“In busi­ness, I see the move­ment of cap­i­tal en­abling all these dif­fer­ent ideas to take root and ben­e­fit so­ci­ety”

The an­gel in­vestor weighs in on what makes a great pitch and how to ac­cess Van­cou­ver's un­tapped source of fund­ing for early-stage busi­nesses

BC Business Magazine - - Tmı - By Mar­cie Good

When Thealzel Lee sizes up young com­pa­nies, she looks for pat­terns, so her sci­en­tific train­ing—a B.SC. in mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy from the Univer­sity of Al­berta— comes in handy. Lee is co-man­ager of Van­tec An­gel Net­work Inc., which vets en­trepreneurs look­ing for cash and ad­vice and in­tro­duces them to in­di­vid­ual and group in­vestors. She’s also founder, direc­tor and CEO of E-fund, a $2-mil­lion Van­cou­ver­based an­gel in­vest­ment ve­hi­cle that has bought stakes in 15 B.C. com­pa­nies since its 2011 in­cep­tion. Mem­bers of the fund with do­main ex­per­tise form teams to screen and re­search ven­tures in life sciences, clean­tech, and in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy, se­lect­ing a few to sup­port and ad­vise.

Early in her ca­reer, Lee worked on pol­icy for the now-de­funct Science Coun­cil of Canada and in prod­uct mar­ket­ing for a biotech firm. While rais­ing her chil­dren in On­tario, she owned a fran­chise of a chil­dren’s cloth­ing store; in the early 1990s, she joined the United Na­tions as head of refugee op­er­a­tions for the World Food Pro­gramme in Malawi. After mov­ing to Van­cou­ver in 1994, Lee eval­u­ated tech com­pa­nies for Cana­dian Im­pe­rial Bank of Com­merce as an in­vest­ment banker. But she was drawn to star­tups and the emerg­ing an­gel in­vestor com­mu­nity. “It’s the en­ergy and pas­sion of the en­tre­pre­neur,” Lee says. “They are go­ing to change the world.”

Where does your first name come from?

My fam­ily are Tais­han speak­ers, from the re­gion of south­ern China where the Bri­tish Em­pire re­cruited rail­way work­ers. My great-grand­fa­ther was the first one to come across to work. My par­ents met and mar­ried in Saskatchewan, and to pay homage to that an­ces­tral lin­eage, they gave my sib­lings and me Chi­nese names. They did their best to put the Ro­man al­pha­bet against Chi­nese char­ac­ters. What does it mean? Small and young. So I was des­tined to work with small, young en­ter­prises.

You left a doctorate in bio­chem­istry to earn an MBA at West­ern Univer­sity's Ivey School of Busi­ness. What drew you to busi­ness?

In busi­ness, I see the move­ment of cap­i­tal en­abling all these dif­fer­ent ideas to take root and ben­e­fit so­ci­ety. The stuff that I was work­ing on in the lab, I only now see en­ter­ing the com­mer­cial realm. If I had stayed in academia, I would not be in the po­si­tion I am now, to help it come to fruition. Not just my lit­tle build­ing block, but every­body else’s.

What is an­gel in­vest­ing?

First let me de­fine ven­ture in­vest­ing. It is pro­fes­sional man­agers that take money from in­sti­tu­tions, as well as from high-net-worth in­di­vid­u­als, and they pool that money, and those man­agers are re­spon­si­ble for in­vest­ing in ven­tures. An­gel in­vest­ing is in­di­vid­u­als. So an­gel funds are much smaller be­cause it’s our own per­sonal money. It might be in­vest­ments of hun­dreds of thou­sands or more likely tens of thou­sands of dol­lars into a com­pany. With that size of in­vest­ment, the com­pa­nies tend to be early-stage.

What do you look for in a pitch?

At the an­gel stage, I’m look­ing for prod­uct/mar­ket fit. They’ve got a so­lu­tion that can solve

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