Back to school: VCs Janet Bannister and Rob Barbara join Kauffman Fellows Class 24

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Two Canadian investment pros are enrolled in the world’s foremost school for venture capitalists.

Last month, Real VenturesJanet Bannister and Build VenturesRob Barbara joined VCs from around the globe in the 24th class of Silicon Valley educator Kauffman Fellows, a program dedicated to boosting VC skills.

Running over a two-year period, Class 24 features seven, three-day sessions of peer learning, mentoring and structured curriculum taught by investors and other experts, as well as two international summits. The next is planned for 2020 in Dubai.

The goal is to equip participants with new tools and strategies for performing the daily tasks of a VC, everything from managing a fund to nurturing a startup. Upon completing the program, they will become part of an exclusive network of graduates, called Fellows.

Looking at their CVs, Bannister and Barbara do not seem obvious candidates for supplementary training.

Janet Bannister

Bannister joined Real in 2014 after a storied career as an executive at eBay and founder of internet brand Kijiji. Now a general partner, she has led investments in several tech companies, among them BenchSci and League.

Before signing on as a general partner at Build in 2013, Barbara was a capital markets executive, serving in senior roles at Burgundy Asset Management and TD Securities. He also founded medtech startup eSalveo, acquired in 2001.

Both VCs insist, however, they have plenty to learn at Kauffman Fellows.

“You’re either growing or you’re shrinking,” Bannister said. “Venture capital has a long learning curve, even after five years at Real. Nothing will pay better dividends for improving my skills and networks than Kauffman Fellows, whose programs are the best in the world at enabling this.”

VC giants

Barbara also expects Class 24 to make a lasting impact on his skill sets. He emphasized the unique access he and Bannister will have to a “powerhouse group of people in venture capital.”

Kauffman Fellows engages some of the VC industry’s biggest names for its programs.

Rob Barbara

Past and present speakers include Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, Ann Miura-Ko, co-founder of Floodgate, and Fred Wilson, co-founder of Union Square Ventures.

Barbara said rubbing shoulders with Class 24 participants represents a “massive” networking opportunity that will add value to Build’s efforts to support entrepreneurs in Atlantic Canada’s fast-growing ecosystem.

Bannister, whose focus at Real is the Toronto-Waterloo tech corridor, said she also wants to hear from VCs about “how startups are scaling in other ecosystems.” This knowledge, she said, is essential in a market that is becoming increasingly global.

Focus on diversity

Class 24 is attended by 64 VCs with an average investing history of 4.8 years. Sixty percent are located in North and South America, with the rest coming from Europe, Asia and the Middle East and North Africa region.

Ela Borenstein

In addition, 36 percent of enrollees are women, the largest share since the school’s inception in 1995.

Ela Borenstein, a program director at BDC Capital, said these data speak to the importance Kauffman Fellows attaches to “screening and enrolling more women VCs” as part of its push for class diversity.

That is also a priority for BDC, which earlier in 2019 announced scholarships for two Canadian investment pros looking to enroll with Kauffman Fellows, one of them earmarked for a female VC. Bannister and Barbara are the first recipients.

Borenstein is a graduate of Kauffman Fellows, attending Class 17 (2012) when she was a partner at BDC’s healthcare fund. She said the school’s success owes to a trusted environment for imparting “ideas and constructs you wouldn’t have exposure to otherwise.”

Kauffman Fellows has so far turned out 589 graduates. When Bannister and Barbara join them, they will bring the number of Canadian Fellows to 11.

Bannister and Barbara previously attended GP Academy (2017), a program designed and run by BDC in collaboration with Kauffman Fellows.