Front Row Ventures, the university student-led fund that invests in student-led startups, has closed $5.5 million for its first pan-Canadian fund. Some 50 founders backed the oversubscribed fund, which closed July 28, despite the current challenging fundraising environment.
“We have ecosystem players from all over Canada,” a delighted Emmanuelle Coppinger, managing director of Front Row Ventures, told BetaKit during a phone interview.
“We want to back more entrepreneurs across Canada, to have more impact on the ecosystem.”
– Emmanuelle Coppinger,
Front Row Ventures
Historically, Front Row Ventures has focused on investing in early-stage, student-led Canadian startups. The fund received $600,000 in 2017 from Real Ventures to invest in 24 student-led startups over the next four years. The fund opened up to Ontario startups in March 2019.
Originally, the fund focused on Québec, establishing a presence in eight Montréal universities as well as the Université de Sherbrooke and Université Laval. At that point, the fund had a team of about 20 students.
The new fund, FRV-CAN-22, is 10 times larger than Front Row Ventures’ first fund, finding backing from founders, operators, angel investors, and VCs, including institutional support from Inovia Capital and Quebec MEIE.
What’s drawn the investors? “As for any fund, they looked at our performance from our past funds and I think they were pretty impressed, the fact that we were able to deliver strong performance metrics,” Coppinger said.
“I think these people who have been successful in this ecosystem are aware that there’s a gap right now in the pre-seed funding area and that needs to be bridged and this is exactly what we’re doing,” she added.
“I think it’s a great way to get exposure to really early-stage deal flow that you otherwise couldn’t,” said Arvind Ramanathan, a partner in BoxOne Ventures, and a limited partner in Front Row Ventures. “I think the fund returns will be really good, and what we saw in the Ontario fund are all the same reasons we’re coming back for the pan-Canadian fund.”
Front Row was the first investor in student-led Valence Discovery, which exited in May when Valence was acquired by Nasdaq-listed company Recursion.
FRV-CAN-22 plans to invest in 50 startups over the next four years. The initial cheque size will be about $50,000 per investment, double the size of the first fund, and Front Row will now have follow-on capabilities.
Front Row Ventures has already invested in nine startups through FRV-CAN-22, including Simmunome’s recent $2 million CAD round. Coppinger noted the fund began investing by the first close in August 2022, and then did some rolling closes for the year up until July when they officially closed the fund.
Coppinger is also proud of the fact that the fund is backing numerous female and BIPOC founders. She pointed out that in the new fund, out of the nine investments made to date, seven of them went to female founders, accounting for 89 percent of the investments to date. BIPOC founders accounted for 78 percent of the investments to date. “Again, I think it shows diversity is working well in the student university ecosystem,” she said.
Currently, FRV-CAN-22 will support Front Row investment chapters in Québec, Ontario and British Columbia, with more launching in the coming years (the firm is present on over 20 campuses across Canada). Over the next four years, Front Row will train more than 250 students to become VCs. The trained students hold 100 percent of the decision-making power for deals.
“We want to back more entrepreneurs across Canada, to have more impact on the ecosystem, to back high-performance, and diverse companies, and to train the next generation of tech talent in Canada, because Canada needs it,” Coppinger said.
Front Row asserts that its alumni have gone on to found startups, take key roles in scale-ups, and join VC firms, moving from analysts to partners. As examples, Front Row notes that Therence Bois and Daniel Cohen co-founded Valence Discovery, while Makoto Rheault-Kihara is a VP of growth at Hopper, and Eleonore Jarry is a partner at Brightspark Ventures.