Canadian Armed Forces veteran, Shopify co-founder team up for $50 million military tech fund

(From left) Shopify-co-founder Daniel Weinand and One9 founder Glenn Cowan. (Courtesy One9)
Kensington Capital Partners has committed $10 million as the anchor investor.

With the assertion that “building companies is a special operation,” One9 Venture Partners has announced the launch of its Special Mission Fund I. The fund is focused on national security and infrastructure and will be co-led by general partners Glenn Cowan and Daniel Weinand.

Cowan is a retired squadron commander in Canada’s Joint Task Force 2 while Weinand is a co-founder of Shopify. Cowan is the founder and CEO of One9, under which the venture fund operates – Cowan created One9 as a way to invest in, support, and create defence technologies.

“With what’s happening in the world…we’ll be able to deploy our $50 million, I think, very quickly,”

Kensington Capital Partners is the anchor investor for the fund with a $10 million CAD commitment that came at the end of November. One9 is targeting $50 million for overall fund size. Rick Nathan, senior managing director at Kensington is joining the One9 Venture Partners advisory board.

“I’ve been working alongside Glenn on several different investments we have pursued together over the past two years, which led to our collaboration on the development of One9 Venture Partners,” said Nathan. “And now, with geopolitical tailwinds in the security market, the timing could not be better for the launch of Canada’s first defence and national security-focused fund.”

One9 Venture Partners was launched in October 2020 with a focus on establishing itself as a defence, intelligence, and national security-focused investment fund. The firm bridges the gap between private capital markets and innovative military technologies with substantial civilian uses.

Cowan spent 18 years with the Canadian Armed Forces, of which 13 of those were with Canadian Special Operations Forces. He served on multiple combat deployments in Afghanistan, information operations in the Middle East, and hostage recovery operations in Africa, where he was a strategic planner and tactical commander.

He told BetaKit he was often responsible for briefing Canada’s senior political and military leadership including the prime minister of Canada, minister of national defence and chief of defence staff on the tactical execution of strategically relevant and sensitive missions.

Cowan was decorated for his “outstanding professional competence, foresight and adaptability, as well as significant courage of conviction as the Commander of the Minister of National Defence’s Close Personal Protection Party, thus ensuring the safety of the Minister while under attack from Taliban forces.”

He said One9 came from his passion for investing combined with applying special operations mission planning and risk mitigation to the “investment battlespace.”

Declared Cowan: “The investment environment can be as uncertain as combat. Success in combat depends on skill, knowledge, decisive action, resources, tactical patience, trust and teamwork.”

Cowan noted that while he was in the military he was intrigued by the technology they used and the innovations developed to support national security operations. “They were at the cutting edge and showed huge potential for growth,” he said. “I’m now applying this deep interest in technology related to defence and national security, along with the strategic connections I have through the special forces, to this new venture fund.”

Shopify co-founder Weinand has been an officer as well, although not with the military. During the more than 12 years he helped scale Shopify, his roles included chief design and chief creative officer, and chief culture officer. He departed Shopify in 2017.

Cowan and Weinand met through a common friend, who Cowan described as an experienced, well-connected cybersecurity investor. “As my business started to unfold he was a great mentor, confidante and advisor to me,” Cowan said of Weinand. “There was a logical progression that led to us becoming co-general partners on the fund.”

Cowan said the fund was already gaining significant fundraising traction, and that he hoped the first close would take place this quarter. He claimed that some big strategic LPs want to come in, but that won’t take place until the second close. Cowan estimated the fund would be fully closed within the year.

The fund will primarily fund Series A investments with an average cheque size of $2-to-$3 million. One9 Venture Partners is interested in startups that have north of $1 million in annual recurring revenues, with a good pipeline for their products.

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While One9 Venture Partners plans to invest globally, the majority of investments will be in North America. Cowan wants to reserve 10 percent of the fund for pre-seed and seed Canadian startups. But he added: “we’re not partitioning our funding, so if we see great “A” companies in Canada, we’ll look at those as well.”

Cowan anticipates the fund will go for 10 years with two, one-year extensions. With what’s happening in the world, the opportunities we’re seeing, the way the world is changing, we’ll be able to deploy our $50 million, I think, very quickly,” he said. One9 Venture Partners is working currently on its first seed round close.

One9 Venture Partners is headquartered in Ottawa with three general partners. The third has yet to be announced. Cowan said that the individual is with another high-profile fund currently. In total, the fund has a staff of six.

One9 has already made direct investments previously to Florida-based robotic and AI startup Tomahawk Robotics; Strider Technologies, a Utah-based firm that uses intelligence solutions to identify, manage, and respond to nation-state directed IP theft and supply chain vulnerabilities; and Ventus Respiratory, which designs respirators for military and law enforcement personnel.

One9 also includes what Cowan calls a defence innovation ecosystem, Capability Labs. The website describes the latter as: “Y-Combinator is to Silicon Valley what ONE9 Capability Labs is to defence innovation.” The president of One9 Capability Labs is Arjun Grewal, a 19-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, with 12 of those years with Canadian Special Operations Forces.

One9 Venture Partners also has an advisory network that includes Peter MacKay, Canada’s former Minister of National Defence. At One9 Venture Partners, MacKay will help scale portfolio companies, provide advisory on private and public interaction, including procurement, capability development, global networking and fundraising.

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel's reporting and writing on technology has appeared in, Canadian Business, Report on Business Magazine, Canada's National Observer, The Globe and Mail, and the National Post, among many others. He lives off-grid in Nova Scotia.

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