To celebrate International Women's Day 2018, we honour some of the inspiring female pioneers in the Industrial Internet of Things sector. There are obviously many more incredible women so please keep doing what you are doing and changing our world.
“Humans fancy that there’s something special about the way we perceive the world, and yet we live in loops, as tight and as closed as the hosts do, seldom questioning our choices, content, for the most part, to be told what to do next.”
— Dr. Robert Ford in “Westworld”
“Westworld” is an HBO series about a Western-theme futuristic park, where its visitors are enabled to live their fantasies with robotic “hosts.” The hosts, while looking and acting human, are programmed to operate within a narrative. Any “host” who behaves differently from their storyline will be considered an error and needs to be fixed or dismantled. The hosts become victims in the world that’s supposed to be theirs.
It is fascinating how similar our human world is to the Westworld. Together as a society, we create plots for each individual, based on our race, our background, our genders, elements that we are born and raised with and are unable to influence. Let me tell you my original narrative: I was born in a Southeast Asian country, in a middle-class family, and in a generation that had yet to escape from the influence of Confucianism. I have the look of a plain Jane according to our culture, and a typical smooth upbringing with parents who loved and protected me from everything. I was expected to stay with them until I married (typically by age 25), after having children I would step away from my career to take care of my children, my husband and later, my parents. It was the best life that I was taught to wish for. Then I started to wonder why life had to be that way. I had lived so long in a circle of people with the same mindset, who accepted their designed narrative without questions. I had known at the time, that if I wanted to see other possibilities for my story, I had to break out of that loop. And that was why I moved away, to a city I never lived in, and then to a country half the world away from my homeland.
The loops are everywhere. Social expectation and people’s opinion influence our values. And when the voice of the crowd is honeyed and close enough, it tightens the loop around our minds. Truth is, the more privileged we are, the harder it becomes to challenge our status quo. A life with comfort and approval creates the illusion of belonging; it keeps us away from questioning our reality. That is the worst loop we could ever live in.
I remember the first night in a city 700-miles away from my hometown, I lay on the floor of a cold and almost empty room, worrying about my next day at the new job. I missed the safe and warm feeling of my bed, the routine pleasure of my old life; and I wondered if I had made a mistake.
There were days when I stayed late, looking out of the window from a fancy office on the 57th floor. A big city with blinding lights layered on my shy reflection. In a moment, I could see both beauty and ugliness, both clarity and doubt. And I did not know what to believe in.
No matter who we are, we will continue to encounter the loops. Whenever we get out of a circle, there is another one wrapping in. Society today encourages people to change for a satisfying life. We share stories about those who make it through, and how much better their lives become. Yet, by doing so, we create another formulated plot of 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.
There is no happy ending. In fact, there is no ending. I started to realize now, that the adventure to challenge our being is an eternal journey inward. Each of us may still be generalized into an archetype by the outer world, but it is the freedom of our minds that gives us courage, makes us alive, and enables us to write our own unique stories.
So, observe and think by yourself. Don’t let the world distract you. Don’t let people tell you about your narrative. Stay conscious. Ask questions. Challenge the rules.
Nothing could ever hold us back.
Author: Ha Nguyen
I nearly crawl out of my skin when I hear someone say the words “don’t be afraid to fail and fail fast”. As an entrepreneur, those words trigger me because anyone who has faced real failure will know it hurts in unimaginable ways.
As an entrepreneur, I lost count of the sleepless nights I had in the first few years of starting our business. My son, who was 10 years old at the time, kept asking, with hopeful eyes, whether we had secured our funding yet. I had to repeatedly say “close” when I knew we were still miles away. I woke up in sweats worried that I was approaching failure personally, professionally and financially. I knew that if my co-founder and I had failed, the wipe out would have been devastating. That fear of failure drove us to ignite our imaginations so we could figure out how to succeed. Had we “failed and failed fast”, we would NEVER be where we are today.
Being creative in difficult situations and adapting when things are trending poorly is not a moment in time worthy of the failure title. These moments are the exact opposite. They are the moments that define a person’s success. So, when I hear someone say, “don’t be afraid to fail and fail fast”, I know that they are not an entrepreneur.
If you use that expression, I would encourage you to change it up. For those entrepreneurs facing failure, challenge yourself to think even more positively. Have the courage to change tact and try new approaches. Push yourself to do better and better each day so you can get back on track. A positive mindset is everything and the word failure shouldn’t enter your vocabulary. Please stop glorifying the F word. Be afraid to fail and fight hard and long to find success.
That is my wish for entrepreneurs pursuing the crazy dream of changing the world.
Author: Whitney Rockley
Canadian Government Focusing Venture Capital Industry on Diversity - $400M Venture Capital Catalyst Program Launched
The Canadian technology and VC community gathered in Toronto today to hear the much anticipated details of the Canadian Government's $400 million Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative (VCCI) first announced in the Budget 2017. Whitney Rockley, Co-founder and Managing Partner of McRock Capital and Chair of the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association was emcee and the announcements were made by the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development, the Honourable Navdeep Bains, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of Small Business and Tourism, the Honourable Bardish Chagger, and Mr. Michael Denham, President & CEO of the Business Development Bank of Canada.
How I became one of the few female leaders in Canadian venture capital
The following is an op-ed by Whitney Rockley which appeared in the Globe & Mail.
Almost 20 years ago while working as an analyst, I remember sitting across the table having breakfast with my mentor, Gerry Protti, complaining about my bonus for that year. He looked at me and told me to suck it up. Looking back at that moment, I smirk and quietly laugh at myself. I was so young and ambitious, but I needed to toughen up. Gerry's words were brilliant.
I graduated at the top of my MBA class at the University of Calgary in 1997 and was told Gerry would be my formal mentor during my last term at school. He was an oil executive, big in statue with a kind demeanour. Gerry became my coach and sponsor for the next 15 years of my career. He gave me my first job out of MBA school, encouraged me to take a one-year work assignment in San Francisco shortly after my son was born in 2001, and then urged me to co-found McRock Capital, an Industrial Internet of Things venture capital (VC) fund, in 2011 by simply saying, "What do you have to lose? It is only money."
Today, I am one of the few women who have co-founded a venture capital fund in Canada. I am also the first woman to be the chair of the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (CVCA) since its inception in 1974. Many young women ask me how I have done it. The answer? I worked hard, almost obsessively and simply didn't quit.
I have, however, had a few definable moments throughout my career. While I was in San Francisco on that one-year assignment at a VC fund called Nth Power, I shared a taxi with the co-founder of the fund. Nancy Floyd and I were going to a women's event on a dark and rainy evening. I told her I was uncertain about having a second child because I wasn't sure I could manage a career and more than one child. Her response, like Gerry's, consisted of three words "Just do it." A year later, my daughter was born and those words have become my motto throughout my career.
Several years later, I was heading up a corporate venture capital program for a big power company back in Alberta. I worked for an incredibly tough and demanding boss. Words can't describe how tough this man was. Gerry's words stuck with me. I stayed the course, gave it my all and learned how to be crisp and succinct when something was complex and difficult to understand.
When my boss left the company, I wrote him a kind note expressing my thanks for pushing me. He came down to my brown-water cubicle (because it faced the men's urinals) with big eyes of a child. He shed a tear that day because no one had ever thanked him, let alone taken the time to write him a handwritten note. Looking back on that experience, I was proud of myself for not quitting and being able to see the human side of difficult people.
Later in my career, I moved to London, England, and worked for one of Japan's largest banks, Nomura. My name was put forward by my now co-founder, Scott MacDonald, who was approached for the job. Scott and I had been co-investing together since 2001 and had developed a strong rapport. A few years after working in London, I was offered a partner position in a VC fund based out of Switzerland, where Scott was already a partner. Perhaps not surprising, it was Scott who put my name forward for that position as well. He staked his reputation on me three times throughout my career.
Looking back, one of the things that I noticed in my mid-30s was that most of the women I knew in the industry were not staying the course. There wasn't a big dark secret as to why they were leaving. Based on my observations, many of them simply had started families and didn't want to stay in the fast-paced, relentless career of venture capital. I didn't judge them because I knew it was hard.
As I nudge towards my 50s, I know of only three or perhaps four women who are managing partners in Canadian VC firms. I interact with female entrepreneurs who struggle to raise funding from investors. I consistently hear it is because they don't look and sound like the men they are pitching to. In some situations, I think this is the case but the sample size is so small it is difficult to generalize.
I also speak regularly to young aspiring women and I am saddened because they are reluctant to be mentored by senior men because they do not know if there is an ulterior motive. I worry that the diversity gap is growing larger by each passing year because women are not getting enough guidance, support and investment. The senior men that I know and trust sincerely want to offer mentorship to women but, unlike when I started my career, they are understandably cautious so they tend to support more up-and-coming men. Senior women like myself are mentoring more and more women because of this gap.
Obviously, these problems are complex and won't be resolved overnight, but the government's new plan to support the venture capital industry, which will be announced Monday, is a formal acknowledgment of the important role diversity plays in Canadian businesses. As chair of the CVCA, I ensured our industry's voice was heard and that diversity and inclusion were among our top priorities. We have taken a monumental step as the Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative (VCCI) will, in part, require fund-of-fund managers and VC firms seeking funding to demonstrate how their strategies will enhance diversity and gender balance. The government of Canada is doing this because it understands a diverse work force improves productivity, enables creativity and drives better financial performance.
When I retire, I want to be able to look back and see far more female partners leading VC firms in Canada. I want to hear about the women who founded and ran successful tech companies that rivalled the tech giants of our time. I know we can get there if we do our part to encourage them to stay the course and simply never give up.
Co-founder and Managing Partner, McRock Capital
Chair of the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (CVCA)
Agtech is a relatively small but rapidly growing vertical market of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Like many other inefficient industrial sectors we track, the agriculture industry is seeing an acceleration in the creation and investment in digital Agtech companies. This infographic captures the key companies and startups in the various segments of the Agtech universe. The number of players is increasing but in proportion to other industrial segments, Agtech is not an overseeded field just yet.
Our view is that the macro pressures remain strong for the adoption of technology that drives efficiency and cost reductions in agriculture. The power of data and software is equally as strong in farming as it is in digital manufacturing as an example. The large incumbents have strong market penetration and reach and are seeking digital product extensions or up-selling opportunities. Combine this with the fact that the limited number of credible Agtech startups can be described as healthy competition at best and the result is that industry consolidation has already begun. The race to digital in Agriculture is on.
"The future comes. Never apologize for investing in it" says the Father of the Industrial Internet on his last day as CEO of General Electric
Today one of the most iconic corporate leaders of our time steps down from his role at General Electric. Jeff Immelt has served as CEO since 2001 and and has worked passionately for the company for 35 years. He spoke with GE's Beth Comstock and shared some incredibly insightful lessons from his time as CEO and some thoughts on the future. As always, Jeff told his story with the perfect amount of humour and humility while not missing the opportunity to remind us all to focus our precious time on what matters, get simpler, respect the people around us and never lose our desire to be great.
At our firm, we refer to Jeff as the Father of the Industrial Internet since GE coined the term back in November of 2012. Jeff understood the power of technology innovation and, at the helm, he transformed GE into one of the leading Digital Industrial companies in the world. It was a little surprising that one of the most forwarded thinking industrial leaders (in our humble opinion) admitted today that Digital was actually his own failing. He had focused heavily on product technology and should have pushed more aggressively on IT innovation years earlier. He reminisced about the perceived doom of Amazon back in 2000 and commented that any retailer could be the trillion dollar company that Amazon is today if they had the foresight to do what Jeff Bezos did around IT. He spoke about the importance of dominating the analytics layer so profitable business outcomes could be unlocked. This example served as a foundation for his statement that "the future comes. Never apologize for investing in it". This and other leadership lessons can be found from a blog he just posted.
He joked that on Sept 7, 2001 "when I took the job as CEO I knew everything. Today I know nothing". Jeff, that's not true. You shared with us that:
Author: Whitney Rockley
The story is beyond compelling. An iconic 14th century bridge in Italy, the Ponte Vecchio, was feared to be on the verge of collapse in May 2016 when a part of the road surrounding the bridge fell into a sinkhole. The city of Florence looked to Worldsensing, a Barcelona-based tech company, to monitor the historical bridge using wireless sensors and data analytics to ensure the safety of the thousands of pedestrians that cross the structure daily. Worldsensing’s Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology was already used in hundreds of locations around the world including Singaporean tunnels, German bridges and Chilean mines. The solution combines low-power wide area sensor networks with software analytics to provide real-time information on critical assets necessary to predict and respond to changes that may occur.
Worldsensing started small in 2008 by the Spanish road cyclist Ignasi Vilajosana and today has 73 employees and is a global leader in providing smart city and IIoT solutions. The company has over 200 customers across 50 countries connecting systems, people and infrastructure. This enables real-time decision-making, helping optimize city traffic flow, monitor critical infrastructure projects & assets and deliver insights in mining operations. Cities around the world, such as Casablanca, Guadalajara and Bogota, have turned to Worldsensing to provide up-to-the-minute intelligence on all aspects of a city’s operations from traffic optimization, HOV lane management, parking availability to police force utilization and security monitoring.
McRock's €3.5 million investment in Worldsensing is pivotal in several ways. It was our first co-investment alongside Cisco Systems, one of our corporate partners and investors in McRock. It marks our entry into Europe which is a hot bed of activity in the IIoT sector driven by what the Europeans call Industry 4.0. Lastly, it gets us even closer to large Industrial companies such as Siemens and Pitney Bowes who in this case, both have a significant focus on smart city solutions which happens to be one of the fastest growing areas of the IIoT. These are all important accomplishments as we build a world class IIoT fund headquartered in Canada. Start small, think big and cross that bridge safely.
Author: Scott MacDonald, Co-founder and Managing Partner
There is a struggle we all go through when we find ourselves as an anomaly in a group of people. To what extent should we alter our behavior to fit in? To what extent should we stay true to who we are, and challenge the system?
The number of women who make it to the highest levels of the venture capital game are few and far between. Looking at the Midas list this year, with only six women versus 94 men as top investors in VC, the reality of this industry’s gender diversity is obvious. Interestingly, I believe the ultimate challenge for women is not sexism, it is caused by something subtler. As a part of human nature, we unconsciously favor the people that appear like us. People that we can easily relate to. The dominance of men in VC creates an invisible drive to welcome more men to the industry, as "a bright young man who reminds me of my younger self and who I can feel comfortable both working and socializing with”. In a way, it’s the simpler and seemingly safer path when hiring.
I remember the first few weeks at my previous firm, IDG Ventures Vietnam. I went out for lunch with a group of fellow associates and it struck me that I was the only woman at the table. I had little experience in the VC industry, and certainly had no idea about the diversity challenge. I used to think I could be one of the guys during the first few years of my career. However, part of me always wondered if this bending was how other females had evolved to fit in? How about the women who made it to the top echelons of the venture investment world? How did they do it? Did they even exist?
I recently came to Canada and Whitney Rockley, the Co-founder of McRock Capital, was the first female VC Partner I had ever encountered in my career. I couldn’t wait to ask her how she did it. To my surprise, her personal experience was simple and straightforward "You always have a choice. Work hard, be kind, and never, never, never quit".
There has been some recent attention on how to solve the lack of gender diversity in our VC world; and I believe that female role models play an important part of the change. As women, we all face the same adversity when it comes to staying the course in this business. Whether it's a secret feeling of isolation, or a tough choice to make between work and family at some point; we often look out with the hope to see that we are not alone on this path. For most of us, “you can’t be what you can’t see”. Women like Whitney are not just the role models for other young women, they are changing the attitudes of men. Diversity is a competitive advantage and in this performance-driven business, that acknowledgment will eventually start to challenge what a winning team looks like. Not simply for the sake of attaining gender equality but because of a desire to succeed. The need to build the highest performing teams.
Whitney was just named as the Chair of the Canada's Venture Capital & Private Equity Association (CVCA), after years of hard work and commitment to the ecosystem. This appointment is so important to our industry because Whitney becomes the first female Chair since the inception of the CVCA over 40 years ago. When I recall that advice she gave me the first time we talked, there was no gender-based secret. Anyone can make it one day if they work hard, stay true to what they believe in, and never, never, never quit. Today I have a role model for my own journey to convince people to look beyond gender. I can see what I want to be.
Author: Ha Nguyen, Associate at McRock Capital
Seeding the Canadian VC Innovation Ecosystem
When we started McRock Capital five years ago, we had a vision and a blank piece of paper. We believed in Al Pacino’s speech from the film, Any Given Sunday, in that “life is just a game of inches” and the inches we need to succeed are everywhere. We fought for every inch to get McRock’s first venture capital fund launched, and our portfolio company entrepreneurs fight for every inch to change the world. The difficult part, however, is recognizing the inches that will end up helping you the most.
Looking back, we know there was one inch we fought for that turned into a mile; having access to funding through the Venture Capital Action Plan (VCAP). VCAP was announced by the Federal Government of Canada in 2013 and launched in 2014. The VCAP was intended to fill a market gap and attract capital to Canada’s venture capital (VC) fund managers from private investors such as pension funds, high-net-worth individuals, corporations, and banks. Having a well-capitalized VC industry, would, in turn, create a sustainable ecosystem for new and innovative businesses in Canada to access capital.
Today, everyone is talking about the VCAP and whether the Government of Canada should continue the program, modify it, or abandon it entirely. Like any broad-reaching government initiative, there have been plenty of supporters but also some detractors. Concerns have been raised regarding the additional layer of management fees resulting from the fund of funds (FOFs) structure, the slow speed that the Canadian economy may benefit from VCAP, and whether the program is a prudent use of taxpayer dollars.
We recognize that, as direct beneficiaries of the VCAP, our objectivity on the subject could very reasonably be questioned. Since we are analysts at heart, we set out to take an unbiased look at whether the VCAP had been successful so far and also find a clear way to illustrate that success. The Canadian Venture Capital Innovation Tree shows how the VCAP impacted the Canadian VC industry as a whole and how all of its beneficiaries interact together as one functional ecosystem.
To begin, we want to highlight how successful VCAP has been in attracting private capital into Canada’s VC ecosystem. Here are some of the key achievements of VCAP to date that you can find within the Innovation Tree:
Beyond the attraction of private capital into the Canadian VC ecosystem, the VCAP program also fuels extensive job creation across the country. Through the VCAP FOFs and the 20 VCs, a total of 126 Canadian companies have received funding - resulting in thousands of new jobs being created. Further, only 15% of the VCAP’s total commitment to the FOFs has been invested to date, so we have barely even scratched the surface of the potential that this program brings to the economy. Canadian job creation is an important point because it ties directly into one of the concerns raised against the VCAP: that the cost of the program may be too high, partially due to the additional layer of management fees that the FOFs represent. We believe that, in order to fully understand the cost of the VCAP, you must also examine the money that the federal government receives back in the form of income taxes.
First, let’s look at how much the VCAP pays in management fees versus how much the federal government receives back in income taxes from the people who work at the FOFs and VCs. We looked at the Canadian workforce of the VCAP FOFs and 20 VCs and, using some standard VC industry assumptions, we estimate that the current employees of the fund managers will pay $106 million in federal income taxes during the full fund lives. Using the same assumptions, we estimate that VCAP will pay only $89 million in total management fees during the full fund lives, including all fees paid directly to the four FOFs, directly to the four high-performing VCs, and indirectly to the 20 Canadian VCs. To sum up, the federal income taxes paid by the VCAP FOF and Canadian VC fund workforce offsets all of the management fees paid by the government across all levels of the program with a surplus of $17 million in the government coffers.
Next, let’s look at how much the federal government receives in income taxes from all of the portfolio companies that the VCAP FOFs and Canadian VCs invest in. Across all of the funds, a total of $453 million has been invested into 126 unique Canadian companies. Applying some basic assumptions based on our experience investing in tech, we estimate that these 126 companies represent $63 million in federal income taxes based on their current employees. Since only 15% of the capital has been called by the VCAP FOFs, we can expect that a few hundred additional companies will be started through the program during the next few years. Put simply, it’s not unreasonable to think that the entire $500 million VCAP program could be paid back entirely through income taxes paid by the new portfolio companies. How do you like them apples?
We can use the McRock branch of the Innovation Tree again to serve as an example of this last point. Using the $8 million that our VC fund received from the government, we looked at the government’s pro rata investment into each of our Canadian portfolio companies. We then compared that pro rata investment to the total amount our portfolio companies’ employees paid in federal income taxes last year. We found that, in all our portfolio companies, the government’s pro rata investment into each was paid back through federal income taxes in a single year.
Even with the success of VCAP, there are hundreds of early-stage Canadian companies with incredible innovations that need access to capital to move forward. The capital needs of these companies are far greater than what the Canadian VC ecosystem can currently support. The VCAP benefits Canada and its economy as a whole and we believe that these benefits far outweigh the costs. However, ongoing support is required to create a strong, sustainable Canadian VC ecosystem.
To sum it up, the Canadian economy is already seeing significant benefits from VCAP only three years in. As VC-backed exits continue, the recirculation of capital and the success of the program will expand even further. We believe the VCAP program was a brilliant move by the government and, more specifically, the Honourable Jim Flaherty. VCAP provided the necessary nutrients to grow a Canadian VC innovation tree that is seeding an entire forest of unique, high-growth companies.
 “Private Capital” is defined as any capital that was not directly invested into VCAP by the federal or provincial governments. For greater clarity, BDC, EDC, AEC, and other similar institutions are considered Private Capital for this analysis.
Sources: McRock Capital, CVCA, Government of Canada, Pitchbook, PEHub, Teralys Capital, HarbourVest Partners, Kensington Capital
The statistics are that 50% of startups don't make it to year 5. However, if you make it to year 5, your odds of not making it to year 6 drop to a relieving 10%. Phew because today marks the 5th anniversary of the incorporation of McRock Capital. A name, an idea and two co-founders with energy, experience and naivete. Kind of Ironic that McRock was a startup that if successful would fund and help grow startups.
As we reminisce today about the adventures of the past 5 years, we decided to write them down. We got some things right, we got some things wrong but in the end these 5 factors made the difference for us. We do this as a way to celebrate, to share but mostly to not forget.
1. Fun Matters
A key ingredient to being good at anything is having a passion for it. That doesn't exist unless it's fun. We have been told that fun is irrelevant. We totally disagree. Being able to have fun during the most productive waking hours of our lives is simply a necessity. It gives us the drive to succeed.
2. Two Is Better than One
There is lots of research around the single founder vs co-founder advantage. Most reports agree that two is better than one for many obvious reason. We couldn't agree more. Of course having two people to split the work is the obvious reason but the real value is having someone play the cheerleader role when the other has hit bottom.
3. Founder Alignment is Critical
If you go with multiple founders, you need to pay close attention to alignment. Resentment can grow fast when financial and career stakes are high. The startup environment is a perfect breeding ground for resentment when different work ethics, financial situations or even holiday destinations creep in. Even this picture from Scott's daughter years ago showed the natural equality. We found that when those feelings of "not fair" show up, it can be the beginning of the end.
4. The Inches You Need Are Everywhere
We live by Al Pacino's famous locker room speech in the movie "Any Given Sunday" in that the inches you need to win are everywhere. Fight for every inch and you will end up down the field. Succeeding at any ambitious goal requires this approach. Map the strategic path, break it up into pieces and fight for every inch one at a time. If not broken into manageable tasks, the larger vision can be paralyzing. We would also add that being naive to the magnitude of a challenge actually makes it possible to achieve. Knowing what we know today would have made that first day at McRock in 2012 beyond overwhelming.
5. Never, Never, Never Quit
If you have fun, if you have the support of others, if you are set up for resilience and won't easily crumble, and if you understand how to win one day at a time, the last piece of advice is the only one that really matters. Just don't stop. It's impossible not to be successful in the end.
This was a note we put on a bottle of Champagne. Good thing that stuff gets better with age as it took longer to pour on our heads than expected.
We started McRock Capital on March 1, 2012 and we closed our first venture fund on Dec 12, 2014. Today we have $70 million of capital under management from 15 investors including large corporations like Cisco Systems, Electricity de France and Caterpillar. The fund has made 5 investments with a sixth coming soon. We opened a second office in Calgary in 2015. We are now a team of 5. Now that we are statistically beyond the death zone, there is nothing but excitement for the next 5.
Founders of McRock Capital.