VC firm Antler ramps up, adds Bernie Li as Canadian partner

Antler, the Singapore-based venture firm that expanded to Canada in July, has named Bernie Li as a partner in its Toronto office. Li will join the company’s senior leadership team.

Li joins Naman Budhde, who is Antler Canada’s first partner and lead, as the company prepares to start making investments in the country by 2022.

Antler wants to support and invest in over 100 companies across Canada over the next four years through a $30 million fund it is in the process of raising. The firm is looking to cut cheques between $150,000 to $200,000, with a focus on pre-seed stage investments.

Li believes that a point has been reached where Canadian startups will become significant global players.

Founded in 2017, Antler is an early-stage venture capital firm with a presence in 14 locations around the world. The firm looks to have offices in most “major entrepreneurial hubs,” and currently operates in cities including London, Berlin, Stockholm, New York, and Sydney.

Li told BetaKit that Antler has a people-first approach when it comes to targeting investments.

“We identify and bring together the world’s most exceptional people in our start-up generator programs and invest at the pre-seed stage in the strongest co-founding teams and ideas that are built,” Li said.

He described Antler’s investing process as very hands-on, with the fund working with co-founders over a period of several months, helping shape the business models, while performing extensive due diligence before investing.

Li said some of the qualities they look for in investors include grit, inner drive, and “a clear spike.” He described the latter as something an individual is really good at, and noted that could be different things such as a particular skill set or a unique insight gained from first-hand experience.

“Our ambition is to help unearth potential founders and provide them with support as they journey through the exciting -yet sometimes scary times- as they move from zero to one,” Li said.

In terms of sectors, the fund is agnostic, Li said. He pointed out that they think certain categories exist where Canada is emerging as a world-class leader, such as artificial intelligences, but they keep an open mind as to where founders naturally come from.

“I believe that the need for entrepreneurship is greater than ever. I expect that many significant problems we are currently facing will be solved by entrepreneurs, through the vehicle of new start-ups,” Li said.

He also believes that a point has been reached where Canadian startups will become significant global players. “Antler is well suited to help support founders with that ambition,” Li said.

RELATED: Antler eyes $30 million fund as part of Canada expansion

He pointed that Antler’s global team, and current investments in over 300 portfolio companies over six continents, will help Canadian founders gain “gain on-the-street insight, build trusted relationships (think customers, vendors, advisors) and gain perspectives from like-minded founders around the world, to accelerate and improve their success rate as they expand into new geographical markets.”

Li said he’s had a passion for startups since graduating from university, and that over the past 20 years he’s had the opportunity to sit on both sides of the startup table, first as an investor and then as an entrepreneur.

Li was a member of the investment team at MSBi, which later became Inovia. While there, he invested in and supported companies at the earliest stages, in some cases at the time of company inception.

In 2009, Li co-founded a tech-enabled marketplace in the residential solar sector called Pure Energies that had a successful exit. Pure Energies was among the first generation of residential solar companies that leveraged the web for customer acquisition, product design and contract fulfilment.

Pure Energies raised $25 million and grew to over 200 employees with a United States office before being acquired by NRG Energy in 2014.

“During that journey, we raised venture capital, and had to manage an operation that went through a phase of hyper scale growth. I look forward to sharing insights and experiences with other founders around getting a company off the ground, building and perhaps one day, exiting,” Li said.

Bernie’s experience as an investor includes working with leading VC funds, in addition to working with startup founders as an angel investor and advisor. Some of those startups include Vizetto, Bright, Playground Sessions and Flow Beverage, as well as the Canadian startup CareGuide.

“We are thrilled to have Bernie join us as Partner at Antler Canada,” said Antler founder and CEO Magnus Grimeland. “His experience as both an entrepreneur and investor will be of huge support to our portfolio companies, as he has real experience of building companies to achieve scale fast.”

Antler focuses on working closely with early-stage companies and entrepreneurs with burgeoning business ideas. A key part of Antler’s stated mission is to democratize entrepreneurship, and touts a portfolio where 40 percent of the startups have at least one female co-founder and founders represent 70 nationalities.

“Although I never set-out to become an angel investor, I found myself wanting to support founders I knew and who I wanted to help succeed,” Li said. “To me, this meant putting in some capital and trying to be helpful in the areas of capital, strategy, making introductions and general sound-boarding. As it turns out, sometimes a founder just needs an ear to listen to them.”

He added: “As for Antler, I’m very impressed with the people at Antler and the mission they are pursuing: to fundamentally improve the world by enabling and investing in the world’s most exceptional people building the defining companies of tomorrow.”

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel's reporting and writing on technology has appeared in Wired.com, 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.