Why B.C. venture capitalist Mike Winterfield is betting on seed-stage climate startups

Winterfield’s North Vancouver firm, Active Impact Investments, is pumping up climate tech innovators

Why would a tech executive leave their position to start an environmental investment firm?  

“Equal parts being terrified and motivated to do something about climate change,” says Mike Winterfield, founder and managing partner of North Vancouver-based Active Impact Investments. In 2017, Winterfield left his position as COO of Burnaby-based software company Traction on Demand (and president of its recreation management system spinoff, Traction Rec) to start his own impact-focused investment firm. Last year, Traction was acquired by Salesforce. 

According to Winterfield, the career switch has been a good way for him to get down and dirty with innovators in climate tech. “A lot of people don’t want to invest at the seed stage because it requires operational background,” he says. “If you’re not willing to roll up your sleeves, get in the trenches and help these companies hire the next person or help them grow their sales or help them with fundraising, I think you’ve got the wrong job.” 

Winterfield also says that Active Impact’s “repeatable, proprietary process” for vetting founders has helped it grow to 10 employees and 31 portfolio companies since 2018. “We have zero write-offs—[in other words, ventures that go out of business]—after over five years of investing in startups.” He adds that while his firm earned the title of Canada’s largest climate tech seed fund (at $60 million) in 2021, it’s been a lonely place to be. 

“Where there is a gap for sure is in seed stage funding in Canada,” the founder contends, pointing out that it is a higher-risk, lower-reward endeavour compared to, for example, Series A. “We get paid less. If you’re a successful fund, it’s just as much work to do 20 seed stage deals as it is to do 20 Series A deals.”

Despite that, Winterfield is still excited about the work he’s doing. He likes that the impact of his investments can be clearly mapped because GHG emission reduction proportionally increases with revenue. To that end, one of Active Impact’s latest investments has been in Othersphere, a company in Victoria that’s helping people identify ideal locations to build renewable energy. 

By betting on climate tech startups, Active Impact has a goal to mitigate one million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by December 31, 2023. It had already mitigated 551,511 tonnes by the start of this year and is working on building a fund that can mitigate 10 million tonnes on its own.