Espresso’s Alkarim Jivraj: Toronto has a supportive tech ecosystem
Alkarim Jivraj is the President and CEO of Espresso Capital, a growth capital provider for tech companies across Canada. He comes at tech from a finance angle, and has seen many companies rise and fall throughout the years. Now, he brings that expertise to offer founder-friendly capital fueling Canadian tech growth. Read on to see his global idea for tech and innovation.
How did you get involved in tech?
I got into tech by being in the right place at the right time, perhaps accidentally.
I initially worked in investment banking after getting my MBA. At the time, going into investment banking or consulting is what everyone wanted to do. I tried to find jobs at the big banks, but they were looking for experience in large companies, which I didn’t have.
I connected with a friend who worked in private equity, who introduced me to the world of technology securities. This was in 1995, the beginning of the Internet boom in Canada.
I turned what was initially a summer job into a full-time position in investment banking, financing film, television, and then Internet companies. When the dot-com crash happened, I was looking for a new gig. I eventually ended up starting my own firm advising companies on raising capital and facilitating exits.
This work got me exposed to Espresso, which is my focus now: to work on offering non-dilutive financing to growing tech companies.
You have 3 hours to make someone fall in love with Toronto – where do you take them and what do you show them?
I would say check out Toronto’s neighbourhoods, and I love the AGO.
My favourite are Trinity Bellwoods park, the hip shops on Queen West, and restaurants on Ossington. I also really like the hustle and bustle of Kensington market and Leslieville.
I was just on the rooftop bar-restaurant of the Broadview Hotel, which used to be a strip club. The view from there is quite something – it gives a good sense of how the city is rapidly evolving. I think Toronto has a favourite neighbourhood for almost anyone.
Elevate Toronto is founded on three principles (#DiversityIsOurStrength, #DisruptTogether, #ItsOurTime). Which one resonates most with you?
We’re one of the largest tech hubs in North America. We’ve also begun to fix one of the our biggest problems: startup and growth capital.
A lot of the necessary ingredients are in place. Founders who have exited and starting their second and third ventures, and greater variety in traditional and non-traditional sources of capital.
Further, we have a very supportive ecosystem. This last part is perhaps is the most important. I think there’s much more willingness to be sharing and helpful than in the past.
What is your “global idea” for tech and innovation?
My global idea is to make sure that financing options are more available for founders and let them keep more of the equity; they will be engaged longer, dream bigger, and ultimately have bigger exits.
There are multiple ways to grow your business, and the most important thing an entrepreneur has is his or her equity. If used well, you will be wealthier than if you spend it the wrong way. At Espresso, for instance, we love companies that are smart around getting customers to fund growth, and huge supporters around companies driving down production costs.
However, to get there you need founder-friendly financing that keeps entrepreneurs incentivized to continue doing the hard work it takes to build a company.
What should the world know about the Toronto tech community?
We have super talented people and a supportive ecosystem. It’s a great place to build a company, with a competitive cost and talent advantage.