Derek Smyth Memorial Fund launches to support SickKids oncology department

Derek Smyth

To celebrate the memory of Derek Smyth — a major supporter of many companies in the country’s tech ecosystem — the Upside Foundation has launched the Derek Smyth Memorial Fund to support the oncology department at SickKids.

Smyth passed away a year ago today at 51 years old after battling cancer. The initiative is being led by Fred Lalonde, founder and CEO of Hopper; Mark Skapinker, managing partner of Brightspark; Jaafer Haidar, operating partner at Brightspark and co-founder of Socialseek; and Howard Gwin, former Leaders Fund venture partner and former OMERS managing director. Smyth’s family is also supporting the initiative.

“Derek’s colleagues meant so much to him. To have them all supporting his legacy in the way is such a testament to his career, and it would mean so much to him,” said Sara Smyth, Derek’s wife. Sara suggested that the fund be dedicated to the oncology department for its role in helping one of the Smyth children. “It’s a comfort to know that Derek’s legacy lives on through this initiative.”

“We thought it would be nice to have an enduring way of recognizing him and recognize his participation.”

Formerly managing director of OMERS Ventures, Smyth supported companies like Hopper, Hootsuite, BuildDirect, and Vidyard. He acted as chief operating officer at Vision Critical before he moved on to Intelex as its chief customer officer. He’s credited by those close to him for building a foundation of the Canadian tech ecosystem.

The idea for the fund began with Lalonde, who contacted the Upside Foundation to find a way to give back in honour of Smyth, who helped him secure investment as a lead on Hopper’s Series B and navigate the early stages of the business. Lalonde dedicated stock options from Hopper to the Upside Foundation, and the resulting proceeds went to the creation of the fund.

“Technology is one of the biggest driving forces in our society today,” said Lalonde. “Thanks to Derek’s far-reaching vision and belief in Hopper, we’ve been able to grow and succeed as a company. We feel it’s critical for tech companies to invest in the communities that helped form them and strive to create lasting impact.”

Lalonde said that during Smyth’s time at OMERS, the firm put together a list of the top CEOs in Canada and made a pledge to invest in them regardless of stage. He credits Smyth for setting the foundation of the current “revival” in Canadian tech venture. “Many of those deals looked a bit funny at the time – ours certainly did – and a lot of people were critical of the approach, but the result is that OMERS, ultimately, took positions in Hootsuite, Hopper, Desire2Learn and of course Shopify,” Lalonde said. “I believe that this sparked a fundamental change in Canadian venture: Derek proved to the world that if we supported our founders aggressively, we could build world class public tech companies in Canada – instead of selling them off early to foreign interest.”

“Derek was really well-known, and he was one of those people who really worked hard at getting the industry going and focusing on the right things,” said Skapinker. “We thought it would be nice to have an enduring way of recognizing him and recognize his participation, and a way of people to identify that with a charity.”

The Upside Foundation, which has just reached over 200 members, allows tech companies to pledge stock options or warrants, and in a liquidity event, allow those proceeds to go to a charity they support. So far, Gwin, Hopper’s Lalonde, and Densify CEO Gerry Smith have pledged to the fund.

“We want to be partners of this community. Whenever people think of tech and giving, we want to be part of it,” said Jen Couldrey, executive director of the Upside Foundation. “There has been a lot of backlash against tech over the last year…people are somewhat disillusioned with it. I think there’s been this big stepping back and saying, what does tech really stand for? What is the impact of tech? I see the Upside as being part of that equation and helping to ensure that the answer to that question is positive.”

Donations can be made in cash, or stock options, warrants, or personal proceeds pledges on the Memorial Fund’s website here.

“The first time I met Derek was to pitch him for money when he was at Edgestone,” said Peter Smith, managing partner at the Meaford Group. “Part way through our pitch, Derek stopped us and said ‘This is a great story. Now, I’m taking my VC hat off and giving you some personal advice. Don’t take money now. Run the table longer then go looking for money. You will give up too much equity now.’ This was classic Derek. Give the right advice, even if it was not in his best interest. That was the start of a great friendship with him.”