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WattPad CEO Allen Lau, left, and co-founder Ivan Yuen. (COURTESY OF ALLEN LAU)
WattPad CEO Allen Lau, left, and co-founder Ivan Yuen. (COURTESY OF ALLEN LAU)

Mark Evans

Funding flurry: encouraging sign, or anomaly? Add to ...

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column criticizing lacklustre financing for Canadian startups.

In the column, I quoted Gregory Smith, president of the Canadian Venture Capital Association, who said that a decline in second-quarter investment activity was “very concerning” and “demand is not being met by an adequate supply of value-added risk capital.”

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Last week, however, my doom-and-gloom take on the investment scenario got blown out of the water by a flurry of startup financing. Deals included:

--HootSuite raised $3-million from a group that included Hearst Interactive Media.

--WattPad got $3.5-million from a group led by Union Square Ventures, which is best known for its investments in Twitter, Foursquare and Tumblr.

--Paymentus raised $20-million from Accel-KKR.

. --Wave Accounting and Guardly raised more than $750,000 and nearly $250,000, respectively, from the government through a FedDev Ontario program.

--Rewardli raised seed capital from a group that includes Real Ventures and Dave McClure’s 500Startups.

--gShift raised $1.1-million from GrowthWorks.

--GoInstant raised $1.7-million from a group of high-profile investors, including Yuri Milner, Greylock Partners and Freestyle Capital.

-- iLoveRewards. which recently changed its name to Achievers, is rumoured to have raised $20-million to $25-million from Sequoia Capital.

The question that begs to be asked is whether these deals are a sign of encouragement, or an anomaly.

I mean, we’re talking about a startup financing environment that has been struggling for years. And even though there is robust deal flow for startups in the United States, it hasn’t really been happening in Canada.

Duncan Stewart, director of research with Deloitte Canada, said there is no doubt that the current level of venture-capital investment is too low, particularly from domestic sources – but there is reason for optimism.

“I think that you'd get agreement the trend is improving. Some weeks are up and some are down, and the global economy and stock markets have an effect, too,” he said.

“But we have passed the bottom and a combination of factors, led by new funds and government initiatives, means we are going the right way. The problem is that domestic innovation is a critical factor in global competitiveness.

So although our domestic VC scene is improving, it needs to be improving even faster…for the sake of all Canadians.”

My take: What happened last week is a sign that better times are just over the horizon, even though enthusiasm among entrepreneurs still overshadows the appetite among investors, particularly among Canadian venture-capital and angel investors.

If you look at the eight deals announced last week, four were led by U.S. investors while two involved the Canadian government (which raises its own questions about whether government should be financing startups).

Perhaps the silver lining is the participation of U.S. investors, who may be discovering fertile opportunities at attractive valuations, given the frothiness of the U.S. startup marketplace.

If U.S. investors are becoming more bullish about Canadian startups, they may (and this is a big “may”) encourage Canadian investors to become more bullish as well, based on the idea that it is easier to jump on the bandwagon rather than be the first mover.

Mark MacLeod, a general partner with Real Ventures, said he is encouraged by the presence of U.S. investors.

“What I see is that the border is coming down. With the repeal of the withholding tax for non-Canadian investors in Canadian companies, U.S. investors are coming here more and more often,” he said.

“They are doing so first and foremost because of great companies. But also because valuations are not as frothy here as, say, in Silicon Valley. And operating costs are lower here, too. Canadian funds like ours are building strong co-investor relationships on both sides of the border. And I expect to see a consistent pace of deals – both funding and exits. “

As I have said before, this is probably the most exciting and interesting time for the Canadian startup ecosystem in the 15 years that I have been writing about startups, working at startups, and providing consulting services for startups.

As someone who sees the glass as half-full, I’m hoping there are more investment “blips” over the horizon because there is no lack of opportunity for investors who want to back startups with plenty of potential.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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