Brightspark Sees Forest in Canada

Sophie Forest, a veteran in venture capital markets, joined Toronto-based Brightspark Capital as managing partner in mid-December.

Forest, who was serving as a partner with CDP Capital, worked with Brightspark Managing Partner Mark Skapinker when she handled CDP’s lead investment in Balisoft Technologies, which Skapinker founded. She later became acquainted with Brightspark while representing CDP as a limited partner.

Forest also worked at Bell Canada as director of alliances and acquisitions and directed IT investment for GTI Capital.

She says she was motivated to join Brightspark by her preference for seed-stage investment and the better competitive position of smaller firms to do seed-stage rounds.

It was her experience on the LP side that made Forest a fit for Brightspark, Skapinker says.

“In a market like we have now, making the institutional investors really happy is important,” he says. “It’s helpful to get someone who understands that mindset really well.”

Forest’s first order of business is raising Brightspark Ventures II, the firm’s second fund that has a goal of between $80 million and $100 million. The firm hopes to have a first close on the fund with half of its total raised by April or May and to hold its final close in six to nine months. Forest says her goal is to have half of the fund come from Canadian LPs and half from U.S. LPs.

Brightspark, which focuses on early-stage software companies, closed its first fund in 2000 with $55 million. In addition to CDP, Brightspark’s limited partners include CIBC and Ontario Municipal Employees’ Retirement System. The firm is looking to add two or three new institutional investors and has attracted both institutional and corporate interest, Forest says.

She admits there are challenges venturing into U.S. territory.

“There aren’t many U.S. LPs that want to invest in Canada,” she says. “We need to educate them. One of the great things is that there’s not much competition here but lots of great opportunities,” says Forest.

Despite the reluctance of American LPs to invest in Canadian funds, Forest says that she’s “really optimistic” about her chances of wooing money from below the 49th parallel.

In addition to helping raise a new fund, Forest is also opening the firm’s new office in Montreal as Brightspark expands to Quebec.

“We’re focusing on the fact that there aren’t as many VC funds in Quebec, but many opportunities,” says Forest. “Quebec is really a good place to be doing early stage R&D. The tax incentives make it worthwhile,” says Skapinker.

Email Matthew Sheahan