Victoria serial entrepreneur James DeGreef has grown teams, raised venture capital, and sold a business. Now, the Victoria tech executive is giving back to his community by providing early-stage companies mentorship, connections, and – through a year-old entity called Cindicates – capital.
DeGreef’s story is not unlike many other Victoria business leaders and professionals looking to engage the city’s startup scene – and Cindicates is a new vehicle to help them do that.
According to DeGreef, the organization was set up to solve two problems for aspiring local investors. “For people who want to be angel investors, it's just a lot of time to do it well, to manage deal flow and for due diligence,” DeGreef explains. “Most people don't have that type of time to do it well.” The second issue for early-stage investors is the need to diversify their investments. “That requires a fair bit of capital if you're writing 25k and 50k cheques,” DeGreef outlines.
It was that understanding that led DeGreef and a collection of investors to launch Cindicates as a community-focused fund – a way to engage new funders in the area and to back young companies. “We want it to be the first money in and champion a lot of early-stage deals in Victoria,” DeGreef says.
“[Cindicates] provides a simple mechanism for people who are not that closely affiliated with the tech community, but want exposure to the tech industry on the Island,” Cindicates general partner and chief financial officer Stephanie Andrew told Victoria Tech Journal. “It unlocks capital for companies in the region here, too.”
Since its launch in March of 2021, Cindicates has raised over $521,000 and invested in nearly a dozen startups, including LetHub, Open Ocean Robotics, Care2Talk, Solaires, and VoxCell BioInnovation.
In addition to funding startups, the Cindicates team is supporting companies through an initiative called the Victoria Vipers, an investment-readiness program for earlier-stage companies co-organized by the Capital Investment Network. Through Victoria Vipers, angel investors meet with startups to provide coaching and tough, constructive, and honest feedback. It’s one of the channels by which Cindicates evaluates promising teams for future deals, DeGreef explains. The organization also shares deals out to other funds – including the Vancouver-based E-Fund, WUTIF, and Mavan Capital – and those firms bring Cindicates leads from other parts of the province.
DeGreef, who is president of Cindicates, is pleased with what it's accomplished in just over a year. “We were pleasantly surprised with the reception to the fund in Victoria,” he says. “Without a lot of marketing, we had quite a number of people put up their hand to invest.”
The fund has over 36 community contributors, 60 percent of whom are first-time investors in a fund. That’s what has Andrew thrilled. “I have been excited by the amount of interest from investors, new investors who've never participated in tech investing, who are getting involved through a mechanism like Cindicates,” Andrew shares. “So that's been great. Those investors are coming to events and wanting to learn about what tech companies are doing. It's important to engage those investors who might not otherwise have ever thought of this area of investing as a way to connect with the tech community.”
Cindicates’ impact has not just been to attract a new cohort of investors in Victoria. DeGreef says it's also shining a spotlight on the scale of the Victoria tech startup scene. “We've seen a lot of companies, and tech in Victoria is quite a bit bigger than most people realize,” he notes.
Even people in the tech industry are learning more about the community, DeGreef believes. “It’s like, ‘Oh, wow, there are actually quite a bit more companies and activity in Victoria than you would have thought.’”