Canadian VC Bets on Food, Health and Personal Care Founders with New ‘Starter Ecosystem’
- Arlene Dickinson is an investor and founded the Venturepark startup ecosystem in May 2021.
- Venturepark provides founders, especially women, with capital, resources and work space.
- Dickinson was inspired by the pandemic and is looking for companies that prove they can scale.
At the age of 33, Arlene Dickinson was invited to join Venture Communications, a small Calgary-based marketing firm, as a sweat-equity partner, where she told Insider she was working for free. Back then, she said, she was a single mother with four children, no savings and no other options.
Ten years later, she bought the other partners and became the sole owner of the company. From there, she managed a $ 100 million venture capital fund and secured a place as a longtime investor in the TV show “Dragons’ Den” (the Canadian version of “Shark Tank American), where she invested in businesses founded by women. companies such as SmartSweets and Drizzle Honey.
Now, with Venturepark, an early and late stage business-driven ecosystem in the food and beverage, health and wellness and personal care industries and founded in May 2021, Dickinson plans to further accelerate the growth of women founders.
“I’ve recently heard that there are three phases in life: learning, winning and coming back, and I think I’m in the back stage right now,” Dickinson said.
About 100 companies have gone through the Venturepark Labs accelerator, Dickinson said, with 64 of those companies being headed by women. In 2020, she said the accelerator alumni made more than C $ 150 million ($ 116 million) in annual revenue.
Build an ecosystem of startups
Six years ago, Dickinson began to put together the idea for Venturepark, although she encountered the confusion of others.
“Eventually I realized I had to stop talking about it and go do it,” she said. “I needed to make people believe. And I had to illustrate it so that people could understand it and prove that I really did.
Dickinson acknowledged that there was a lack of access to capital and resources for founders, especially women, with just 2.3% of venture capital funding going to female-led startups in 2020, according to Crunchbase figures.
After seeing how painful the pandemic was for businesses, she decided to take new initiatives.
In March, Dickinson acquired female-founded and operated media company The Bullet and content development agency Newsworthy Co from digital entrepreneur and industry veteran Joanna Track, who is now executive vice president of media properties of Venturepark.
Venturepark offers business capital, a six-month acceleration program, a 20,000 square foot commercial kitchen innovation center, a content development platform, and marketing and strategy agencies that meet every need. aspect of the needs of an entrepreneur to develop his business. While capital and resources were previously provided by Venture Communications, Venturepark expands and rebrands vertical agencies and venture capital under one roof, with Dickinson overseeing everything.
“If you can let these businesses run in a way that works for them, whether they’re nonprofits or making money through revenue, ROI, marketing – if you let entrepreneurs to collaborate, learn from each other and share that success, then you create an ecosystem of real value, ”said Dickinson. “I think this is the future of business.”
Offer women founders a meeting place
Alumni like Chickapea are now multi-million dollar companies with products available all over North America. Shelby Taylor, the founder of Chickapea, told Insider that the acceleration program focuses on branding, working with brokers, distribution and sales. She said she was also matched with an experienced female entrepreneur who helped her develop an employment contract and discussed the challenges faced as a mother and an entrepreneur.
“Arlene signed her first investment deal with Chickapea just two days after having my second child and has never questioned my ability to grow the business,” Taylor said, adding that the pressure to be a full-time entrepreneur, full-time mom and home manager can be crippling because “there just isn’t room for ourselves in our own life.”
Burnout is increasing “much faster in women than in men”, according to a study by consulting firm Mckinsey & Company, with one in three women saying they have considered downgrading or leaving the workforce this year, compared to one in four who said the same at the start of the pandemic. Additionally, the food and beverage industry sees only one in five women in leadership roles.
According to a 2018 Boston Consulting Group analysis, when women-led startups are funded, they generate higher income with more than twice as much per dollar invested.
“Women see Arlene as an example of what’s possible,” Taylor said.
Focus on companies with strong leaders and the ability to scale
Dickinson said his father, a former educator, taught him to have an opinion on things, to think critically, to stand up for himself and to persuade people instead of buying what they say. She wants entrepreneurs to do the same.
“If you want to be connected to business strategy, marketing and life then you have to be an observer of the human condition and up to date with what is going on around you. You have to be of the world, ”Dickinson said.
She is also keenly aware of the value of time and money, especially when starting a business.
“I didn’t have any savings until my late 30s, early 40s,” she said. Her rule of thumb when it comes to budgeting is “save 10%, donate 10% to a cause you care about, and the other 80% is how you live your life,” she said. declared.
Its main attraction for an investment is the people behind it. “When you start investing in people, that human capital that you invest in is integral to the success of our world. These are the people you are protecting from the world, not the stocks, ”she said.
Dickinson said Venturepark in particular is attracted to businesses that need help growing.
“It’s about creating long-term value, which is why we invest in companies that are useful, sustainable and health conscious,” she said.