The sky’s the limit for SkySpecs

SkySpecs lands $80 million strategic investment

SkySpecs has some serious wind at its back following the $80 million strategic capital raise led by the Sustainable Investing business within Goldman Sachs Asset Management. The financing round also included participation from a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, one of SkySpecs largest customers. SkySpecs provides service and software solutions to make renewable energy the most efficient power source in the world. The new funding will help SkySpecs accelerate the expansion of their software offerings by leveraging their existing foundation of automated high quality data collection and analytics, as well as grow its geographic footprint in order to advance its mission to optimize renewable performance and help displace fossil fuel generation.

“It’s a pivotal time for the future of renewable energy,” said Danny Ellis, CEO, SkySpecs. “The industry is constantly changing, and companies need to be equipped to grow with it. Effective asset management, and the data to achieve it, is key for future success.”

SkySpecs manages approximately 118 gigawatts of renewable energy assets across over 30 countries. The company monitors about 45% of all North American wind turbine blades, with more than 300,000 blades inspected.

McRock led the previous two financing rounds.

We’re not in Kansas anymore

Shohei Nagatsuka, Investment Team

My journey from big corporate to VC life.

I could make lots of cultural references to help illustrate the transformation I’ve experienced over the past few years. Yes, Dorothy waking up in Oz is one. How about Alice falling through the looking glass. Or more recently, Neo stepping into the Matrix.

Those help explain the sensation. It was trippy, to say the least. But what rings most true is the mantra I followed to help me adjust, and ultimately thrive, as I took an enormous professional step away from corporate life to join a VC team in Canada.

Just do it.

Yes, it is the famous phrase that everybody knows, and I’m certainly not the only one who has embraced it as a philosophy to help guide one through life’s challenging times, never mind a tough workout. But I never considered this phrase so much–from both my head and heart–as I have over the past two and a half years since joining the McRock team.

I joined McRock in November 2019. I was working in a corporate position for more than 15 years before that. You would not imagine how different life became. (Think about Dorothy, Alice and Neo.) And I cannot overstate how much my thinking had to adapt, as a result. (Cue all the other analogies about looking at something from a new perspective…like stepping into someone else’s shoes…you get the idea.)

My “old way” wasn’t bad, just different.

Before arriving in YYZ, I worked for an established corporation that had been around for more than a half a century. Their business is big. Their business is global. They have so much manpower and capital to invest. It would be easy to think they can do anything, right? Wrong. The bigger the ship, the harder it is to steer. The larger an organization becomes, the more work that is required just to operate the business. And even more effort is required to try out new things. More, more and more. It makes sense because the exposure becomes more significant, the risk greater, and the expectations higher. This is the corporate world’s inconvenient truth, and we all know it. There is a book about it if you want to read more.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a place in this global economy for big corporations. I know that to materialize something huge–like international-project-scale huge–you need big person power, you need big capital, you need corporations. They are critical to the infrastructure of our society. But I also know it’s not the only way, and there is plenty of wiggle room for the small and nimble organizations to make a big impact.

And so the corporate guy arrived in Canada, feeling more than a little scared because of the uncertainty, but ready for the challenge. There was no textbook. There were lots of new people. It was a completely new environment. The only thing I could immediately rely on was McRock’s investment team. They had brought me in for a reason and I needed to trust that they would support me through the transition.

I remember my very first meeting in McRock’s offices, and what Scott MacDonald, the co-founder and the managing partner of the firm, told me. I think it was something like, “We will throw you into the pool so you start swimming.” No, he would not physically throw me into the pool in Toronto in the middle of November. That is wrong in a humanitarian way. What he meant was, he would throw me into an environment where I had no choice but to start performing. No warm-up. No runway. I thought he was bluffing (like he is so good at poker!), but he wasn’t.

Strap in folks, we’re in for a bumpy ride!

Here’s what I immediately learned about life in VC land: Things move fast. So much faster, and with good reason. Start-ups do not have the luxury of time. They are burning cash. So VCs have to move fast. Take the risk. Do the controlled bet.

Want an example? The first in-person due diligence I participated in was just before the pandemic started in early 2020; that deal was successfully executed in a few months’ time during the pandemic, and now as we are finally coming out of the pandemic, we have successfully exited the deal. See what I mean about fast?

This was NOT how we did things in my corporate life. This was an eye-opening experience, and of course, I failed miserably many times as I was getting my feet wet. I froze during meetings. The outputs I created were completely wrong. I could not meet expectations. But the team was always supportive, and patient, so I could try again. And again.

I want to thank the team for that support and patience, for taking the risk in me, and for throwing me into the pool so I had no choice but to swim. I have learned so much already, and I’m still learning. Yes, I’m still channelling “just do it”. It is the fastest way to learn if you can stomach the risk. But I also learned at the end of the day there isn’t as much risk as you think. You will survive, it might just be scary!

And, again, I need to stress that I’m not saying either the corporate or venture capital way is better than the other. They are two different animals. I actually now strongly believe things will work better if they could co-exist. I think they can learn from each other as I did. But the challenge is how to convey this idea effectively to both.

Now let’s convince the big guy to learn from the small.

Bear with me as I invoke one more analogy. Pushing this idea of corporations learning from VCs is like a Martian trying to convince an Earthling that Mars is a better place to live. They have never been to Mars, nor ever left Earth for that matter. They know how Earth works, and that it more or less runs things smoothly. Why would they change that? But they also want more progress. And so the Martian may benefit from suggesting that Earthlings can’t achieve that without venturing into space.

What does this look like in real life? I have a vision of corporations experimenting with the smaller-scale and nimble approach of VCs. Consider starting small to test success before running head-first into full out scale-up. Yes, it may fail. But the failing will cause less damage and the learning will also be fast, and that can be channelled into the next opportunity. Ultimately, the risk and learning will lead to the faster successes, like a successful start-up does. Do the controlled bet. The corporation that can digest this idea, and ultimately adopt it organization-wide ahead of its competitors, will stay ahead in the race. Yup. Just do it.

ThoughtTrace Logo

They were here for a good time, not a long time.

Thomson Reuters to acquire ThoughtTrace

And truthfully, we can’t say we’re surprised. We saw the incredible potential in the entrepreneurial spirit behind ThoughtTrace when we invested in May 2020. It was only a matter of time before someone else saw the value in the family-business-turned-AI-startup and wanted in. Theirs is a story of hard work, adaptability, and ultimately, vision.

Ironically, Nick Vandivere’s parents, Brian and Renee, may not have realized what they were starting when they founded their business in 1990; it provided companies a way to physically manage voluminous paper-based records. And as computing technology advanced, they adapted, making a big leap into document digitization. Managing physical paper copies was becoming a thing of the past and the functionality and simplicity of searching and storing electronic documents was clearly the way of the future.

Nick didn’t immediately join the family business. He initially chose a different path as an Officer and Platoon Leader in the US Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. Twenty years after his parents founded the family business, he saw an opportunity to usher in the next technology revolution in document management–artificial intelligence–and joined the family firm. Nick’s idea was to develop AI software to unlock the secrets in contracts and documents. It would read and provide insights in the legal minutiae, saving significant amounts of time and reducing risk.

Brian and Renee embraced their son’s AI software vision (they are entrepreneurs, after all) and adapted once more. Nick took over the daily operations as CEO of the renamed business–ThoughtTrace. In 2019, McRock led the growth financing in ThoughtTrace to help the company expand its AI product offering for new vertical markets in sectors such as renewable energy.

The market paid attention. Nick’s AI-powered document understanding and contract analytics platform caught the eye of Thomson Reuters (NYSE, TSX: TRI), one of the world’s most trusted providers of answers to professionals in law, tax, compliance, government, and media. They immediately recognized the value of ThoughtTrace’s AI. Thomson Reuters has been injecting AI and machine learning into their value creation and delivery stack for years. The acquisition of ThoughtTrace will further advance their trusted insights that are at the core of how professionals get their jobs done.

Nick is beyond excited about the potential for ThoughtTrace within the Thomson Reuters family. His own family couldn’t be more proud of what he created. As for us at McRock, our journey with this amazing team was less than two years. It’s an occupational hazard, really. Backing intelligent, passionate and visionary entrepreneurs means those partners are often only here for a good time, not a long time. It’s bittersweet, but Canadian rock band Trooper was right.

They’re on a mission, and we’re happy to be along for the environmentally friendly ride.

McRock ups its investment in European micro-mobility company

It appears there is no stopping Dott–the leading IoT-enabled European e-scooter and e-bike rental company that we’re proud to have in our portfolio. Today the company announces a $70m extension to its Series B funding round. This brings the total Series B funding raised to more than $150m in a mix of equity and asset-backed debt, including the $85m announced in the Spring of 2021. We participated in the initial Series B investment and have now increased our investment with the extra funding to help sustain their rapid growth.

CEO Henri Moissinac is on a crusade against personal cars. He wants to make it super simple for anyone who wants to ditch their own car to have other transportation modes. Clearly he’s on to something, as Dott already covers 36 cities across nine European countries. Dott manages 40,000 scooters and 10,000 bikes, and the demand for micro-mobility use is growing–the startup processed 130 percent more trips in 2021 compared to 2020.

The new investment enables Dott to accelerate the rollout of its new e-bikes, invest in product development to improve the user experience and expand into even more cities and countries. The company is targeting further expansion in France, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and possibly Israel. Moissinac sees a world with environmentally friendly transportation available to everyone, and we’re happy to be along for this ride.

We already knew she was a bold leader.

McRock cofounder is 2021 Big Ideas Bold Leaders Award Winner

Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary honoured Whitney Rockley (MBA’97) with the Big Ideas Bold Leaders Award at the 2021 annual alumni awards.

The name of the award says a lot. Big ideas? Yes. Bold leader? Definitely. It’s no surprise they selected McRock’s cofounder for this honour. Look at the selection criteria and it makes even more sense. Nominees must have taken on something big; created something outstanding or made an enormous impact by inspiring change, motivating others or enabling positive change in the community. We know first hand she’s done all of this and more.

Whitney was known by her Haskayne peers as being very studious. She was enthralled with the MBA content she was learning, and it sure paid off. The McRock team and all of our partners can attest to how effectively she has put her education to use. Lucky us!

Whitney believes in the power of surrounding yourself with good people personally and professionally. “It’s about family. About having the support around you and having a sounding board. Surround yourself with people you admire and look up to.”

Fun facts about Whitney: one of her personal hobbies is martial arts and her favourite work-from-home accessory are fuzzy slippers.
Congratulations, Whitney! They could not have selected a more deserving recipient.