Written by Stuart Foxman
Start-ups might rely on an infusion of capital, but often need much more than that, says Matt Cohen. Like guidance with operations, strategy and business development. All of those things can be like a pebble in a pond, causing successive waves.
Cohen, the founder and managing partner of Toronto-based Ripple Ventures, wants to have that impact. The company, which launched in October 2018, is an early-stage venture fund (rippleventures.ca/). They take an operators-first approach to help bring frontier technologies to market. As Cohen says, Ripple Venture offers far more than just a cheque.
“If someone is just looking for capital injection, we’re probably not the right fit. If they’re looking for someone to get into the trenches with them, we’re the one,” he says.
Cohen worked in institutional sales at RBC Capital Markets and National Bank Financial, until he made his first investment in Turnstyle Solutions. The company offered a service that let businesses connect with their customers over free Wi-Fi network, and also offered insights into customer behaviour. Cohen, who served on the board, helped bring the company from idea in 2012 to exit in 2017 with a sale to Yelp.
After that Cohen helped Street Contxt, a global communication platform for the institutional financial community, to scale their enterprise sales team.
Now, using a hands-on model, his goal is to help companies identify and mitigate risks as they happen. Cohen says that Ripple Ventures works with portfolio companies through the good and the bad – every day, not every quarter.
“At this stage they’re so fragile,” says Cohen of early-stage companies. “We need to help them predict the things that could go wrong before they happen.”
To date, Ripple Ventures has worked with firms that are focused on B2B software for emerging industries. Subsequent investments will target AI, big data, health tech and fintech. Cohen is looking for something else from founders: “Are you willing to live on macaroni and cheese and sleep on the couch for the next few years? That’s the passion I want.”
The company has investments in Toronto, Waterloo, Montreal, Boston, New York and more. A Venture Scout Program, which is a joint effort by Ripple and Waterloo Alumni Angels, bridges the gap between university students, start-ups, and investors.
Ripple also operates “The Tank”, an incubator space in downtown Toronto. It offers portfolio companies access to a co-working space where they can also collaborate with other entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs in residence visit with companies and founders often, typically every month.
To provide other benefits to its portfolio companies, Ripple has partnered with a series of start-up technology platforms.
Cohen says that early-stage companies face many moments that add up to their tipping points. Ripple Ventures can provide support with any number of them, such as helping a management team build a pitch deck, interview salespeople, devise PR strategies or work with performance coaches. “It’s the combination of things we do,” he says.
“Some of our best companies have very little revenue, but they’re developing a stable platform to leverage. We say build great products for awesome customers, and build a company around that. We want to help align the shooting point for CEOs; what are the shots they’re willing to take to get to the next level.”
While Cohen finds the Toronto startup ecosystem very supportive, he says one thing is missing. It’s the willingness of corporate executives from large enterprises to take the leap and join companies in their earliest stages. “That will hopefully change soon, so we can level up faster.”
Photo credit Zlatko Cetinic, Images Made Real