Dragons' Den star Arlene Dickinson has put together a team of veteran finance and marketing experts to join her at District Ventures Capital, the venture-capital fund she started to invest in consumer-packaged goods in the food, beverage and health space.
Jason Berenstein was named partner and chief financial officer, bringing 25-plus years of experience in the accounting and finance fields. Ms. Dickinson's investment committee is made up of Brad Holland from George Weston Ltd., which represents Canada's largest food and drug retailers, and Wellington Holbrook, chief transformation officer at ATB Financial, a financial-services company and Crown corporation owned by the Province of Alberta.
The consumer-packaged goods and food spaces are ripe for mergers and acquisitions and while the venture-capital scene in Canada is small and mainly focuses on the tech sector, Ms. Dickinson saw the clear opportunities food had to offer. Meanwhile, the food and tech worlds collided last week, when Amazon.com purchased U.S. grocery retailer Whole Foods Market Inc. for $13.7-billion (U.S.).
"We need to support the business ideas that have the expertise in Canada and help them grow. We have great agricultural expertise and health expertise," Ms. Dickinson said in an interview. "We can't all go to the VC world and rely just on technology … and when you think about a food company, you don't think about tech, but tech underpins food companies, too."
When putting together her team, Ms. Dickinson said experience in the food and beverage sector were crucial, along with a background in finance, but finding members who also understand how to work with entrepreneurs was key.
"Not everyone looks at it from an entrepreneur's perspective. Or maybe they're not as purposeful about it," the long-time entrepreneur said. "Entrepreneurs are a unique type of businessperson. They want to take ideas and disrupt marketplaces. That's how they differ from a small-business operator."
Mr. Holland's involvement signals George Weston's first foray into the venture-capital world, a move that is particularly noteworthy for a Canadian corporation of its size. It's something Ms. Dickinson says is long overdue.
"I think it's awesome that they're committing to it," she said. "What venture needs is just more companies getting into VC."
Dani Reiss, president and chief executive officer of popular luxury outerwear brand Canada Goose, has been brought on as a special adviser.
"I was looking for someone who had grown a Canadian brand globally. [To have] someone who took a small business and made it such a successful brand was invaluable," Ms. Dickinson said.
Ms. Dickinson closed the fund back in March after exceeding her $25-million fundraising goal. George Weston, Mr. Reiss and ATB Financial were all among the backers. She personally invested $1-million.
While on Dragons' Den, Ms. Dickinson saw the potential in companies such as Action Candy Co. and Balzac's Coffee Roasters, investments that have since gone on to prosper. She hopes to put that instinct to further use with District Ventures alongside a team that shares her vision.
"The timing for what I'm trying to do is good in the marketplace," Ms. Dickinson said. "Raising a fund is never easy. You have to get people to come along with you. I was fortunate in that I found strategic investors and strategic LPs."