Hardware and semiconductor-focused Markham, Ont. tech hub VentureLab has found its next leader.
VentureLab’s board of directors has appointed experienced technology entrepreneur and investor Hugh Chow as CEO, effective September 5. As CEO, Chow succeeds Melissa Chee and Matt Skynner, who both left VentureLab this summer.
“Toronto was the place that gave me the career that I had and [innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship] is what I’m passionate about.”
– Hugh Chow, VentureLab
Chow brings over 30 years of experience working in tech and building and supporting startups to VentureLab. Much of Chow’s work to date has been focused on semiconductors, first as a senior engineering leader at Markham’s ATI Technologies and then as founder and CEO of his own Toronto-based, Toronto Stock Exchange-listed firm, ViXS Systems.
Chow joins VentureLab during an interesting time for the microchip sector, which has become a priority for the Government of Canada amid pandemic-fuelled shortages, the Russia-Ukraine war, and United States-China tensions.
In an interview with BetaKit, Chow said he was approached by VentureLab for the role a couple of months ago. “Toronto was the place that gave me the career that I had and [innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship] is what I’m passionate about … there was really no reason for me to not take a serious look,” he added.
Founded in 2011 and backed by the federal and provincial governments, VentureLab caters to Canadian hardware and enterprise software startups, helping them raise capital, retain talent, commercialize their tech and intellectual property, and acquire customers. To date, VentureLab claims to have created over 5,000 jobs and helped affiliated firms secure over $340 million collectively in investment capital.
“We believe that Hugh’s unique expertise in many of the technology-centric sectors will help move us to the next chapter of helping Canadian companies succeed globally,” VentureLab board chair Yalda Riahi said in a statement. “We also believe his leadership will contribute significantly to Canada’s goal of solidifying our position in key high-value industries, including semiconductors, AI, and medtech.”
Born and raised in Hong Kong and educated as a microchip designer, Chow began his career in Canada. He said he found his passion at Canadian fabless semiconductor firm ATI Technologies in the early 1990s. ATI Technologies was later acquired by American chip giant AMD in 2006 for $5.4 billion.
Chow’s experience at ATI Technologies gave him the confidence and determination to launch and build his own semiconductor firm, ViXS Systems, in 2001, which he took public on the Toronto Stock Exchange and was later purchased by US-based Pixelworks.
In 2015, Chow left ViXS Systems wanting to give back to the tech industry and got into venture investment and coaching other entrepreneurs. In 2018, he was recruited to lead the Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute (ASTRI), where he spent three years as CEO.
While working as VentureLab CEO, Chow noted that he plans to retain his other engagements going forward, describing VentureLab’s board as “extremely accommodating.” These roles include serving as a partner at investment firm Radiant Tech Ventures and chair at communication chip company MICAS Group, both of which are based in Hong Kong.
Asked about potential conflicts of interest that could surface from these commitments, Chow emphasized that he would put VentureLab first and recuse himself should any arise.
During Chee’s tenure, VentureLab took strides to support Canada’s microchip industry, including through the launch of the Hardware Catalyst Initiative, a lab and incubator for founders commercializing hardware and semiconductor solutions, and the co-creation of Canada’s Semiconductor Council.
Following a five-year term as VentureLab president and CEO, Chee stepped down this summer, noting on LinkedIn that “what comes next is about scaling and requires a different playbook,” declaring it “the right time to make space for a new leader.”
Skynner, previously VentureLab’s COO, took over for Chee on an interim basis in July. He left at the end of last month to become managing director of operations at R-Labs Canada, a real estate industry venture builder.
For his part, Chow noted that his first few months on the job will involve a lot of listening as he looks to meet with VentureLab founders, supporters, strategic partners, and key stakeholders before transitioning into the CEO role on a full-time basis in January 2024.
“The first thing I need to do is understand,” said Chow. “A lot of people have done a lot of great work ahead of me to make VentureLab what it is.”
As for what his plans for VentureLab look like at this point, while Chow believes that VentureLab has done a great job regionally in certain sectors, he sees room for the tech hub to extend itself more globally. He noted an opportunity for VentureLab to connect Canadian startups with more players from around the world, including potential strategic partners and investors.
“For any business to grow, you cannot just look at the Canadian market, especially in high-value, knowledge-based industries,” he added.
Feature image courtesy VentureLab.