Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Former Rogers CEO Nadir Mohammed, left, and now chairman of ScaleUP Ventures, poses with company board member Sheldon Levy and general partner Kent Thexton about the new company’s plans in Toronto on November 28, 2016.

Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail

Nadir Mohamed raised billions of dollars on Bay Street when he was CEO of Rogers Communications Inc. So when he set out in 2015 to secure $25-million for a venture-capital fund to finance domestic tech startups, he knew who to hit up: Friends and colleagues at the helm of corporate Canada. It didn't take him long.

"I was a pushover," Royal Bank of Canada chief executive officer David McKay said of Mr. Mohamed's visit in early 2015 to ask for $5-million for his ScaleUP Ventures. "He had the right model, the right concept. [I said], 'This is great, we're in.' It was one meeting."

Mr. Mohamed quickly bagged seven-figure pledges from Bank of Nova Scotia and Toronto-Dominion Bank, BCE Inc., Telus Corp., Rogers and other Canadian corporates. But he asked for more, recruiting the CEOs of three banks, two telcos, Magna International Inc., General Electric Canada Inc., George Weston Ltd. president Pavi Binning and other corporate chieftains to join ScaleUP's Leadership Council to advise the young firms it backed and open doors for them within their companies.

Story continues below advertisement

"The genesis of the fund was to say, 'How do we get corporate Canada to be active working with startups?'" Mr. Mohamed said of ScaleUP, which is on track to exceed its $75-million fundraising goal this year, including $25-million from the Ontario government. "It was never a pitch to corporate Canada to help startups. It was, 'Both parties are going to gain from this.'"

Securing a relative pittance from Canada's corporate elite may not seem like much. However, in the Canadian tech world, Mr. Mohamed's feat of gaining commitments of money, time and effort from the mighty to help the minuscule is "shocking," said Matt Roberts, a ScaleUP partner who witnessed many Canadian venture funds struggle to raise money when he worked for the Business Development Bank of Canada's IT Venture Fund. "I haven't seen anything quite like it, not with that calibre" of backers.

ScaleUP is a unique experiment. Corporate Canada has been stingy when it comes to investing in, or buying from startups. Many retreated from the Canadian venture scene after being stung by the dot-com bust and witnessing the downfalls of Nortel Networks Corp. and BlackBerry Ltd.

That has been changing, as they try to stay apace of widespread disruptions that threaten to upend their industries' competitive dynamics. RBC, Power Corp. of Canada, Intact Financial Corp. and other financial-services giants have begun investing in "fintech" startups. Oil-patch heavyweights Cenovus Energy Inc. and Suncor Energy Inc. recently backed a new $100-million clean-technology venture fund, Evok Innovations. "Right now there's a deep understanding [among established corporations] of the risk of not actually being part of this," Mr. Mohamed said.

Mr. Mohamed, who delayed the launch of ScaleUP after battling an undisclosed illness in 2015, is the first to acknowledge startups are not his forte. He isn't in it for the money – Mr. Mohamed isn't putting his own funds into ScaleUP, describing it as an altruistic effort to give back to Canada. (He's also chairman of and an investors in Alignvest Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition corporation that is merging with Washington wireless telecom operator Trilogy International Partners LLC.)

He's chairing ScaleUP, leaving investment decisions to a team led by former telecom executive and entrepreneur Kent Thexton. (ScaleUP has invested $7-million in six firms so far.) "I'm not the entrepreneur, but what I've learned about entrepreneurs is that everyone needs somebody that can help them scale up. That's where connections are important," Mr. Mohamed said. "I see my role as being a catalyst."

Indeed, since retiring from Rogers in 2013, the Tanzanian-born Mr. Mohamed has refashioned himself as a kindly uncle to Canadian tech entrepreneurs, serving as advisory council chairman for Ryerson University's Digital Media Zone (DMZ) startup incubator and helping to create and chair Ryerson Futures, an accelerator program that invests in DMZ alumni. He's even accompanied entrepreneurs to customer meetings. "He dove headfirst into this when he left Rogers and became a student of the issues and challenges in the space," Ryerson Futures managing director Matt Saunders said.

Story continues below advertisement

While the characteristically modest Mr. Mohamed plays down his role, former Ryerson president Sheldon Levy – who came up with the idea for ScaleUP – said his "stature in the business community and his interest brought others on board. It was single-handedly he who created that. I've learned you may as well begin by 'yes' with Nadir. There's no 'no' with him."

One question is whether the CEOs Mr. Mohamed has wrangled will remain engaged; advisory boards often end up being less effective than intended.

So far it seems to be working. After receiving an investment from ScaleUP for his Ottawa billing software company, Fusebill Inc., CEO Tyler Eyamie found himself last October addressing its leadership council high up a Bay Street tower, which led to active discussions with three of their organizations about becoming customers. "When would a company like mine ever get a chance to speak to any of these people?" Mr. Eyamie said. "The answer would be 'never' without the facilitation of ScaleUP."

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Tickers mentioned in this story
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies