in Startups

BrightSpark: Venture Capital is not what it used to be, we are changing

A lot of us like to speculate on the state of Venture Capital in Canada; we all have a vested interest in the existence of a healthy and competitive market. For BrightSpark, the truth has been much more obvious.

brightsparkl.gifBrightSpark, with over $100 million under management, raised its first fund in 1999 and its second fund in 2004. Co-Founded by Tony Davis and Mark Skapinker, the fund positioned itself as a “seed and early-stage software venture fund” for the Canadian market with offices in Montreal and Toronto. They have been active even recently with great deals like NowPublic, b5Media and MobiVox, 9 recent investments, and a few more to make in their second fund.

The BrightSpark team, a bunch of experienced entrepreneurs, was (and is) perfectly suited for the job we have been asking VCs to take on here in Canada: early stage financing with heavy duty support capabilities. It should have been a perfect combination, and one would hope that they could have done quite well in the last few years with the resurgent tech bubble.

I wanted to know what was next for BrightSpark, as I had heard a lot of divergent rumors recently: some said BrightSpark was raising a new fund, others said they were going to close up shop. Earlier this week I had a chance to speak with Mark Skapinker about Brightspark, the Canadian Venture Capital market, and what he might do to fix it all if he could.

Mark came right out and said that the Canadian Venture Capital market is changing and that BrightSpark has been watching this change closely for some time. He believes that a lot of funds are going to face some troubled waters ahead and that BrightSpark is one of the few well positioned funds to survive in this new environment. It was clear from our conversation that BrightSpark believes Venture Capital in Canada absolutely has to change, and soon.

Mark and the team at BrightSpark feel that there, quite simply, just isn?t enough early stage deal flow right now to sustain large funds. They also have the sense that there just aren?t enough repeat entrepreneurs in Canada right now who have the experience to create great startups.

I asked Mark what he would do to improve the financing environment in Canada which led us to a discussion about BrightSpark 3.0, Inc.

BrightSpark 3.0 is a company (not a fund) that will exist to Create, Build and Operate internet businesses. The company will be focused on creating new Internet and cash generative Web-2.0 style startups and is fundraising now.

So what does this mean? For the time being, BrightSpark will focus on supporting the growth of companies already in the portfolio. Over the next year, BrightSpark will make a decision about raising a third fund, which would be in the $50 – $75 million range.

From our vantage point this story is both a bit sad and a bit hopeful. Some of the the top entrepreneurs in the country went out in 1999 and raised a Venture Capital fund so they could change the industry; here we are, almost 10 years later with a market still in dire need of change. The BrightSpark team now has a chance to go back to their roots and build their own startups; hopefully we will see funds stepping up to fill the funding gap left behind.

If we needed a reason to get the discussion about how Venture Capital needs to change in Canada kick-started, this is it. We have a top fund feeling the model is so broken, that they need to fundamentally change the way they operate. What does this mean for other VCs in Canada? What does it mean for the budding and growing startup community?