OMERS Ventures has a new addition focused on funding the firm’s back yard. Laura Lenz joins the venture capital arm of one of Canada’s largest pension funds as partner, tasked with leading investment activity across the country.
Formerly of EdgeStone Capital Partners, MaRS IAF, and most recently, Generation Ventures, Lenz brings with her almost two decades of venture experience north and south of the border, across private, government, and family capital. Over the years, she has had her hand investing in a slew of eventual Canadian tech exits, including Rypple (which sold to Salesforce), RapidMind (acquired by Intel), and Jibestream (acquired by Inpixon). She could most recently be found deploying capital into Nudge Rewards’ $12 million Series B round.
“It’s a market Laura knows better than anybody.”
That extensive experience made Lenz the “ideal person” to lead OMERS’ Canadian investments, OMERS managing partner and head of ventures, Damien Steel, told BetaKit.
“It’s a market Laura knows better than anybody,” Steel said.
It’s not a coincidence that the addition of a Canadian lead comes at the end of a year which found OMERS add a Silicon Valley office and a new fund dedicated to Europe. Steel told BetaKit that the expansion required someone on the team approaching Canada thematically as the firm does other regions.
“The quality opportunities continue to increase in this country,” Steel said. “Our challenge has been over the last year, as you branch out globally, you take on exponentially more opportunities, and you have to adjust along the way. One of the adjustments we’re acknowledging here is that Canada is worth another partner on our team.”
Lenz becomes OMERS Ventures’s second women partner and first in North America. Speaking with BetaKit two days into her new role, Lenz said that OMERS Ventures’ newfound reach, backed by the broader OMERS global team, convinced her to take the job.
“I think OMERS has a very strong brand in the Canadian market, but they also have a global reach,” Lenz said. “Joining OMERS gives the opportunity to invest locally in Canada but also provide a global lens on trends, and frankly, a global network for the portfolio companies to leverage.”
Both Lenz and Steel rejected the notion that OMERS had recently “taken [their] eye off Canada,” noting that a lack of new transactions hasn’t stopped 50 percent of OMERS Ventures Fund III’s $300 million from being allocated to Canadian companies, most recently in follow-on financing to TouchBistro, Xanadu, and Hopper (both declined to share with BetaKit exactly how much capital remains to be deployed in the fund). Still, Lenz told BetaKit that her “first order of business is to let entrepreneurs in Canada know that OMERS continues to be focused on the Canadian market.”
Joining a mature fund as a fresh partner with no portfolio to manage means that Lenz “is going to be able to spend an exceptional amount of time looking at new deals,” according to Steel. The new partner told BetaKit that her pitch to entrepreneurs will be focused on OMERS’ recently built international network.
“That’s where the Canadian companies can really stand to benefit, because we can leverage the UK and the San Francisco offices for the expansion of the portfolio companies’ networks – whether that’s recruiting, strategic partnerships, customers, etc.,” Lenz said. “That opens the door for those portfolio companies, as well as the OMERS presence in those markets – and not just venture, but growth equity, real estate, etc. That also adds to the expanded network and that’s something I very much look forward to leveraging in the future.”
Those network effects are very much a part of Steel’s vision for the future of OMERS Ventures, who shared plans of the firm operating one day under a global fund.
“We’re a global platform. In the future, my expectation is that it will become one global fund.”
“We’re a global platform,” Steel said. “Meaning, we have partners in Toronto, San Francisco, and London. We collaborate very, very closely with one another. We are one firm, although today we’re investing out of two funds: one fund being in North America, one fund being out of Europe. In the future, my expectation is that it will become one global fund.”
Steel wouldn’t offer any clear timelines on that global fund, or whether OMERS was currently fundraising, noting that it’s dependent on the pacing of the North American fund. “It’s in the roadmap,” he said.
A tight-lipped approach likely serves OMERS well, as Steel also confirmed that expansion into Asia is no longer on OMERS’ roadmap in the near future. “Our focus right now is absolutely on Europe and broader North America,” he said.
Steel admitted to that OMERS’ preemptive announcement of expansion plans into Asia last year “was probably being overly ambitious.” That announcement also notably came just months before the shocking departure of OMERS Ventures founding CEO, John Ruffolo. Still, Steel also claimed that OMERS’ expansion in North America and Europe had already yielded more opportunity than the firm had previously scoped.
Back on the home front, Lenz told BetaKit that she isn’t worried about the rapid influx of foreign and domestic capital competing for the attention of Canadian entrepreneurs.
“I’m not worried about competition, I’m worried about finding the right companies.”