Inovia’s first Discovery Fund backs the next generation of VC funds in their mission to identify and nurture high-potential startups at the pre-seed and seed stages. We sat down with these emerging managers to discuss their vision, their approach, and what they look for in a pitch.
Emmanuelle’s career spans three continents, several industries and many roles. As a student, she set up a not-for-profit organization to encourage blood platelet donations on campus. As a professional, she started as an investment banker in Australia, created and ran a travel accessory business in France, and reinvented herself in Canada by helping launch the accelerator Next AI Montreal.
All these experiences converged in 2021 when she joined Front Row Ventures, a university-focused fund that backs student entrepreneurs and trains the next generation of investors, startup operators and founders. Founded in 2017 and initially focused on Quebec campuses, the firm had branched out to Ontario and wanted to extend its footprint further. It also needed fresh funding.
Two years later, Emmanuelle is well on her way to meeting those goals. In April 2023, Front Row opened its first British Columbia chapter, with more locations in sight. In July, it closed its first pan-Canadian fund, raising CA$5.5M to invest in 50 startups over the next three years.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO FOCUS ON THE EARLY STAGES OF INVESTMENT?
As an entrepreneur, I have a passion for the building stage of startups, that moment when ideas are transformed into a tangible business. As an investor, what’s so exciting about the early stage is that it’s all about the people: assessing the potential of the founding team, their skills, and their ability to work cohesively is paramount.
There is still a significant gap in the investment supply chain at the pre-seed level, and filling this gap is crucial for nurturing innovative ideas and ensuring the health of the future entrepreneurial ecosystem. As the saying goes, you cannot grow what you cannot seed.
TELL US ONE OR TWO THINGS THAT MAKE YOUR FUND UNIQUE
Pretty much everything about Front Row Ventures is unique! We are the largest pool of capital in Canada entirely devoted to student entrepreneurs. Our funds are operated mainly by students whom we train to become the next generation of tech talent in Canada. They hold 100% of the decision-making power while developing direct and privileged relationships with VC firms.
Front Row Ventures is also extremely diverse. In our internal teams, 45% of members self-identify as women and 57% as BIPOC. When it comes to co-founders of companies we invest in, these figures are even higher.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED THROUGH FAILURES OR TRIALS AND ERRORS?
My entrepreneurial journey has been a succession of trials and has taught me three crucial lessons: humility, empathy, and persistence. Entrepreneurship is a humbling experience, marked by trials and errors.
My challenges have fueled a deep sense of empathy for fellow founders. I relate to their struggles and aspirations, shaping the way I approach them and offer feedback, support and mentorship.
WHAT GETS YOUR ATTENTION IN A PITCH?
When listening to a pitch, I focus my attention on the five elements singled out by Louis Coppey, a partner at Point Nine Capital, in his 5Ts framework.
- Team: I look for passionate and coachable teams obsessed with the problem, with complementary skills.
- Total addressable market: Is the market big enough for this company to generate hundreds of millions of revenue?
- Tech: I pay close attention to uniqueness and innovation in the offered technology or the product.
- Trenches (Defensibility): I’m interested in the strategies a startup has in place to protect its competitive advantage and maintain a strong position over time.
WHAT IS THE ADVICE YOU MOST OFTEN GIVE TO FOUNDERS?
Prioritize building a strong and cohesive team. While a compelling idea and a solid business plan are essential, it’s the people behind the company who ultimately determine its success.
Understand customer pain points to achieve product-market fit. Engage in meaningful conversations and conduct ongoing research to identify customers’ needs and desires.
Visit our website to learn more about the mission and leaders of other exceptional emerging managers in our portfolio: Boon, Garage Capital, Luge, Maple, N49P, Northside Ventures, Roar Ventures, The51, and Two Small Fish Ventures.