To land a job at Version One Ventures, Angela Tran Kingyens had to complete an assignment. Boris Wertz, the founding partner at the stage fund, wanted her to find three companies that got her excited. “I thought, Why just three?” recalls Tran Kingyens. “So I took all the public data I could find and wrote a program that automatically spit out the kind of companies that excited me.”
That enthusiasm helped her get the job, and it’s allowed her to succeed in a venture capital world dominated by middle-aged white men. “I’m an engineer; I’m a PhD; I started a company; now I’m a VC,” says Tran Kingyens, whose graduate degree and doctorate are in operations research and financial engineering. “I’ve never thought that being a woman was ever a barrier. I just let my work speak for itself.” Since she joined Version One in 2013, the firm has backed some of the buzziest startups in Canadian tech, like Figure 1, VarageSale and Clio. Tran Kingyens, who identifies new and interesting entrepreneurs, helps portfolio companies and reports to the firm’s own backers, has been instrumental to that success.
Not long ago, Tran Kingyens was an entrepreneur herself. After finishing three degrees at the University of Toronto, she co-founded Insight Data Science, a Silicon Valley education startup that helped PhDs transition from academic research to careers in industry. Looking to try something new a year later, she met Wertz, a fellow Canadian, through a mutual friend.
Her algorithm notwithstanding, Tran Kingyens has learned that spotting companies to back isn’t just about data. “What a lot of people don’t understand is when investors invest in founders, it’s really a long relationship,” she says. “You need to take time to get to know the entrepreneur first.” Tran Kingyens spends much of her time with founders, seeking to understand their motivations for building their ventures. Also important is that companies are solving problems people care about. “We need conviction around a solution, as opposed to something fun and cool,” she says.
Tran Kingyens is based in Palo Alto, Calif., and Wertz in Vancouver; having one foot in either startup hub lets the web- and mobile-focused firm spot emerging Canadian companies other venture capitalists don’t see. Tran Kingyens is particularly excited about Figure 1, a Toronto startup she likens to Instagram for doctors. More than one million health-care professionals are using the platform to share and discuss photos of patient maladies, democratizing medical information across borders. It’s the kind of world-changing solution she got into the VC business for in the first place.