Contrary to the photo, Annika Lewis's plate is actually quite full
The Vanedge Capital associate brings experience from big markets like Toronto and New York
You know that common trope of a character in a movie or TV show moving back home from the big city and realizing that, actually, they like the small-town charms they find? Well, that’s not exactly Annika Lewis’s life, but there are some parallels.
Having earned a BComm at McGill University, the Vancouver native shipped out to Toronto for the Canadian headquarters of U.S. banking giant Capital One. After more than four years plying her trade in the firm’s credit card division, she moved to New York City to help with corporate strategy for the commercial banking group, which led to working with startups and assessing venture capital deals.
“One day it’s health care, one day it’s virtual reality, one day it’s financial services,” Lewis says when asked what attracted her to the VC life. “For someone who gets bored easily like me, it keeps things interesting.”
She stayed in the Big Apple for about two years, but coming back to Vancouver was always the goal for Lewis. So last fall she returned with her Canadian-American husband (they met at McGill) and found the opportunity she was looking for, as an associate at Vanedge Capital’s Fairview office.
So while Vancouver isn’t quite the same as the dusty country-road towns often shown in those come-home flicks, Lewis finds it somewhat quaint, much to her delight. “It’s so quiet and a bit of a culture shock coming back,” she admits. “But professionally, Canadians tend to be a little more thoughtful about things at times. Whereas in Silicon Valley, there’s the move-fast-and-break-things approach that I think people are realizing in many ways doesn’t really work.”
The workday begins with Lewis catching up on the latest tech news as she pores over a few of her favourite online newsletters, including Fortune’s CEO Daily and Morning Brew. “One thing I really like about Vanedge is that it’s very connected to Silicon Valley and to the U.S.,” she says, noting that about half of the 10-employee firm’s active investments are outside Canada.
“Many Canadian VCs tend to invest only locally, so it’s awesome for me, with my background and my network, to feel like I’m part of the broader global innovation ecosystem.”
Lewis spends the majority of her day researching businesses that mesh with what Vanedge is looking for. Right now, that means a focus on the analytics space. Although she won’t go into details about companies she has her eye on, a couple of names in Vanedge’s roughly $300-million portfolio–Montreal-based Plotly and Vancouver’s Canalyst–fit the bill.
Today, she’s looking at the field of graph analytics–tools used to determine the strength and direction of relationships among objects in a graph. They can use data to map and configure connections between various entities, like Facebook profiles, to paint a larger picture.
“Graph is coming into play recently because there’s a lot of social network influencer analysis and fraud detection,” says Lewis, 30. “There’s enough computer power that it can be feasibly done now.”
Sometimes Lewis eats a salad at her desk, but often she’s meeting with Vancouver tech stalwarts or friends. Having grown up in the city, she’s got some old favourites, such as Indian gem Rangoli. There are also spots that were new to her upon arrival back in town, like Lebanese haunt Jamjar.
One of Lewis’s tasks since joining Vanedge this past summer has been reworking the company website–after being brutally honest with her bosses. “It looks like it’s from 2002; I’m pretty open with the partners about that,” she says with a laugh. “One of our higher-ups said they’d like me to take it on as a side project, and I said sure. I know about coding in a data science sense, but I’m outsourcing all the web development, all the hard stuff.” She hopes to have the new site humming in the fall.
Still new to Vancouver’s tech scene, Lewis likes to get out to startup-centred events. On this summer Wednesday night, she treks to a WeWork near Southwest Marine Drive. There, she pours a cider and starts chatting confidently with other attendees. Later she’ll talk about meeting “an awesome couple who I’ll definitely stay in touch with–she’s a software engineer, he’s an entrepreneur–and they previously lived in NYC as well.”
It’s just one of what are sure to be many similar efforts. “I had a pretty good network in the tech ecosystem in New York,” Lewis explains. “And now that I’m back here, it’s all new faces. It’s a really small world, which is nice in a lot of ways. But I’m spending a lot of time trying to meet new faces and really dive into it.”