A Capital Mission: Pitching Victoria to the World

Our columnist debriefs on A Capital Mission, the recent reverse trade mission that drew investors to Victoria from six U.S. and Canadian cities. Did we prove we’ve got the right stuff?

This February, the City of Victoria co-hosted a reverse trade mission, which they dubbed A Capital Mission in a nod to doing business in our province’s capital. The mission capitalized on last fall’s successful Victoria-to-San-Francisco trade mission.

For three days, from February 17 to 19, I immersed myself in A Capital Mission and observed how the delegates perceived our city and its opportunities. I also observed how this junket was a great example of how local organizations with a stake in boosting the city’s business profile can work together to showcase our companies, from startups to tourism venues, artisan food and beverage industries and real estate. Collaborators included the City, UVic, VIATEC, Tourism Victoria, Downtown Victoria Business Association, Urban Development Institute and Capital Investment Network.

The event, which I think I can safely say exceeded everyone’s expectations, attracted 30 visitors from San Francisco and five other U.S. and Canadian cities. Beyond any investment local startups attracted, the mission also provided an opportunity to win over more champions for Victoria — and cultivating champions is extremely important as we continue to evolve our Island entrepreneurial ecosystem.

What clearly came through was that while Victoria is certainly a lifestyle and natural-beauty capital, it’s also a place of untapped business opportunity. It was reassuring to hear one investor say, “This mission turned me into a Victoria advocate and believer in the local startup scene —
it clearly has the potential to remain a key driver of future economic growth.”

Making the Pitch
A Capital Mission started off with a Pitch & Mix showcase of local entrepreneurs selling their business ideas to a crowd of more than 100 people. Opportunities ran the gamut, from a circus school to a university-spinoff biometric software company.

Royal Roads grad Annalea Krebs, founder of EthicalDeal, which had $1 million in sales in its first year, attracted the most investor attention for her latest offering, SocialNature, an online social product sampling community. In essence, people sign up with SocialNature to sample greener choices like organic deodorants or vegan mascara for free. In return, SocialNature asks them to share comments with the online community and invite friends, fans and followers to try products.

The next day, we took our visitors on a walking tour of downtown that included stops to talk with folks like Tim Teh of Kano/Apps, Shea Phillips of Peter Gustavson’s Space Station and Owen Matthews of Wesley Clover and The Alacrity Foundation to learn about several “second floor” companies they support and who call downtown home.

Angels and Fresh Concepts in Investing
That night, the City hosted an event at Northern Quarter, which gave everyone a chance to ask questions about the companies they saw during the day and about the opportunities in our community. I ended up sitting beside Gary Yurkovich, chairman and founder of Espresso Capital, an investment firm founded by tech executives who provide Canada’s tech ecosystem with innovative funding alternatives.

Gary, like others, is seriously looking at Victoria as a place to invest, so events like this are a perfect way to introduce Victoria’s new economy to new investors.

The next morning we met inside the Royal BC Museum First Peoples Galleries for a breakfast presentation from Seattle-based investor Josh Maher on his new book Startup Wealth: How the Best Angel Investors Make Money in Startups. Josh, a passionate supporter of the Seattle startup scene and founder of the Seattle Angels, introduced us to event-based financing, something that has been implemented successfully through the Bend Venture Conference and Josh’s not-for-profit Seattle Angel Conference.

As Josh explained event-based financing, I think the light bulb went on for everyone in the room. The concept is essentially to bring together a large group of interested angel investors and ask them to invest collaboratively  in a managed fund. They must also attend 12 weeks of learning sessions on how event-based financing works, including how to pick winners, perform due diligence and, for the novices, to learn from seasoned investors.

Events are then held where those looking for investment pitch to these angels. Each event results in a local company being selected to receive $200K, a big boost to any startup. The events also offer training and exposure to other startups.

This type of financing is an obvious next step to get people interested in local investing, and Josh is currently working with our local Capital Investment Network to bring event-based financing to our city.

Definitely Worth Repeating
This being Capital Mission’s version 1.0, the visit was a success and will provide an excellent return on investment in three areas: attracting outside investment to local businesses, inspiring deeper trust and collaboration with local organizations involved in growing our economy, and attracting people to relocate to our community with the resources and the mindset to make significant contributions to our social fabric, our entrepreneurial ecosystem and, ultimately, our local living economy.

The City of Victoria says it is committed to hosting the Capital Mission again next year, so if you know a values-based business person who would like to come here to learn about Victoria’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and investment opportunities, send them our way.