The Atlantic Women’s Venture Fund (AWVF) has officially launched its inaugural fund as the group looks to address, head-on, the existing gender imbalance in Canada’s venture capital ecosystem.
“Women entrepreneurs generate more revenues and more profits, and I have all of the data to back it up.”
Along with the fund launch, AWVF has also announced that Danielle Graham, formerly of Dream Maker Ventures, has joined to take a leading role in the funds investment activities. Graham is set to officially join Sandpiper as of June 1.
The fund, called Sandpiper Venture, will target early-stage women tech entrepreneurs across Canada “as a proactive and profitable business decision.”
“We as an economy are missing out on potential or missing out on innovation,” Graham said in an interview with BetaKit. “Women entrepreneurs generate more revenues and more profits, and I have all of the data to back it up … we’ve derived a lot of data points that show how problematic it is right now [that women receive less investment capital than men].”
Sandpiper is founded by a group of nine leading entrepreneurs, investors, and executives (in addition to Graham), each of whom invested in the fund and are part of its advisory committee.
Sandpiper’s investment team is made up of Rhiannon Davies, the former VP and board director at GrandVision N.V, Sarah Young, managing partner of public relations firm National, and Cathy Bennet, the former Newfoundland and Labrador finance minister. The three women have all personally invested in Sandpiper and will serve as general partners for the fund, making investment decisions alongside Graham, who will serve as Investment Principal.
Other notable investors in Sandpiper include Amy Risely, CEO of Skinfix, Shannon MacDonald, managing director of Accenture Canada, and Nicole LeBlanc, director of investments and partnerships at Sidewalk Labs, among others.
The AWVF has been working to launch Sandpiper over the past year, with a target size of $20 million. The fund is looking to raise capital from private and public investors and, to date, has closed 50 percent of its private capital goal. While Davies would not confirm the dollar amount raised, she told BetaKit it is less than $10 million. Sandpiper is still actively fundraising to reach its target.
Davies, who also co-founded the AWVF, told BetaKit the group is trying to create a platform to engage women as founders, investors, and mentors. Sandpiper, she explained, is the inaugural fund in that platform, with the intention of providing a base with enough capital to “make a difference.”
“For us, in general, it’s really about driving diversity and creating better companies and not sort of creating a parallel ecosystem that is all women for women,” she said. “But just recognizing that diversity makes better decision making, and if you have different lenses around your management table you’re going to build better businesses.”
The group behind the AWVF has been active in the Atlantic Canada entrepreneurial and tech space for some while, through programming and angel investing. Graham highlighted that the all-women team behind Sandpiper is purposeful.
“It’s an all women’s team, and that’s what’s unique about it.”
– Danielle Graham, Sandpiper Ventures
“It’s an all women’s team, and that’s what’s unique about it,” she told BetaKit. “We have incredible women business leaders [backing Sandpiper] that have proven their acumen within multiple industries. [They have] built companies, they’ve enabled them to go internationally, they’ve done mergers and acquisitions … this is already a well-established community, and we want to enable that business leadership in the next generation of women.”
While investment in underrepresented founders and women-led companies has increased over the past number of years, women entrepreneurs and venture capitalists continue to receive significantly less capital than their male counterparts.
According to a Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) report from 2019, women account for 28 percent of all entrepreneurs in Canada. However, other statistics show they raised just four percent of venture capital funding available last year.
When it comes to women in the VC space, the number of women in partnership roles increased over the past year, however, women-led funds only received 15 percent of available LP dollars in Canada.
LeBlanc told BetaKit that one of the “most exciting things” that has come out of building Sandpiper is actively engaging female business leaders in the Atlantic Canada region that may not have traditionally participated in the startup or innovation ecosystem.
“This is something that really grabbed their attention and they are now going to be participating in the fund, they’re now able to be advisors and board members to startups, they’re able to now participate more actively,” she said.
“Supporting women entrepreneurs is not anti-male,” added Graham. “It’s just about saying, ‘we’re connected on this level and you know what, it’s okay that men connect with each other. We just need more engagement.’”
Sandpiper plans to invest in pre-seed and seed deals, cutting cheques within the $250,000 to $500,000 range. With a target of $20 million, Sandpiper hopes to make 35 to 40 deals, keeping about 50 percent for follow-on investments. The fund plans to invest in companies that are led by women who have an equal equity share at the founder level.
Graham told BetaKit Sandpiper is looking to close the fund and begin investing within the next three to six months. She noted, however, that given the economic challenges Canadian startups are currently facing around COVID-19, Sandpiper is willing to close earlier in order to provide financial support, so as not to “lose valuable companies” that are currently struggling because of the pandemic.
Graham is joining the AWVF from Dream Maker Ventures where she served as principal. She joined what is the investment arm of Dream Maker Inc. last year as it looked to raise a $75 million Diversity Fund. While at Dream, Graham helped launch the Dream Network, an initiative meant to connect underrepresented founders with potential investment opportunities, as well as Dream Legacy Foundation’s Diversity Program initiative.
The Dream Legacy Foundation recently received support from Microsoft for Startups Canada to help diverse founders in the Canadian tech ecosystem.
Regarding her decision to move to Sandpiper, Graham told BetaKit, “without a woman [in a company leadership role], to me, what real impact am I making? I always defined it that way, and Sandpiper and the Atlantic Women’s Venture Fund have allowed me to unlock that capital [so] that I can now directly invest in the types of founders that I’ve been wanting to work with since I began.”
Graham, who also founded the first female-focused accelerator and bootcamp series in Canada, Fierce Founders, also recently helped launch The ArchAngel Network of Funds. An active angel investor, Graham will continue to serve as a venture partner for one of the network’s funds.
Just prior to announcing the launch of Sandpiper, the AWVF helped launch an initiative alongside Calgary-based angel investment platform The51. Dubbed Canada51, in reference to women being 51 percent of the global population, the initiative is about creating a formal, national collective of organizations and individuals supporting women entrepreneurs across the country.
“It’s time for us to invest in what looks like us,” said Shelley Kuipers, co-founder of The51, at the time. “We know we can transform Canada’s economy in this decade and beyond and our partnership with [the Atlantic Women’s Venture Fund] is pivotal to stitching this next economic wave together.”
While Sandpiper is based in Atlantic Canada, it plans to invest in women-led companies from across the country. Graham highlighted to BetaKit that even though Sandpiper is a women-led fund, it “welcomes people of all genders to invest as limited partners.”