Her Canadian VC success story started halfway around the world

Ha Nguyen promoted to Partner at McRock Capital

You’ve likely heard variations of this story many times over. An immigrant landing in Canada with not much more than a suitcase, a dream and a whole lot of guts. This version of the story hits really close to home for McRock. It’s about our newest partner, Ha Nguyen. You read that right. Partner! Ha has described herself in the past as lucky–lucky the stars aligned for her to make her dream of a career in venture capital far from home a reality. We all know luck had nothing to do with it. Smart. Tenacious. Incredibly brave. Those attributes ensured she was ready when opportunity came knocking.

Ha was born in Vietnam to a middle-class family in a generation that had yet to escape from the influence of Confucianism. Back then, she was expected to stay with her parents until she married, then start a family of her own before 30, leaving any professional career behind. Can you imagine the courage it took to challenge that paradigm? Ha believed there was something more for her. She knew she could make her own destiny. That living her best life meant achieving more than what others expected of her. She took the leap, moving away from home, to a country halfway around the world.

“I remember the first night in Toronto, a city 7,000-miles away from my hometown,” says Ha. “It was a summer night but much cooler than summer in Hanoi. I lay on the floor of an almost empty room. I missed the safe and cosy feeling of my bed in Vietnam, the routine pleasure of my old life; and I wondered if I had made a mistake coming to Canada.”

This isn’t a story of overnight success. The first few months were hard for Ha. No family or friends around for support. Jobs in VC were hard to come by. She was even having trouble landing a spot in retail banking. Then her journey took a positive turn when she met a gentleman from a large Canadian pension fund at a trade fair for recent immigrants. He would not hire her (his loss in hindsight, am I right?) but he told her about an amazing woman he previously worked with in London who now ran a VC fund in Canada. Can you guess who that woman was? McRock Capital co-founder Whitney Rockley didn’t make the same mistake as the pension fund guy when she met Ha in 2016. We hired her shortly thereafter as an Associate.

As much as we’d like to insert ourselves into Ha’s story, her successes were all her own. She was (and still is) driven and ambitious. She didn’t come this far to only go this far. That first job with McRock was just a distance marker on the journey, not the final destination. In 2018 she was promoted from Associate to Vice President and moved to Calgary to head up McRock’s western office. Ha has driven some amazing investments at McRock, including bringing ThoughtTrace into the portfolio. She contributed to its management and was involved in its successful sale to Thomson Reuters, fewer than two years after that initial investment. She was also key in identifying and investing in category leaders such as Edmonton-based Samdesk and California-based Landing AI. She has been pivotal in shaping the strategy for our next fund and is a notable figure in the VC community, respected by co-investors and entrepreneurs alike.

Think this is where Ha’s story ends? Think again. In 2022, she received her Canadian Citizenship. And she also just got promoted to Partner at McRock, a short six years and thousands of miles from where she began her journey to create her own destiny.

Again…this isn’t about us…(humble brag alert)…but Ha’s promotion makes McRock one of the very few investment firms with more female investment decision makers than male. It’s a big deal. We know we said luck had no place in this story, but come on…how lucky are we Ha came to us when she did? And as much as she learned from her experience on the McRock team, we are continually learning from her, including what it means to chart one’s own course.

“We share stories about those who make it through, and how much better their lives become,” Ha reflected not long ago. “Yet, by doing so, we create another formulated plot of the happy ending, in which we tend to ignore the parts that involve constant pains, conflicts and adversity. Indeed, all those untold sufferings are the essential forces that drive us to expand our thoughts, and eventually break us free.”

What will Ha do next? Only she knows. But damn…we’re immensely proud to have a front-row seat to witness it.

Software is playing matchmaker, bringing people and machines together to meet production demands

McRock ups its investment in connected worker company Triax

It appears the variable labour market isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Are we going to sit around and moan about it until things “go back to normal”? News flash: this is the new normal.

Blame the pandemic, the ageing workforce’s Great Resignation or the incoming generation of workers who appear uninterested in manufacturing careers…assigning blame won’t change anything. Global central banks are doing their part by hiking interest rates to curb the ongoing surge in demand for goods and services. But even a good ol’ recession in 2023 isn’t going to end the squeeze on labour.

Pretty much every industry across every sector needs to adapt to this reality or be left behind when their productivity and quality dip because of inconsistent, unskilled or underskilled workers. Good news! The tech industry is poised to help them adapt with software products that promise to get the best out of the workers available.

Triax is one of those innovators. They recognized a gap consistent across most modern asset-intensive operations: data. Industrial organizations were lacking true visibility at the front-line worker level. Without actionable data they were experiencing bottlenecks, budget overages, extended project timelines, increased worker safety incidents and an overall decline in workforce productivity. Bad news for the bottom line.

The solution lies in software that connects this variable workforce with the right tools and training to optimize productivity. Triax Technologies provides business leaders with decision-grade data generated by the connected worker to identify areas for improvement. The software platform empowers visibility into productivity metrics, safety compliance and equipment management.

The industrial workplace is no place for romance, but this technology love match between people and machines is one we can get behind.

McRock has led a follow-on financing round in Triax to bring an urgent productivity boost to the customers it supports.

I didn’t need a life jacket for my VC internship, but there were plenty of waves

Ziad Srour, Summer Intern

Lessons from my summer on the rapids

Clear skies or choppy waters? Yes.

If given a choice between starting a VC internship when the investment forecast was nothing but positive optimism or murky uncertainty, which would you take? I didn’t have a choice as it turns out. Markets were volatile when I started my summer 2022 internship at McRock Capital. And in hindsight, if given the choice, I wouldn’t change a thing. Turbulent waters in an investment market make for great learning for anyone lucky enough to shadow a pro team like this one.

The only certain thing about markets from the past three years is uncertainty. Even with this, spring and early summer 2022 introduced new levels of market volatility as pandemic-recovery inflation wreaked havoc. Did some people panic? You bet. Just look at the stock market. Was that everyone’s reaction? Not even close. And thankfully I had the calm reassurance of the McRock founders to model; they gently adjusted how they were assessing portfolio companies and deal flow, but never lost sight of their vision to lead and stand apart in the competitive VC landscape. Talk about nerves of steel.

I sat in on brainstorming sessions and watched them refine their goals around the emerging opportunity in industrial software. I dug into the research effort and learned to trust the data, even in volatile markets, and how the shift to this next generation of digital technology is going to make a significant impact on the investment market for years to come.

There’s no doubt in my mind an internship with a different firm would have yielded much different results. I will take all I learned–especially how the McRock team kept a calm, cool-headed focus on the long game–and draw on these lessons as I start the next chapter of my career. Lucky me, indeed.

One last thought. It’s only fitting I finished up my term with a team-building exercise in a jet boat riding the rapids of the Niagara River. Did we get wet and bounced around a lot? Of course. Was it still a fun adventure where new bonds were forged among the team? Most definitely. Am I talking about the internship or the boat ride through the rapids? Yes.

Fifteen million reasons why we still love Miovision

McRock and EDC co-lead growth financing in traffic tech visionaries

In case it wasn’t obvious after the initial financing round in 2018, or the second in 2020, here’s a third round to prove how much we love Miovision. We’re co-leading a $15 million growth financing round with Export Development Canada to facilitate an acquisition for Miovision that will extend its traffic management capabilities.

And what a smart acquisition it is. The deal was announced today–Miovision has acquired Pittsburgh, PA-based Rapid Flow Technologies. Rapid Flow is the market’s technology leader in adaptive traffic signal control. This is right up the Miovision alley! The technology uses real-time traffic data to optimize signal timing, adapting to real-world conditions. Their Surtrac adaptive traffic signal control system can support all traffic signal controller types to optimize traffic signal timing, second by second, while accounting for all modes of travel, keeping vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians and transit moving and safe.

It’s not a new relationship. Surtrac adaptive is installed at 350 intersections, including installations integrated with Miovision TrafficLink in Peterborough, Ontario and Quincy, Massachusetts. Rapid Flow’s team, including co-founder and co-inventor of Surtrac, Greg Barlow, will join Miovision and their Pittsburgh location will become Miovision’s fifth office globally.

McRock Co-founder and Managing Partner Whitney Rockley will also continue to serve on the Miovision Board of Directors and HarbourVest Partners–an existing investor and McRock Limited Partner–also participated in the round. Clearly they are smitten with Miovision, too.

And who can blame us? Have you been paying attention to what these folks are doing with digital modelling and AI to address modern transportation issues? Their technology analyzes traffic video feeds and generates accurate data on road use by vehicles, bikes and pedestrians. They use this data to optimize traffic signal networks, operation and timing, and support urban planning, helping reduce congestion and improving the transportation experience for all road users.

The best part? It’s also part of a bigger strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by carbon-fueled vehicles and limit the harmful effects of climate change. We wrote a whole thing about it in our Responsible Investment Report Highlights. If you haven’t already read it, do it now. You’ll get a fuller appreciation for the Miovision love-fest as well as gleaning insight into how and why we are committed to investing The Right Way.

Industrial SaaS is about to become the most valuable business tool ever

Next gen software will increase productivity, lower inputs and achieve environmental sustainability in face of rising global consumption

Software innovations have been coming in waves, going all the way back to the 1940s. Each generation of software has promised to be a game changer, and for the most part has delivered on that promise. This latest generation is no exception. We’re talking about the emergence of Industrial Software–the digital technology that helps big industries transform how they operate and address critical challenges for their workforce, assets, process and business functions.

How’s it different from software of generations past? Big Data. The immense growth in the volume of data and the connectivity and automation of assets on digital platforms is driving massive adoption of Industrial Software in a myriad of industrial sectors. And then there’s the cloud component. Cloud computing has become increasingly prevalent across verticals; the Industrial Software of today has evolved from on-premises, clunky and centralized offerings to smart, distributed service models. No surprise then that Industrial Software is rapidly adopting the SaaS model and becoming its own category: Industrial SaaS.

What’s especially cool about Industrial SaaS is the accelerated pace of its adoption, in large part because innovators are drawing from the experience of Enterprise SaaS. Like what? Take for example the early adoption of AI-powered analytics in some industrial verticals. While some large Enterprise SaaS companies, such as Salesforce, didn’t start to embrace Big Data until Hadoop was created in 2005, C3.ai–an early leader in Industrial SaaS–had already shifted to analytics before it went public.

There are plenty more lessons to be learned from a critical review of software evolution. You can read all about it in the full version of this blog here.

If you don’t have time for that, just know this: McRock believes that big industries are at a tipping point, facing profound economic and technological challenges and opportunities, and their big advancements are being powered by Industrial Software.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see the alignment of technological advancement, market demand and transformational culture shifts in the next ten years creating the best opportunities for companies and investors in this sector to invest, grow and achieve massive success. But our years of experience in navigating and succeeding in this space are certainly helping to make this vision clear.

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