Inovia 2017 Annual Summit: Exploring Optionality

Exploring possibilities, rethinking business as usual, and investing in people first are three core principles that Inovia embodies when viewing the world. Exploring possibilities is all about investing in the world of tomorrow, and pushing the barriers of what is attainable. Rethinking business as usual is a lens Inovia uses to imagine disruptive change in massive industries, and the opportunities that change creates. Investing in people first characterizes Inovia’s strategy of backing visionaries who want to change the world. These three core principles drives optionality at Inovia.

Optionality, having the power to choose your own outcome, has been a key factor in the success of all our portfolio companies and has set the theme for our 2017 Annual Summit, held in Toronto. On June 13 and 14, the entire Inovia family came together to witness first-hand the evolution of Inovia as a fund, and the growth of our portfolio companies as they change the world right before our eyes. At Inovia, we believe value is a process and that helping our companies plan ahead to develop the best options at every stage is the key to success.

The Annual Summit commenced with our CEO/LP dinner at Brassaii, sponsored by Osler, where our portfolio companies, LPs and co-investors had a chance to meet and network over cocktails and dinner. The house was packed, and attendees enjoyed an elegant three-course meal. This compelling and celebratory evening set the tone for the rest of the summit.

The next morning, our LPs arrived bright and early for our AGM at Lavelle’s rooftop where they were greeted with a lavish breakfast spread. The Inovia team kicked off the morning session, sponsored by Richter, with a presentation on our funds’ progress and performance. Chris Arsenault started off the presentation by defining optionality and introducing our ultimate goal of the day — to bring our network together to share insights from a decade spent honing our craft. Shawn Abbott continued on to discuss three major themes: internal and external forces reshaping VC, executive talent as a universal bottleneck, and enabling exit-preparedness at Inovia. Karamdeep Nijjar then dove into the three corresponding initiatives that Inovia is deploying to continue upping our game, including launching a San Francisco office, re-branding Inovia, rolling out talent advisory services, and enhancing our M&A and strategic partnership expertise. Finally, Dan Freedman and Todd Simpson unpacked how we are preparing for the future by exploring our refreshed thesis-driven approach and how our CEOs are shaping our vision — expect to soon hear more about “The Center Cannot Hold” thesis.

After an indulgent lunch and networking break, we jumped into our afternoon session, sponsored by Comerica, which consisted of 14 captivating CEO presentations. Having the opportunity to explore the diverse perspectives and experienced business learnings from our founders left the crowd highly inspired and impressed. Investing in people first is a core mantra of Inovia, and it was echoed by the motivational and life-changing insights our founders were able to share with the community.

Despite being at different stages, all the presenting companies are employing optionality in one way or another. At earlier stages, optionality is about identifying accretive partnership opportunities, building networks, and evaluating multiple paths for potential growth. Mike Gozzo, CTO and Co-Founder of Smooch, educated the crowd on how optionality allows him to be flexible in developing use cases for customer support. Blair Livingston, CEO and Co-Founder of Street Contxt gave a high-energy pr
esentation on the changing landscape in the wealth management industry and how optionality can help in navigating potential distribution channels and building strategic relationships with industry behemoths.

As companies enter the mid-stages of their growth trajectory, optionality takes on a whole new meaning. Now, it is about positioning your company for hyper-growth and building options for scaling your business to the next level. Michael Litt, CEO and Co-Founder of Vidyard, gave an incredible presentation on how he is transforming his business on-the-fly by surrounding himself with experienced personnel who understand how to execute at scale. Simon Ferragne, Co-Founder and CEO of Tracktik, spoke about how acquiring market share and being a dominant force in his industry has helped him build optionality. Matt Rendall, CEO and Co-Founder of Clearpath Robotics, demonstrated the wide-ranging use cases of transportation robotics in age-old industries. Brian Heath, CEO of Drivewyze, spoke about how he is transforming an industry that no one ever interacts with, yet is crucial for so many. Both Matt and Brian are reinventing old, unsexy industries, and are using optionality to expand coverage and accelerate customer adoption.

Dax Dasilva, CEO and Founder of Lightspeed POS, gave a moving talk about the unbelievable growth of his company and how he has overcome challenges time and time again by leveraging optionality. Ron Glibbery, Co-Founder and CEO of Peraso, spoke about new use cases for his product, describing how optionality paved the way to the world of virtual reality for his company. Rebecca Mckillican, CEO of also enlightened the crowd with her journey, and plans to leverage optionality in fine-tuning a significant cross-border sales strategy. Daniel Saks, Co-Founder and CEO of AppDirect also shared inspiring insights on how he built a massive company, and how important optionality is in his day-to-day dealings.

As companies mature, optionality starts to gear towards exit-preparedness. Understanding the value of receiving inbound interest (even if you don’t intend to accept!), building relationships with potential acquirers, and still maintaining a laser-focus on running your business is a difficult balance that later-stage companies are faced with. Scott Munro, Venture Partner at Inovia and specialist in exit-preparedness, addressed the crowd regarding his experience in helping companies overcome these challenges and reach meaningful milestones. Joe Poulin, Founder and CEO of Luxury Retreats — now part of Airbnb, closed our speaker series with a fireside chat with Chris Arsenault. Joe walked through the various exit dynamics present in his recent sale to Airbnb and how important company culture is in building a valuable brand.

The evening concluded with cocktails, sponsored by Boyden, on the swanky rooftop pool and lounge. This gave attendees a chance to debrief on the past two days, signalling a close to the summit.

One of the main themes throughout the day was that what gets a company to one moment in time is very different from what gets the company to the next milestone. CEOs need to transform the company vision along the way, track how the environment is adapting, and think about how that vision fits into the future. Inovia is no different. We look to back outstanding entrepreneurs tackling the world’s most valuable problems. This Annual Summit perfectly showcased Inovia’s vision through the inspiring voices of the portfolio Founders and CEOs, it demonstrated our commitment to adapting to a changing VC landscape, and highlighted the portfolio company’s founders at the heart of what we stand for.

By the end of the two-day summit, the Inovia community had been introduced to a multitude of new ideas and insights. We learned about using an engineering mindset to tackle problems, disrupting old and unsexy industries, creating a mission-critical business, and leveraging Inovia’s interconnected ecosystem. By combining these elements, our companies are able to exercise optionality at every step of the way.