In the world of angel investing, there are those who wait for deals to come to them and there are those who set out to make deals happen. The latter definitely describes Bryan J. Watson as he’s long been a champion of entrepreneurship as a vector for the commercialization for advanced technologies.
As a staunch advocate for turning Canada into a globally competitive, efficient commercialization engine driving its world-class technologies to market, Watson wears a minimum of two hats at all times, acting as both entrepreneur and angel investor.
He’s actively serving as the executive director of the National Angel Capital Organization (NACO), CEO of Fusion and BioCEO Canada in addition to fostering commercialization and venture development as a director of Precarn Incorporated and the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance.
With so much experience and demonstrated capability, Watson can offer angel investors a wealth of information on the Canadian market. These angels are making their way in this still unchartered territory, but learn from an industry expert. To get a sense of how Watson is working to improve the angel environment in Canada, Venture Hype talked with him about the NACO and how it’s changing Canada for the better.
* Edited interview
VH: What’s the National Angel Capital Organization and what does it do?
BW: The National Angel Capital Organization (NACO) is the primary industry association that represents angel capital throughout Canada. It serves as a catalyst to coordinate angel deals in Canada, while also educating angels and the companies that seek their support. As a non-profit, it helps to promote a vibrant angel community and culture in an area where networking and collaboration can be a challenge.
VH: Why’s networking and collaboration a challenge?
BW: Pure geography. Canada is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but people are very spread out. Sure, there are phenomenal technology options that enable people to communicate, but nothing replaces face-to-face networking and collaboration. When this element is missing, identifying the best investment opportunities for growth is very difficult.
The other challenges that we see in this market includes government visibility. Many of our leaders still don’t fully understand the importance of angel investing as their attention is still fixed on large venture capital funds as the salvation of Canada’s high-growth potential companies. As such, the market isn’t designed to cater to and support angels. Considering the fact that it’s estimated that angels invest more than twice as much as venture capitalists in Canada, the government needs to understand the important role angles play.
VH: Can you tell us more about the overall market climate in Canada?
BW: I’m excited to say that it’s getting better. When I first started working in this market, four years ago I was disappointed with the lack of entrepreneurial culture in Canada. There needed to be more done and more exposure in this area. There are angels here that are ready to invest, but without an environment that promotes entrepreneurship, we punch below our weight as a country in this area.
Now, the amount of change in the area of angel investing is invigorating. With NACO, we’ve been able to create excitement about angel investing and promote its spread throughout the entire country. Through the establishment of best practices and standard deal structures, we’ve been able to provide angels and entrepreneurs with the necessary tools to do things right.
VH: What specific tools do you offer to your member angels?
BW: We offer a number of valuable resources, including valuation tools, guidance on due diligence, pitch coaching for entrepreneurs and companies, and the importance of preparation. Most importantly, we emphasize the value of building a good team and “selling” it to angel investors.
VH: So you’re seeing results; the fruits of your labor, so to speak?
BW: Most definitely. Through our efforts at NACO, we’re seeing the impact of our work and the change in the atmosphere. We’re putting more information at the fingertips of Canadian angels and as a result, better deals are getting done. We’ve created a culture where we developed angel investing in Canada from the individual to groups to a syndicate ecosystem.
VH: What do you anticipate will be hot opportunities for angel investors in the near future?
BW: Canadian-based or not, all angels should be looking at companies that can reach break-even capital efficiently. That often means web companies that are launched capital efficiently; cleantech where intelligent systems deliver value without significant capital investments; digital media; and healthcare and diagnostics.
VH: Do you have anything exciting on your radar in the next few months?
BW: We actually have two events that are in the works that I’m very excited about:
While Watson is excited about the progress that NACO has made in the Canadian market, there’s little he can do about the geographical challenges. However, providing angels with the tools they need and entrepreneurs with the opportunity to connect with these investors has created a dynamic and exciting angel culture in Canada that’s expected to continue to show strong growth.
* For series, references are published in the last installment of the series.