As a leading figure in the rise of two of Ottawa’s fastest-growing artificial intelligence software companies, Solon Angel has something of a reputation as a hitmaker in the local tech scene. So maybe it’s fitting that when describing Fresh Founders, the Ottawa-based business group he now heads, the 40-year-old serial entrepreneur makes an analogy to […]
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As a leading figure in the rise of two of Ottawa’s fastest-growing artificial intelligence software companies, Solon Angel has something of a reputation as a hitmaker in the local tech scene. So maybe it’s fitting that when describing Fresh Founders, the Ottawa-based business group he now heads, the 40-year-old serial entrepreneur makes an analogy to the world of music. Fresh Founders’ partners, Angel says, are a lot like the members of the Wu-Tang Clan, the legendary New York hip-hop collective that brings accomplished rappers and producers like RZA and Method Man together for select projects but also gives artists plenty of freedom to pursue their own solo projects. “We have people that are founders on their own and they join forces to invest, to help or sometimes to start their own business together,” he explains. “They do it for a couple of years and then they go back and do something else with someone else or by themselves.” Angel, who announced last week he has assumed the role of managing partner at Fresh Founders on a full-time basis, acknowledges the organization’s concept doesn’t lend itself to a pithy slogan or catchphrase. But, he says, Fresh Founders has been extremely effective at fulfilling its mission: helping to strengthen the Canadian tech ecosystem by creating a “safe space” where entrepreneurs “can dream as big as they want,” rub shoulders, have a drink or two and – if inspiration strikes – maybe even conjure up the country’s next big breakout software star. “We’re not a VC firm. We’re not an incubator. We’re not an angel group. We are something else. It’s hard to describe. It’s really something magical.” In many ways, Angel adds, Fresh Founders operates “almost like a club.” Members get together for private dinners, coffee sessions and other events in various Canadian cities, including Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, where they can chat and bounce ideas off each other in a relaxed setting. Sometimes, they even go on vacation together. The powerhouse group of seven partners includes Angel and Ottawa’s Aydin Mirzaee, who co-founded online survey provider Fluidware before selling it to SurveyMonkey in 2014 and later launched Fellow, a meeting productivity platform that raised US$24 million in series-A financing two years ago. The two newest additions to the Fresh Founders partnership team bring equally impressive credentials to the table. Fullscript co-founder and CEO Kyle Braatz has built the Ottawa-based health-care technology platform into a global force with more than US$600 million in annual revenues, while Alain Goubau co-founded online grain marketplace FarmLead, which later rebranded as Combyne Ag and was acquired by Bayer Crop Science earlier this year. “Each of them have very strong industry expertise and know-how,” Angel says. The same could be said for Angel himself. After starting his entrepreneurial career as a teenager in Paris, Angel moved to Silicon Valley in the early 2000s, co-founding a company called Neocase Software. In 2007, he came north to Ottawa to work at accounting software-maker CaseWare International, where he helped launch the company’s first cloud-based platform. Following a six-year stint at CaseWare, Angel joined fledgling software firm Solink, where he served as head of product at the company that pioneered the use of AI to analyze video surveillance footage. In 2015, he helped found Ottawa-based fraud-detection software giant MindBridge Analytics, which now generates annual revenues in excess of $20 million. According to a Globe and Mail report last month, the company recently raised US$60 million in fresh capital from Boston growth equity firm PSG Equity LLC. Angel, the company’s original CEO, stepped down from his role as chief development officer last month but remains on MindBridge’s board of directors. In an interview with OBJ on Monday, he said he’d been looking to exit the company since before the pandemic, explaining his wanderlust this way: “What founders do best is founding companies.” Describing MindBridge as a “global leader in its space,” he says the firm “doesn’t need me anymore.” Angel – who's got another tech venture in stealth mode that he teased is "probably" in the accounting space – didn't have to look far for a new gig to occupy his time. His connection to Fresh Founders goes back nearly a decade. After working at Solink and then MindBridge during the day, he would moonlight at the organization in his off-hours. Through his association with the group, he met a number of entrepreneurs, including Mirzaee, who eventually helped provide much-needed seed funding for MindBridge. “I just feel a sense of loyalty and giving back my time,” he explains of his decision to focus his energy on the group. Angel says one of the strengths of Ottawa’s tech ecosystem is its diverse mix of more structured organizations such as Invest Ottawa and less formal entities like Fresh Founders. Pointing out that several Fresh Founders partners recently met for lunch with members of the Capital Angel Network to get a better sense of the investment opportunities available in the region, Angel says such connections are “crucial” to forging a stronger local tech community. “A lot of cities don’t have the Fresh Founders magic,” he says. “In a small tech ecosystem, there is strength because everyone knows each other. We have to leverage that and be extremely collaborative to keep beating the odds. We need everyone to embrace that sometimes small is beautiful.”