A new venture capital fund backed by an all-star team of Canadian retail talent has surpassed the $30-million (U.S.) fundraising mark, bringing in BDC Capital and former RBC Global Asset Management CEO John Montalbano as investors.
Campfire Capital is backed by dozens of past and present Lululemon Athletica Inc. executives, David's Tea founder David Segal, Montreal shoe magnate Aldo Bensadoun and Vancouver e-commerce entrepreneur Roger Hardy, among others.
The Vancouver-based firm has closed $30.9-million in commitments, including $6-million from BDC, which has been the lead institutional investor in several new Canadian venture funds founded by former business operators in recent years. "Fundraising as a first-time fund can certainly be challenging, and we're fortunate to have reached this milestone," said Campfire partner Manica Gautam, a former Onex Corp. investment executive.
Campfire is different than conventional tech-oriented VC firms, as it specializes in investing in firms seeking to disrupt traditional retail and consumer brands. It's a sector that's ripe for disruption and also value creation, as witnessed by Unilever's recent $1-billion (U.S.) purchase of upstart Dollar Shave Club and the growth of heavily venture-financed startups that have created new omni-channel retail and consumer products brands and categories, including internet-based home mealkit delivery services.
"We think it's a space where Canada can be strong," said Nicolas Gravel, director of fund investments with BDC, which has also funded Toronto-based consumer products venture investment firm BrandProject.
The fund, led by three former Lululemon executives – Christine Day (former CEO), John Currie (former CFO), Brooke Harley (ex-director of business development) – and Ms. Gautam seeks to not only invest in companies but also tap its experienced investors and advisors to advise their investee companies.
"From inception we committed to building both and a partnership and investor base comprised of top retail industry professionals who have authentic networks and deep expertise," said Ms. Gautam, who co-manages the fund with Ms. Harley.
Campfire has previously invested in Montreal online menswear retailer Frank & Oak, San Francisco-based consumer juice press maker Juicero, and medical apparel maker Figs of L.A. It recently made its fourth investment in Cotopaxi, a Salt Lake City-based outdoor gear company with a social mission to fund poverty-reduction projects.
Campfire targets companies in both the United States and Canada that are building what it has described as "innovative, functional, high-quality products" and that control all aspects of their brand, from product design to distribution.
Alison Nankivell, BDC's vice-president of funds and investments, said the depth of experienced retailers backing and helping Campfire made it "really unique and critical to making this kind of venture fund a compelling offer."
Other Campfire backers include Montreal retailer Andrew Lutfy, founder of the Garage and Dynamite fashion chains, and entrepreneur Joey Houssian, son of Intrawest founder Joe Houssian.