Juanita Lee-Garcia has been named executive director of The Upside Foundation of Canada and tasked with guiding the charitable organization through its next stage of growth.
According to Lee-Garcia, the leadership change comes at “a pivotal time” in Upside’s history. The 10-year-old public foundation has established itself within the Canadian tech community and Upside has begun to reap the fruits of its labour in recent years. At the same time, economic headwinds have put a strain on the tech sector and could impact charitable giving when the need for it has become particularly important as Canada’s most vulnerable feel the impact of the pandemic and rising inflation.
Amid these conditions, Lee-Garcia has been thinking a lot about Upside’s big-picture vision—and how the organization might go about scaling its impact and attaining its long-term goals, while also staying cognizant of the current market downturn.
“My vision is to see how fast we can get there, with the right champions in place.”
“We’re starting to see that measurements of success over the years,” Lee-Garcia told BetaKit in an interview. “And so what kind of long-term impact can we have in the next five to 10 to 15 years in the social impact space in [Canada’s] charitable sector, with the support of the tech community?”
Founded in 2012 by Information Venture Partners general partner Robert Antoniades, Brightspark Ventures managing partner Mark Skapinker, and consultant Janie Goldstein, Upside enables founders of early-stage Canadian companies to pledge one percent equity in their business towards their charity of choice. Editor’s note: BetaKit has been an Upside member since 2017.
When founders that have pledged to Upside experience exits, Upside converts that equity into cash that it then deploys to registered charities across the country that have been chosen by companies and vetted by Upside. To date, Upside has received 375 pledges and seen a total of 17 exits, which have enabled it to donate close to $2.8 million CAD to Canadian social impact organizations.
Lee-Garcia replaces Jennifer Couldrey, Upside’s first-ever employee and long-tenured executive director, and interim organization head Maria O’Reilly. Couldrey has since launched her own business as a professional entrepreneurial operating system (EOS) implementer, while O’Reilly has moved to RBCx, where she works as senior management of platform engagement but continues to consult with Upside.
Lee-Garcia officially took the helm of Upside in mid-November. According to Lee-Garcia, there are few charitable organizations at the centre of social impact and tech in Canada. “For me, having been in the charitable sector at the intersection of tech before for four and a half years, [this role] felt like a really exciting opportunity to go into that next relationship with founders and think about how we can scale the organization.”
Bogota, Colombia-born Lee-Garcia holds degrees from Queen’s University, Western University, and the University of Toronto. She previously worked in sales before entering the not-for-profit sector, spending time in tech at Loopio during its bootstrapping days and retail in various roles at Aritzia.
Since 2018, Lee-Garcia has been working in the Canadian social impact space. Prior to joining Upside, Lee-Garcia was part of the leadership team at Venture for Canada (VFC), where she served as director of marketing and strategic partnerships. Among other responsibilities, at VFC, she designed and implemented activities that helped the organization raise over $25 million from public and private sector backers.
According to Lee-Garcia, Upside saw a lot of positive exits in 2021, including Wattpad. Heading into what could be a long economic downturn, she was candid about the fact that Upside likely won’t see as many big liquidity events in the form of initial public offerings or large-scale acquisitions during the next year or two, but emphasized that Upside is “in it for the long-term.”
Lee-Garcia’s vision for scaling Upside moving forward involves a few components, including: establishing a greater presence in early-stage spaces across Canada, empowering later-stage entrepreneurs to give, inking partnerships with key industry players, working with companies ancillary to the tech sector, and engaging more Canadian venture capitalists and venture capital firms.
“In 2018, we had a big goal of having 2,200 pledges by 2022,” said Lee-Garcia. “Obviously we’re not there, and Upside has traditionally been a two [or] three-person team … But it’s been really embedded into, large tech spaces. My vision is to see how fast we can get there, with the right champions in place.”
Feature image courtesy Juanita Lee-Garcia.