Sophie Forest: a prosperous career in venture capital

Sophie Forest is a managing partner of Brightspark Ventures (Photo: Martin Flanders)

INVESTOR PROFILE. Sophie Forest is used to thinking outside the box. She is now a managing partner of Brightspark Ventures, a technology venture fund. In addition to being the only woman in her community for a long time, she is currently working on developing a unique platform in the country aimed at democratizing venture capital. Portrait of a pioneer.

For Sophie Forest, the choice of finances was by no means obvious.

“There is no one in my family in business, in technology, in finance. I’m a little tired [donnée aberrante]”She says. In the end, it was a combination of chance and a desire to deal with adversity that earned her a bachelor’s degree in this field from 1988 at the University of Sherbrooke.

“I didn’t decide,” she recalls. I wanted to get into the world of business. I liked math. Because I’m competitive, I chose finance when I was told it was the hardest.

His first job after graduating from university in 1991 was an analyst at the Société Générale de Financement (now Investissement Québec). A year later she was recruited by Bernard Hamel. He started GTI Capital, a private venture capital fund in aerospace and technology, which was one of the first funds of its kind in Quebec, and he was looking for an analyst.

“I had no idea what venture capital was,” says Sophie Forest. I didn’t hear about it at the university, because it was practically non-existent in Quebec. ” His propensity for risk forced him to accept the offer.

One among her

The financial sector is traditionally male. Of course, this was in the 1990s, but even more so in the aerospace industry, where GTI Capital worked.

“There were no women around me,” she said. When I went to the meeting, people thought I was an administrative assistant.

Therefore, the context forced her to fight twice for her place. Moreover, her family background did not fully prepare her for the culture of the investment community. After growing up with two sisters and having gentle parents who did not raise their voices, she was confronted with a male culture that was much more comfortable in open conflict. From the first days of his work in venture capital, some negotiations proved to be quite tense.

“People were jumping and shouting,” she said. At first it was difficult for me to cope with this. I did not know how to react, and froze in place. I soon refused to be emotional. Fortunately, things have changed in the industry today, but it has affected me.

Two mentors who met later also shook his hand.

Spark update

From 1996 to 2003, Sophie Forest worked for CDP Capital Technology Ventures, a subsidiary of Caisse de depot et placement du Québec. There she created a portfolio of direct technological investments.

It was there that she met two important people in her career. Today she considers two people to be mentors.

“The first is Pierre Faran. It was he who launched the techno-initiative at the Caisse depot. He came for me. He took me under his wing and gave me confidence. He believed in me and gave me responsibility for a large portfolio.

The other person is Mark Scapinker, his current partner at Brightspark.

In 2003, she had two options. Join Brightspark or join another traditional investment company that has approached it at the same time. “It was an investment firm corporate and she had a lot of money, ”recalls Sophie Forest. Mark was a techno pioneer in Toronto with ideas for growth.

“The firm told me, ‘We’re interested in your candidacy, but we want to make sure your kids don’t stop you from attending meetings early in the morning,'” says Sophie Forest. Mark, he had a completely different language.

“He said, ‘We’re going to be partners, we’re going to build something, but I want you to know that we’re going to be flexible with the kids.’ The choice was obvious.

Brightspark Adventure

Now Brightspark’s managing partner, Sophie Forest wears three hats at the firm.

First, it concerns investment. It finds and selects Canadian companies that are in the early stages of their development, but more importantly, have the potential to become real home wounds. “We are looking for destructive technologies,” she explains. We want to solve big problems, the solutions of which are difficult to find, in huge markets.

Among the successes she is most proud of in this regard, she said, in particular, Hopper, a company that bases its success on its platform, which provides the best times to buy plane tickets.

“Hopper has achieved tremendous growth. Under the leadership of Frederick Lalonde, an exceptional entrepreneur, the firm was a great success. In 2007, we invested $ 500,000 in the company, which has now turned into $ 50 million.

With Radian6 the success has been even more stunning. “We had the perfect course,” said Sophie Forest. Brightspark invested in a company that helped companies keep track of what their brand said on social media in 2007. This was not the case: for example, Twitter had just started and was almost unprofitable. But things changed so fast, so fast, that four years later we sold our initial investment of $ 2 million for $ 400 million. ”

Brightspark currently has three venture funds, 24 special purpose funds and $ 400 million in asset management.

Sophie Forest’s second hat is the manager’s hat: company management, employees and vision.

The third, big part, is funding. Brightspark receives this from two sources: funds it invests with institutional investors such as Investissement Québec, large banks or wealthy families, and accredited investors.

In the latter case, Sophie Forest strives to make Brightspark the best player. She has already begun.

The only solution

One of Sophie Forest’s accomplishments is working to democratize venture capital, or at least expand access to it. “We launched the model a few years ago, when we allowed accredited investors, whether individuals or small affluent families, to invest directly in our transactions through an online application platform. We are the first to do so in venture capital in Canada. “

Currently, between 500 and 600 people have invested through the Brightspark platform. In total, there are 3 to 4 thousand registered investors who have the opportunity to invest. “We have big growth plans,” says Sophie Forest. We need to build the following Hopper and Radian6. In ten years I will be busy with this. “+” At 53, I am more motivated than ever to train and develop our young team. “