It started as a casual group that would meet for coffee or dinner. But these days, Fresh Founders is looking to get a lot more organized and possibly extend its borders beyond Ottawa.
Fresh Founders was established a few years ago as an invite-only group for rookie CEOs. It started informally, with members meeting in coffee shops and going to dinner. But the commonality in these settings was people who were interested in building new companies, particularly those powered by new technology. Now, Fresh Founders is looking towards angel investing and other expansion opportunities. In this episode of "Techopia Live," OBJ Publisher Michael Curran spoke with Solon Angel about his volunteer work with Fresh Founders.
This is an edited transcript of that interview, which can be found here.
OBJ: Hi, Solon. Of course, Fresh Founders is a part of what you do, but a lot of what you focus on these days is MindBridge, of course.
SA: Before coming to Canada, I was an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and in France. And I can tell you what made the success of an entrepreneur and a venture... It really takes a village. When I was in Paris, I was leaning a lot on the student associations and the support mechanisms at the university. I've helped some startups and eventually, I decided to start MindBridge, and it ended up being incorporated in Ottawa, in Canada. I can candidly say that without Fresh Founders, MindBridge would have just not happened. It's a product of the help of other founders that were here that were just cheering for me to succeed. They were introducing me to as many people as possible. That's the type of thinking, and gentle pressure, and friendly peer-to-peer camaraderie that happens at Fresh Founders. Founders help founders in a very candid way. Over the years, many of them became very successful and started doing angel investing, me included. So, that's what I do right now. I have a home at MindBridge. And then we all have the group, where we all always look at helping the same way we received help when we were joining the group.
OBJ: It's become an important part of the ecosystem of Ottawa.
SA: We've acted very much on a camaraderie basis and did not make a conscious effort not to talk about it so much. I think now we need to come a bit more forward as to what we are, what we do. We're not going to share all the details, and no, we're not an angel group. We're not going to become VCs. We talked to a lot of experts and did it the Founders’ way, which is innovative, unique and different. We're putting a structure, governance, operating budget, more than tripling the operating budget for it. If you look at the new members and the new partners joining, the first ones are actually out of San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver, and we're in talks with people from Miami and New York. We're going to build from strength to strength. And now we're putting in place a process to elect a community manager to help us run the events. So, I'm saying openly here, if anyone wants to volunteer, I'm doing it for the pure aspect of giving back forward on economic development and helping. Essentially, I put myself in the shoes of the next Solon. If they come in tomorrow and want to do the next MindBridge, how can we help? That's the mindset. So, if you want to be a community manager, let us know.
OBJ: So, Solon, do I understand that you're taking on a formal role as a managing partner, at Fresh Founders?
SA: We never had rules. We had an executive director that helped organize a committee, and kept it alive and we had great sponsors. But some of us became extremely successful at angel investing and as entrepreneurs, so, at some point you have a certain amount of responsibilities that come with that. So, we had to formalize a few things.
OBJ: That's neat. And I heard you say that this is not going to be an angel investing organization, but you have been doing some angel investments. Is that part of the future plans, as well?
SA: I'm stopping completely to do angel investing on my own alone. Every investment that I do will be true and with Fresh Founders. Fresh Founders is going to have a set of partners and it's not a fund per se. It's not an angel group either. Some of the leading VC firms in Canada have been advising us and we're going to be keeping them as partners very closely to what we do. And same with the angel networks across North America, and not just Canada. We see them as incredible partners for all different stages that ventures need. But the thing that animates us the most is to prepare to be the first ones and to invite others. We're not here to dominate, and push people around, and bully anyone around out of the opportunities. We're very happy to walk with some VCs.
OBJ: I think it's fantastic. It's really interesting that a bunch of local CEOs and founders are going to personally get so involved in what has already had a big economic impact on Ottawa. But hearing that you're becoming more organized, and people are taking on certain roles, that you will invite people from different cities, it's quite exciting to hear. So, look ahead to 2022.
SA: Absolutely. It's going to be more of the great stuff that has happened, but we're just going to industrialize some of the process and make it available for founders anywhere in North America.