Desmarais scion to spearhead new Canadian fintech venture capital fund

Paul Desmarais III, of the powerful Quebec Desmarais family, will serve as the chairman of Diagram, a newly formed Canadian fintech venture capital fund.

The fund, backed by the Desmarais family, will invest in Canadian fintech startups in the financial services, insurance, and healthcare industries.

The Desmarais family amassed a nearly $7 billion dollar fortune in the insurance sector, and a substantial chunk of the $25 million raised so far comes from Portag3 Ventures LP, which is sponsored by their own Power Financial and subsidiaries IGM Financial Inc. and Great-West Lifeco Inc. It is also backed by 50 individual “angel” investors.

In an interview with the Financial Post, Desmarais said the separate fund was formed to create “a very hands off, entrepreneur-friendly model” of fintech development outside the financial services conglomerate.

The goal is to create Canadian fintechs that become global financial services leaders from a strong Canadian base,” Desmarais said. “Whether they’re complementary, disruptive, a little bit of both, I think we will see how the business models emerge.

Power Core-affiliated companies have made investments in the financial tech sector in the past through Portag3, including a $10 million investment in Wealthsimple in 2015, as well as investments in Borrowell and Koho.

Rather than investing in a large number of early-stage startups in the hope that one or two will take off, Diagram plans to make larger investments in just five or six companies over a few years. Those chosen will have access to to the expertise of Power Financial and its affiliates as well as connections to potential investors, including former Rogers Communications CEO Nadir Mohamed and Facebook’s former chief technology officer Adam D’Angelo.

“Given the amount of investment that’s going into this field in the U.S. and around the world and given how important the financial services sector is for the economy of Canada, the only thing that we should be doing is to try and build our own champion,” François Lafortune, Founder and CEO of Diagram told MTLinTECH. “We can only build our own champion if we build from the ground up with real Canadian talent and keep them from going south.”

Diagram will also provide support as companies scale up, assisting with things such as recruiting and accounting.

The first two startups have already been chosen: Montreal-based Dialogue, a virtual health and wellness platform for employees, and Collage, a Toronto-based cloud platform aiming to automate human resources and benefits for Canadian businesses.

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