Canadian Startup Award Nominee iNovia Affirms We’re All Winners

iNovia is in the running for a 2013 Canadian Startup Award in the Venture Capital Firm of the Year category. What makes iNovia so great? It’s hard to tell, even when you ask it.

Chalk it up to the Canadian trait of not wanting to toot our own horn, or perhaps the unwritten code of conduct for the business world, but it’s tough to get a rise out of these VC types. When asked to peg the most promising wellspring of innovation in Canada, iNovia Managing Partner Chris Arseneault puts diplomacy before candour.

“We are seeing unique Internet and hardware innovations out of Waterloo,” he says, but then goes on to laud Montreal’s consumer centric web market, and the mirror of that market in Vancouver. “Calgary and Edmonton,” he says, “are less cluster centric, producing more and more early stage companies.” Arseneault adds that successful outliers in the prairies are skewing the data in a number of different sectors, making that area of the country more challenging to typify.

iNovia is the investment firm behind Vidyard, a fellow Canadian Startup Awards nominee from the Startup of the Year category. When asked to highlight an iNovia-funded company that’s not on our list, Arseneault responds as a mother being asked to choose her favourite child (or one who understands the SEO advantages of linkbacks).

“When thinking of Beyond the RackLuxury RetreatsLightspeed Retail and Chango, the only thing that comes to mind is ‘which one will be the next billion dollar Canadian tech company?'” He goes on to list Top HatCoolit and Drivewyze in true VC fashion—throwing a bunch of things at the wall to see what sticks.  It’s a bit like asking a fortune teller whether you’ll marry someone dark or fair, and she says “both”. It’s the safe play; she’s bound to be right.

The only time i’m able to raise iNovia’s pulse in the slightest is when i ask why Canada’s VC ecosystem lags so severely behind the Valley. It’s a question they’ve heard before, and it appears to be a sore point. iNovia Partner Kevin Swan fields the question: “We struggle to understand why we, as Canadians, constantly compare ourselves to Silicon Valley.”

It’s the same refrain i heard from co-nominee BDC, who look Eastward for a better comparison. “It is probably more appropriate for Canada to look at centres like Boston or Chicago as comparison,” he says. “Canada is, in fact, very strong on a per capita basis compared to the US if you remove the Silicon Valley.”

Remove Silicon Valley from the US? Don’t tempt me, Swan.

iNovia is the second VC firm to deny our request to engage in an all-out rap battle for supremacy in the 2013 Canadian Startup Awards. If you’d like to vote for them regardless, head over to the voting page and start clicking some buttons.