04/20/17- Canadian startups starting to think bigger (via Winnipeg Free Press)

Kijiji co-founder sees rapid growth in country's tech sector

As one of the general partners of Real Ventures, the largest and most active venture capital funds in Canada that target early stage startups, Janet Bannister is bullish on the tech scene in Canada.

Bannister, one of the founders of Kijiji, was in Winnipeg on Wednesday speaking at the Innovators, the annual gala dinner put on by the Information and Communications Technology Association of Manitoba.

Real Ventures’ three funds have raised a total of $150 million, with about 90 per cent of that to be invested in Canadian companies — about 120 to date.

"As a Canadian, I am super-excited about where we are in our development, and I just see that accelerating," Bannister said. "Canadian entrepreneurs today are talking about building huge companies. They say, ‘I want to be the next Shopify.’"

Shopify is the Ottawa-based company that raised $130 million in an initial public offering two years ago and had nearly $400 million in revenue in 2016.

"A few years ago, many Canadian startup entrepreneurs would say all they wanted was to be able to sell their company after they made a million or two. Now they dream bigger," Bannister said.

"The thing with the startup ecosystem, it is like a snowball. Success begets success. For example, there are now hundreds of people working at Shopify learning how to scale a business, how to work at a business that is doubling every year.

"People will leave there and start their own company or take what they learn and go to work at another fast-growing company."

Real Ventures has one Winnipeg company in its portfolio, PermissionClick, a company that has figured out a way to streamline the cumbersome approval procedure that schools and youth-based organizations need to run smoothly.

Real Ventures led PermissionClick’s $1.75 million seed financing a year ago. Chris Johnson, one of the company’s founders and CEO, said Real Ventures is a great partner.

"We talk to them minimum once a week, usually multiple times per week," he said. "They are very founder-friendly. They put in enough money for a seat on our board, but they just took observer status. They are there to help. They don’t throw their weight around, but they bring clout and tons of experience."

Bannister said U.S. venture capital investors are increasingly interested in doing more deals in Canada, and she said they have been reaching out to Real Ventures for the heads-up when its companies need to do their next round of financing.

PermissionClick is Real Ventures’ only Winnipeg company so far, but Bannister says it would love to do more deals here.

Bannister said she was well aware of the success of companies such as Skip the Dishes, and in addition to going to PermissionClick in her Winnipeg visit, she also met with folks at Bold Commerce, the Winnipeg Shopify app developers.

"The entrepreneurs here tell us they love being in Winnipeg," Bannister said. "There’s lot of talent, plenty of developers and a real can-do attitude... and, of course, the rent."

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