Sunil Sharma, co-founder of Toronto-based technology accelerator Extreme Startups, has been named managing director of Canada Gold Corp., which is changing its name to STEM 7 Capital Inc. We posed five questions to Mr. Sharma in the wake of his departure from an organization that nurtures early stage businesses and his entry into a new venture, heading a global investment firm.
Question: When did you launch Extreme Startups, and what inspired its creation?
Answer: We launched Extreme Startups in February, 2012 so about a year-and-a-half ago. It feels like longer. It was launched as a collaboration between a group of venture capital funds (OMERS Ventures, Rho Canada Ventures, Relay Ventures, BDC Venture Capital, and Extreme Venture Partners) to collectively source, invest in and help grow exciting startup companies in the heart of Toronto. A big part of the rationale is to find follow-on investment opportunities for the investors. Another part of the rationale is to help build the ecosystem by contributing to and strengthening the pool of talent and entrepreneurial capacity in this region and across Canada.
Q: How has the technology startup scene changed in the period since Extreme Startups was formed?
A: If anything I have seen the tech community strengthen over the past couple of years. There is more activity and interest on the part of entrepreneurs to either launch or to join startups. What is interesting is that people are coming from a multitude of backgrounds and profiles. Not all are recent graduates or the stereotypical college drop-out. Many are coming from mid-career positions in established and secure organizations such as consulting firms, banks, public companies and even government. I am seeing more of a balance in terms of gender as well, which is great to see.
Q: What do you consider your most significant accomplishment in the time you spent building it?
A: My most significant accomplishment is the way we engaged such a broad range of outside partners, from sponsoring organizations (such as blue-chip law firms, consulting firms and banks) to corporate partners (like Google and Facebook) to technology industry collaborators. We have really built an elite network and this has led to creating even more interest on the part of entrepreneurs to apply into the program. We continue to receive a record number of applications and expressions of interest in addition to all the companies that we recruit directly. This is essentially our deal-flow, which is the most important component of any investment program – the ability to find the very best companies.
Q: What made you decide that now was the time to move on?
A: Running an accelerator is an exhausting but highly rewarding process. I felt that my work in creating a successful launch and building a large part of the brand and network was complete and it provided an excellent point of departure in order to build on my personal experiences at Extreme Startups. We have had three very successful cohorts of companies and have reached the mid-point of our original mandate. I felt it was a great point of departure to try something new. I have a very international orientation and the opportunity to help launch a new investment company with a global focus became irresistible. In addition, Canada has recently created its Startup Visa class of immigration and I feel that this represents a strong opportunity to source the best and brightest startups from around the world and bring them here to Canada.
Q: What does the future hold for Extreme Startups, and for the startup scene in Canada in general?
A: Extreme Startups has a very bright future. We have brought on an excellent managing director named Marcus Daniels who comes from a strong background involving both tech and venture capital. In addition, Marcus has served as a mentor to Extreme Startups since inception so he will be very well-positioned to grow the program and to take it to the next level. You will continue to hear a lot about Extreme Startups and I will remain as a very proud co-founder.
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