Need to meet: Whitney Rockley, managing partner, McRock Capital

Whitney Rockley is that rare individual in Canada’s venture market: a female investment pro of more than two decades experience, 16 of those years spent in senior roles in VC firms on both sides of the Atlantic.

She also happens to be the first woman chair of the Canadian Venture Capital & Private Equity Association.

And her current position may be the most important of her career: managing partner of McRock Capital, a Toronto firm she co-founded with Scott MacDonald in 2012.

McRock is among a handful of global VC firms to carve out a focus on the industrial internet of things. An emerging space, IIoT consists of multiple innovations, such as advanced sensors, intelligent machines, data networks and analytics software, that promise to redraw traditional industry boundaries and profit early movers.

McRock is investing from its debut fund, closed last year at C$70 million ($55 million) with the backing of 15 limited partners, including strategic investors CaterpillarCisco Systems and EDF.

Now 55 percent invested, the fund has a portfolio of six revenue-generating IIoT startups in North America and Europe. They include Mnubo, which in January raised a C$16.5 million Series B round led by Munich Re.

While IIoT is a new category, it appears to be gaining traction. One measure of the trend is growth in dealmaking. According to Pitchbook, $3.24 billion was invested in the global sector in 2017, more than seven times the amount invested in McRock’s founding year.

In the six years prior to McRock, Rockley was a partner at Emerald Technology Ventures and Nomura New Energy Ventures, both European energy-tech VC firms. Between 2002 and 2006, she led corporate venturing at Canadian utility company EPCOR, a program Rockley created, and before then she served with Silicon Valley’s Nth Power and the VC group at PanCanadian Energy, now Encana.

Rockley says she rose in the ranks of a largely male-dominated VC market due to hard work and “staying the course, through ups and downs, the pretty and the ugly.”

Scott MacDonald, managing partner, McRock Capital
Scott MacDonald, managing partner, McRock Capital

She counts herself lucky for having had access to women mentors, such as Nancy Floyd, managing director of Nth Power, and Gina Domanig, managing partner of Emerald. But Rockley notes that her top influencers were mostly supportive men, such as McRock’s MacDonald.

Gender in venture

Rockley readily acknowledges the progress women have made in VC since she started out. But she remains dissatisfied with the scope and pace of that change.

“I don’t think we’ve made the strides we need to make,” Rockley said. “There are still not enough women in senior roles. It’s important to get this talent into VC firms and create a workplace culture of diversity and inclusion so women can develop and progress.”

Rockley makes it her mission to urge more young women to choose a venture career. Earlier in 2018, she undertook a CVCA-sponsored tour of Canadian universities to sell the rewards of this professional path to audiences of mostly female and other diverse students.

She also welcomes Ottawa’s decision as part of its C$400 million Venture Capital Catalyst Initiativeunveiled in December, to give some preference to VC firms with teams and portfolios that reflect gender considerations.

Righting VC’s gender imbalance will bring greater “openness” to women-led companies, Rockley said. However, she expects female entrepreneurs to remain disadvantaged for now because of their insufficient “critical mass,” a challenge that will be overcome only by more women founding startups.

Twice the size

CVCA last week reported appreciable growth in Canada’s venture market in 2017, with C$3.5 billion ($2.7 billion) invested in 592 deals. The increased activity was spread widely but driven primarily by historic round sizes.

CVCA said one of the results is a domestic market roughly twice the size it was five years ago.

Rockley gives the credit to improved fundraising conditions stimulated by VCCI’s predecessor and a “turbocharged” ecosystem, especially in such areas as artificial intelligence and machine learning, which have helped put Canadian tech opportunities on a global stage.

Along with Rockley and MacDonald, McRock’s investment team includes Jeremy Gilman, a principal, and Ha Nguyen, an associate.

Photos of Whitney Rockley and Scott MacDonald courtesy of McRock Capital