Inovia Discovery Fund I: Investing in Emerging Managers to Build a Robust Funding Environment for Canadian Tech Startups

Having spent the last decade working across the earliest stages of Canada’s tech ecosystem, I have consistently observed an inclination for too many of Canada’s most talented technology entrepreneurs to move south of the border. Being part of a startup that moved down to the Bay Area to participate in Silicon Valley’s esteemed Y Combinator program and then decided to return home to Canada, I had the chance to experience some of the many differences between the two ecosystems. Perhaps the most noticeable difference was the availability of capital for new technology entrepreneurs. 

In the decade since then, I’ve spent much of my time working with ambitious entrepreneurs here at home to raise financing. I’ve had the opportunity to examine Canada’s funding gap, and this is why, when I was offered the opportunity to help Inovia evolve its Discovery Program towards one that backed emerging managers, I knew I had to take it. Through investing in emerging managers, I saw an opportunity to participate in the evolution of Canada’s venture funding landscape.


First, let me take a step back to ensure that we all have the appropriate context. Inovia Capital is a Canadian venture capital firm offering multi-stage support to founders, with over US$2.2B in assets under management. Being headquartered in Montreal, we have cross-country coverage with offices in Toronto and Waterloo and further boots on the ground in Calgary and Vancouver. We also have a strong international presence with operations in the Bay Area, and our European office is based in London, UK.

The firm’s Discovery Program dates back to Inovia’s founding over 15 years ago. Our common practice was to write “Discovery Cheques,” small investments directly into companies to be supportive at the earliest stages and begin building relationships. With Inovia Fund 2015, we began writing small cheques into other funds, specifically to emerging venture capital managers whom we saw high potential in and wanted to be supportive of.

Both initiatives, investing into funds and directly into companies, were highly successful, generating strong returns for investors in our funds and leading to later stage opportunities to deploy capital into many of the program’s winners. Venture investments into companies such as Certn, Pine and Flare resulted from direct Discovery Cheques, and firms such as Garage Capital and Maple VC have scaled with our fund investments. However, as Inovia has grown, the program became challenging to scale with so many promising small investments out in the field.


Two years ago, towards the end of the summer of 2021, Inovia Partner Karamdeep Nijjar reached out to see if I wanted to help evolve Inovia’s Discovery Program. Karam knew I had relevant experience working across the earliest stages of the venture ecosystem, and I, of course, jumped at the opportunity to work with Inovia, having observed the great success the firm had achieved in the years preceding. After nearly two months of work, we mapped out the Canadian venture capital landscape and decided there existed sufficient opportunities to pivot our Discovery Program’s efforts to that of primarily investing in emerging managers. 

The pandemic’s new norms, abundant capital and the resulting growth of the technology sector meant that new emerging venture capital fund managers were popping up across the country to support local ecosystems, each with their own distinct thesis. By investing in these newer fund managers, Inovia could remain engaged in an impactful way and continue to build relationships at the earliest stages of Canada’s tech ecosystem. This trend was not unique to just Canada, as we saw similar opportunities with emerging managers in the U.S. as well.


It took until the summer of 2022 for me to join Inovia full time, and shortly after that, we decided that not only would the Discovery Program have a dedicated team, but it would also have a dedicated fund.  We took the remainder of 2022 to get ramped up and prepared to fundraise  Discovery Fund I (“DF1”), and in 2023 we began. Alongside the fundraise, we convinced Marianne Dubois to join Inovia full time and bring her go-to-market strengths to the challenge of Discovery.

As announced last week, I am proud to share that Inovia Discovery Fund I has been successfully raised, with key strategic limited partners onboard, including Deloitte Ventures and Canadian Tire Corporation’s Roller Labs Ventures. We’ve already had the chance to build a considerable portfolio, recently surpassing a dozen fund investments, which have led to several successful direct investment collaborations.


The post pandemic environment has given emerging managers a unique opportunity to invest in Canadian startups. With remote hiring and remote fundraising normalized, more and more entrepreneurs can build here without worrying about Canada’s historical limitations regarding access to capital and talent.

As more established firms have tended to move upmarket, the opportunity to support entrepreneurs at the earliest stages has only grown for these new investors. The recent market slowdown and resulting decreased valuation expectations mean it is a great time for investors to deploy fresh capital. 

More recently, Canada’s strength as an artificial intelligence hub means that many homegrown entrepreneurs are well positioned to take advantage of the new opportunities made available by large language models and other recent advances in machine learning. To capitalize on these opportunities, the fund managers we back are leveraging their market knowledge and networks to better source and support startups. Most with recent operating experience, the partners from these funds can often advise founders in a more relatable manner and exercise judgment resulting from their own first hand experiences. 


By backing emerging managers and thus increasing financing options, Discovery Fund I provides a more robust funding environment for Canadian entrepreneurs, empowering them to build their startups wherever they deem desirable. Enabling a more diverse investor base will also allow a more diverse entrepreneur class to emerge, resulting in an increasingly dynamic economy that supports a broader range of technology-based businesses with the potential for scale.

Today’s founders must quickly adapt to an uncertain world filled with rapid technological progress, heightened geopolitical tension, and accelerating climate change. By building a diversified and dynamic startup ecosystem, we are providing our country’s top tech founders with a greater opportunity to build in Canada. I believe that soon, no longer will our most ambitious entrepreneurs feel the need to move south of the border to find the funding they need to get started and grow.

Visit our website to learn more about the mission and leaders of some of the amazing emerging managers in our portfolio: Boon, Garage Capital, Front Row Ventures, Maple, N49P, Northside Ventures, Roar Ventures, The51, and Two Small Fish Ventures.