December 28, 2021
7 minute

Harvest Builders’ 2021 Year In Review

Inside Harvest

2021 has been an impactful year for Harvest Builders. It has seen not only the growth of our studio portfolio to four fintech ventures and the rapid expansion of our talent engine; it has also been the year that saw the launch of Harvest Venture Partners, our early stage venture capital firm.

In 2019, Chris Simair, our founder and Managing Director, established Harvest Builders with the vision of creating an epicentre for innovation and technology across the Canadian Prairies. Harvest was established as a venture studio, supporting startups as they navigate common challenges faced at each stage of growth. Having previously founded, grown and successfully sold SkipTheDishes, Chris had seen the opportunities as well as the obstacles which come with building a successful Canadian venture. Now, two years in, as we make strides in the venture builder space, we also look ahead to how we can further build out a thriving ecosystem and maximize Canada's output of great Canadian technology talent and businesses that drive global change.

A Year of Growth 

Over the past year, our fintech portfolio has expanded beyond our initial venture, Neo Financial, to include OneVest, Propra, and Walnut Insurance. In 2021 alone, we've cultivated advantageous opportunities to help build and scale these companies – from ideation and company formation through commercialization and growth. We foresee a growing impact as these ventures expand and disrupt legacy industries with technology and new ways of doing business, and we’ve already seen these ventures introduce many firsts for Canada. This includes:

Building a better financial experience for all Canadians

Neo Financial is reimagining banking by offering a better way to spend, save, and earn rewards. In 2020, Neo’s team blew past the 0-1 mark with Harvest working alongside their rapidly expanding team, as they quickly scaled their organization to keep pace with the demand and growth. In 2021, the Harvest team worked hand-in-hand to:

  • Scale their team from 130 at the onset of the year to over 400 today
  • Open a second headquarters in Winnipeg
  • Support the launch of the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) partnership and raising over $100m in growth capital

A new way for Canadians to generate wealth with OneVest

OneVest is building out Wealth-as-a-Service (WaaS) for banking and non-banking partners. OneVest offers a turn-key wealth management platform that provides active management, goal based investing, and alternative investments assets and strategies that were previously only available to high wealth investors. 

Canada’s modern property management software 

Propra is modernizing the technology that manages Canada’s rental market. Since launch in January 2021, they’ve continued to rapidly transform the efficiencies and communications within the property management industry to elevate the landlord and resident experience. It was also a finalist and winner of the ‘People’s Choice Award’ at the Queen’s Venture Network, Smith Centre for Business Venturing UPstart Venture Challenge in November.

The first digital term life insurance membership for millennials in Canada 

Insurtech Walnut is building a new era of transparency and accessibility around insurance, while holistically protecting Canadians’ wellbeing mentally, physically, and digitally through wellness subscriptions from brands we all know and love, including Headspace, ClassPass, Dashlane and more. 

Each venture has their unique needs, our team works closely with the internal team to find the best talent fit, and provide  access to the essential resources that will get them from 0-1 at an accelerated pace. Our approach is hyper-focused on connecting the right people to help build these founding teams – not only by looking at fit, but also at the business stage. Harvest has actively recruited for roles ranging from CTOs, customer service advisors through to marketing specialists, and everything in between. 

Solving for Canada’s Talent Shortage 

At a time when recruitment demand far outstrips supply, particularly in the tech sector, being able to successfully meet the demand for talent is paramount to Harvest’s success and the businesses we support. 

The talent function at Harvest is led by Arlin Dueck, Head of People Operations, whose team filled over 800 Canadian tech roles in 2021 for growing startups, scaling ventures like Neo, and established corporations that are undergoing their own digital transformation. Arlin emphasizes the importance and impact of recruiting and growing top level talent within the venture studio model – after all, it’s the people within a company who can make or break it. 

“Having a team of experts who have a broad, high-level understanding of talent and systems for early-stage companies is crucial,” he explains. “We believe we’ve invested in the right tools and systems and set up immigration channels to allow our team to tap into a wide array of talent pools. Whether we recruit in our backyard or across the world, we’re looking for people who want to add value and be part of building this ecosystem.”

As we look towards the future and the changing patterns of recruitment, we are expanding the programs within our talent engine to directly support the growth and upskilling of existing local talent, as well as building our international networks and immigration support services to fill the demand for experienced senior tech talent. It’s a meaningful way to grow the talent pool in the Prairies and match them with one of Harvest’s portfolio or partner companies. 

The Launch of an Inaugural $14 Million Fund

With the proof of concept of the venture studio and focus on talent, we’re already solving for 2 of the 4 essential elements entrepreneurs need to help build a company at scale – yet there’s a need to close the gap on the last two – capital and distribution. 

Addressing the last significant hurdles for founders, we launched the Harvest Venture Partners venture capital firm, a $14 million fund which plays a crucial role by providing financial backing to the companies we are building. 

“From the beginning, our vision for Harvest was to bring the essential pieces together that support a productive entrepreneurial ecosystem in Western Canada, and the fund is a crucial part of that ecosystem.” 

Harvest Ventures looks to provide generational support to founders that gives them the resources and advantaged distribution to scale their business faster than with any other partner.

Having identified the key constraints to startups in Canada including the lack of capital and lack of people, our fund and talent programs offer proven solutions. Alex Gold, Founder and General Partner of Harvest Venture Partners, explains, “Our model means that founders no longer need to spend time unnecessarily focused on fundraising and talent-sourcing, or worrying about how to pay for acquisition costs and successfully scale their companies”. 

“When you’re thinking about raising capital as a business, that takes up a good amount of your time in the first two years of the company,” explains Alex. “If you’re a founder coming into the studio, you get to immediately focus on building because you don’t have to think about raising capital. Founders also don’t have to think about recruitment when they build with us as we have a team that’s going to build that for you.” Distinctive to the fund is its ability to provide founders with the unique and ‘unfair’ advantage of distribution: with Neo Financial and ATB Financial as partners of the fund, “we can plug founders into 3.5 or 4 million clients immediately,” says Alex. Having the competitive advantage of these anchor business partnerships helps solve the uphill battle of distribution for startup ventures whilst securing investment to help fuel the accelerated growth behind these companies. 

What’s Next for Harvest?

The vision for Harvest Builders goes beyond our current portfolio of companies. Neo provided the initial launching pad for our fintech portfolio that now totals four ventures and the growth we’ve built over the past year has paved the path for Harvest to expand further into fintech and break into new industry verticals. Moving into 2022, Harvest has set out to add 6-8 fintech ventures in conjunction with the fund, and grow our capacity to engage and support more tech ventures across Canada over the next two years.

“The fund makes it easier for us to re-apply our cohesive portfolio strategy into repeatable processes and new company launches within our venture builder studio,” Chris says. “Our synergetic portfolio model aims to build out a thriving tech ecosystem in Canada by creating shared value and infrastructures and accelerating startups’ growth.” 

From SkipTheDishes to Neo Financial, we’re building an ecosystem of multiple $1billion+ unicorn companies from  the Canadian Prairies. The successes are proving that the tools already exist to understand what the next breakthrough through tech companies should want to do – and, more importantly, how Harvest Builders can leverage this experience and the existing infrastructure in order to do it.

“It’s not about creating just one more Unicorn, or investing in one more successful company. At Harvest, we’re thinking beyond one business to an entire industry. Calgary and Western Canada is the place to do that. We’re creating the future of Canada’s fintech from the Prairies and also creating an ecosystem which propels the entire tech sector forward, putting the vision, people and tools in place in order to get there.” Harvest, in other words, has only just begun.

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