September 20, 2016
This article was originally published on the National Angel Capital Organization’s website which we thank for their interview!
Since starting her career as a chartered accountant at KPMG, Emilie Boutros has led finance functions for a number of prominent technology companies: Softimage, CGI, and Averna Technologies, a US$30M business with 300 employees, where she served as CFO. Emilie joined TandemLaunch in early 2012 as Partner and CFO. TandemLaunch scouts, accelerates, and commercializes early-stage technologies from the world’s top universities in close partnership with major Consumer Electronic brands. During Emilie’s tenure, TandemLaunch has more than doubled every year, raising over $30M in third party investment, creating more than 13 ventures valued at more than $100M today.
Emilie will be speaking on the panel “Get up and go global: a true statement for start-ups, funds and accelerators!” at the 2016 National Angel Summit. She will be discussing TandemLaunch’s global reach and the company’s future initiatives, leading into a moderated discussion with the audience around challenges they face.
Tell us a little bit about your “story”
I grew up in a very artistic family and, for a very long time, I wanted to become a pianist. At 18 I changed my mind and decided to study Mathematics at McGill University. Following that science degree, I became a chartered accountant and started my professional career. During my twenties, I tried many different positions as an operational executive in public and private companies. One day, I met the CEO and founder of Averna. I always say I love entrepreneurs because they “hire me” – they are risk-takers. At the time, Averna was a 150-employee company that had just raised a significant amount in financing and was looking to double in size. My role was mostly operational. I was in charge of a finance team of 25 and we were growing internationally. During my time at Averna, the company went from 150 to 300 employees and we expanded into Mexico, the U.S., Japan, and Hungary. I loved the speed of working in such a dynamic environment and the “building” part of my job, but most of all, I realized I love working with entrepreneurs.
Luckily enough, after Averna I met Helge Seetzen, PhD, a successful entrepreneur who had built and sold a technology business in Vancouver. He had founded a business in Montreal for entrepreneurship and innovation called TandemLaunch. I liked the business model but most of all, I immediately liked Helge. He is smart and dedicated; my skillset compliments his in a perfect way, and he really believes in women executives. At the time, I thought we were a great team with the same values. Almost 5 years later, when I look at everything we have accomplished together, I think it was a great bet!
The best part of TandemLaunch is that I get to do what I really like: working with entrepreneurs and helping them realize their dreams, whether they are 22 and coming into my office with stars in their eyes, or angel investors that have already changed the world but are hoping to invest in the next revolutionary technology or company. Their passion, their drive, and optimism that they will beat all the odds, even if every sign tells them no, makes me like them and enjoy what I do for a living.
What is more important: the idea, the team, or both?
That’s a good question. Most of the angels or VC investors I’ve met would say that they invest strongly in the founding team. It’s true that without the right people, nothing else will work – even if you have the best idea in the world. But from my experience, I’ve seen very good founders and CEOs try to raise money for an idea, but the market was too small, or the idea was not that innovative and they were not successful. These companies joined TandemLaunch or found another idea that was very innovative, protected by patents, and they raised a lot of money in a very short period of time. So, my answer would be that you need both: a good idea with a big market and good people. There are a lot of good ideas out there, but very good people are tougher to find. You need the combination of both elements to build successful startups. It’s not easy, and that’s why most start-ups fail.
What do you believe is the key to TandemLaunch’s success?
TandemLaunch is very successful at building start-ups that are ready for a Series A, meaning raising $1-2M from angels and early-stage VCs. In the last 5 years, we’ve done it more than 10 times. More than 80% of the capital from TandemLaunch Ventures I has been successfully invested in companies that raised a Series A round. To tell you the truth, our secret sauce is very simple: it’s the way the start-ups are created. Basically, we find the best ideas from our network of universities, we recruit the best technology leads from around the world, and at the end of the program we add a serial entrepreneur who invests in the business, leads the round, and brings a lot of credibility to the start-up. The process was very difficult to execute in the early years of TandemLaunch, but in the last few years the awareness and recognition of TandemLaunch has grown, and this has really helped our teams to recruit and raise financing.
What advice do you have for startups looking to get support from a company like TandemLaunch?
TandemLaunch does not invest in companies, we build them from scratch. Nevertheless, we are always looking for good co-founders.
We are looking for individuals with entrepreneurial energy, an open minded attitude, creativity, and high risk tolerance.
What can attendees expect from your participation at this year’s National Angel Summit?
I am always looking to get to know new entrepreneurs, new angel investors, and new business models. I hope my experience with the Canadian ecosystem and at TandemLaunch can help other accelerators or start-ups build great Canadian ventures.