A tribute to Greg Smith, the tech titan who ‘changed the face of financing’

Greg and his partner with three of their four sons. 

When asked about the “Purpose” theme of the 2020 Technology Impact Awards, Greg Smith responds in his typically big-hearted way: “In the long run, hopefully, your purpose provides some benefits to the people you care about professionally and personally.”

Given the long list of people who have benefited from his bold entrepreneurial spirit, investment expertise and mentorship, there can be no doubt that Greg has achieved his purpose while forging a legacy of success and tenacity mixed with empathy and a sense of humour that shines through in his famously contagious laugh.

A true innovator and pioneer in both entrepreneurship and venture debt, Greg founded and bootstrapped AIS Technologies in 1994 before making a successful exit seven years later. It was then that he turned his attention to SaaS financing after being invited to join the Business Development Bank of Canada, where he spent five years seed-funding tech companies across British Columbia. 

Next came Greg’s co-founding of Espresso Capital in 2009. By the time the company was sold to a Toronto investor group in 2015, it had placed more than $100 million in loans to over 200 Canadian tech ventures. “Greg was absolutely key to our growth,” says Stephanie Andrews, Espresso’s former diligence partner. “He was committed to being entrepreneur-friendly and to pushing technological process advancements.”

According to Michael Walkinshaw, who co-founded TIMIA Capital with Greg in 2015, “his experience as an entrepreneur and as an equity investor inspired him to reinvent the model for growth capital. Greg wanted to address a gap he saw in the market by providing non-dilutive growth capital to capital-efficient founders.” 

Greg and Mike saw an opportunity to grow the technology lending business beyond SRED financing in Canada and provide longer-term, more entrepreneur-friendly loan structures. Together, they built a unique financial model that demonstrated how revenue-based financing could benefit both founders and investors alike.

Described by Mike as the “voice of the entrepreneur” at TIMIA Capital, Greg combined his profound understanding of founder needs and his investor experience to systemize the process of B2B SaaS financing and build the foundation of TIMIA’s proprietary funding platform. “Greg helped change the face of financing for entrepreneurs,” Mike says. “The solutions he developed give founders an alternative to venture capital and allow them to retain equity and control of their businesses.”

As Greg oftens a says, “Equity is power.”

The TIMIA team often joked that its three leaders were “the yin and yang of the business,” Mike continues. “Greg is the yin, and (CFO) Andrew (Abouchar) and I are the yang. We managed to strike the perfect balance between Greg’s untamed entrepreneurial spirit and our risk management mindsets.”

In just five years, TIMIA has provided $63 million in financing facilities to 28 companies across North America, offering Software as a Service (SaaS) founders a sustainable alternative to venture capital funding.

In typically selfless fashion, Greg expresses complete confidence that TIMIA’s success will continue now that he has stepped down following his amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) diagnosis in early 2019. “Now more than ever, there is a broad base of support from government financial institutions and industry to take knowledge-based companies to greater heights,” he says. “We must continue to build off the momentum of the past 20 years.”

Something that hasn’t changed, he adds, is that “there is no easy pass to success. It takes hard work, skill, and commitment. A startup is a marathon, not a sprint. If you keep that in mind, both strategic and day-to-day decisions will drive an outcome that benefits all stakeholders.”

Greg’s own decision to focus on his health and his family has prompted an outpouring of tributes and praise. 

“We will greatly miss Greg’s perspective on a daily basis,” Mike says. “He has done a wonderful job mentoring the team and his spirit will live on here in the business he helped create.”

“Greg’s deep empathy for SaaS founders has been instrumental in shaping the culture of our business,” adds TIMIA CFO Andrew Abouchar. “We will miss his tenacity, but are greatly appreciative of the culture and strategy he has helped create and the help he continues to provide us.”

Rob Foxall, who stepped into Greg’s role six years after being hired by his mentor and friend, says the TIMIA team  “hears Greg’s voice every day,” and that its decisions “are inspired by his perspective. The systems he put in place have shaped us as a company, and we’re excited to see how the legacy he created will continue to evolve.”

Even after his ALS diagnosis, Greg “worked tirelessly with his team to help them succeed, including spending countless hours helping intern projects,” recalls Stephanie Andrews, who followed her mentor to TIMIA in 2018.

Despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which Greg describes as “even bigger than the internet bubble,” B.C.’s tech sector is “dynamic, growing and escalating across all areas of the province. It certainly helps that Canada has an unprecedented opportunity to bring in talent from the U.S., given everything going on with our neighbour to the south. More and more success of the economy is tied to the tech sector, which I have seen grow from fringe endeavors to world-class companies. This is being driven not by luck, but by entrepreneurs filling market needs and extracting value for their customers.”

Does the evolution of the thriving B.C. tech sector define his legacy? Does it make him what others call a “tech titan”? “That’s bullshit,” Greg replies, unleashing his legendary laugh. “I’ve just always been driven by filling market needs, and believe that you don’t have to give up equity to grow your business. On one hand, I’d go back and do a startup again if I could. On the other, I’ve always had a soft spot for bootstrapped and capital-efficient entrepreneurs. If that makes me a Titan, I will take it.”