. “But, ultimately, you are an investor, which means getting into the details of a business and taking a calculated risk on its success.”
Dowse will also use those skills in his chair role at the CVCA over the next year. He says significant issues likely to be on the agenda include global trade and tariffs, tax competitiveness, and attracting diverse talent to the sector.
He said the association will delve into these and other issues that most affect its members. “We need the industry’s voice to be heard at the right level to ensure we continue to have successful homegrown businesses in this country,” Dowse says. “I’m really looking forward to working with CVCA’s board, newly appointed CEO Kim Furlong and her team to help define what issues are most important to focus on for the future.”