Bernie Li
IMPACT INVESTING

Bernie Li

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Start-up Entrepreneur, Investor and Adviser

Trends and Permanent Change – Bernie Li

“You’re betting on the people, you’re betting on the team because they’re the ones that are going on the adventure and they’ll probably make the same source on the stage and they’re gonna stumble a few times, so are they going to be the ones that are quick enough to realize it quickly and can pivot and change course when needed.”

ABOUT

Over the past twenty years, Bernie Li has been an entrepreneur, an investor and community builder.

In 2010, Bernie co-founded PURE Energies Inc., a leading provider of residential solar solutions to home owners in Ontario and the USA, driven by a tech-enabled customer acquisition platform and through educational content. PURE and its subsidiaries helped thousands of home owners become producers of renewable energy. PURE was ranked #2 on the Profit Hot 50 (2013), was named a top project by the Clean50 (2015) and was acquired by NRG Energy in 2014.

Bernie is currently a Venture Partner with Revel Partners, a NYC-based VC fund that invests into Enterprise Software/SaaS and Marketplace start-ups at the Seed – Series A stage. He is also a Board Director of Vizetto Inc., a software start-up whose solution helps enterprises collaborate on work in a profoundly new way. Earlier in his career, he was an investment professional with iNovia Capital and Carrot Capital. Bernie was a board member and treasurer for the Centre for Social Innovation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to support organizations that put people and planet first.

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THE FULL INTERVIEW

Bernie Li

The full #OPNAskAnAngel talk

Jeffery:
Why don’t we start off and I know you’ve got some very exciting stories. You’ve shared a lot of good things about how you’ve done, what you’ve done, but maybe you can give us a little intro on Bernie. What’s all about Bernie, where’d you come from, which you’re yeah — what kind of moved you down this path of investment, what was your career like?

Bernie:
Sure. So I’ll take it back to the beginning. So I’m originally from around the area here. You know after chapter one of my career after school, I got into a venture at a pretty early stage of my career. So this is down when I was in New York City, ended up joining what became in essence an organized family office, with a particular interest in early stage investing and supporting entrepreneurs. So really that was year 2000 with the emergence of internet let’s call it 1.0, kind of the media side of you know what the internet could become. And spent about 10 years doing early stage investing that was with that group in New York called carrot capital. In 2004 I moved up to Montreal, joined a firm now known as I know Inovia Capital so also during an early stage investing companies across Canada and the US and early stage primarily in IT. After spending about 10 years on the investment side at a pretty young age, just felt that inner need to kind of sit on the other side of the table and try to become an entrepreneur. And so I moved back to Toronto and work with a couple of co-founders and we created a company that was called Pure Energies and this was a company that helps homeowners find good solar offerings for the households. We ended up growing that into becoming you know one of the leading solar provider in the province of Ontario and then acquired a company that was based in San Francisco, and then ran another company that was down headquartered out of there, where we also helped up homeowners across 13 states in the US, all fine deal good solar solutions for the rooftops. Had a really you know kind of like the real roller coaster ride of what I would say is like initial exuberance and success with crushing, you know crashing down of realities, as we went through our tough period. But over the course of that you know, raised you know an amount of venture financing so I went through that route with institutional VC’s, venture debt financing and culminated into getting on the radar of a large public company and ended up becoming a strategic acquisitions for them. So I spent some time doing the merger, and integration of our company at that point was about 200 employees into an organization that was many times larger than us, that itself was a short chapter which was kind of interesting to go through and kind of is like a classical Harvard Business case on what happens with startups they get absorbed into larger organizations. And then you know since that time have had the chance to spend some time you know paying it forward and helping out entrepreneurs in some cases have done it as an investor often it’s like as what we call an active investor, or you know an advisor as well but also you know had the opportunity to help out organizations like Mars the Mars Discovery District. And currently and helping as a coach with the group which is associated with the we charity which is the we social impact accelerator. A new accelerator that is designed to help accelerate the performance and success of startup companies that have a social impact lens to them.

Jeffery:
That’s amazing. So I like the fact that you said you tried, I think you pretty much succeeded in running an entrepreneurial business. I’m not sure how much effort was the try part, I think the try might have been for the first few days and then you took it off and turned into to an amazing business so that sounds like an awesome journey from venture capitalists to entrepreneur to coach venture capitalists again so it sounds like a full rounded investment studio there and I think that’s brilliant. So you kind of went through all these streams and you started off on the other side of investing first before he went into a business have and felt the urge to give back so what was the real driver that got you into this? Even when you were doing it back in New York, what did you really like about it? What made you really think, man I gotta stay in this space, I’m never leaving I love this.

Bernie:
You know I’ve probably, a little bit, was a product of the time. You know in the early 2000s well 1999-2000, it was really you know this exuberance that was in the air -Internet 1.0. But it was kind of like a story of possibilities, we’re starting to hear about this new kind of layer that’s coming out which is gonna kind of make information free for all. You know remove kind of some of the barriers to access education information, contents, new forms of contents — there was so much excitement and you know someone that’s 23 years old — you feed off of that. And I probably helped kind of like set the tone just for the next you know 20-some odd years of that followed that and that was where the initial catalyst was. You know in terms of like my entry and foray into the entrepreneurial world.

Jeffery:
Oh that’s brilliant. When you are going through this stage and getting into it did you have a mentor? Did you have somebody that you kind of looked up to? Or somebody that kind of helped coached you through this, because, again, you’re in a whole new space, you said you’re young, you got this new internet thing you’re like this stuff’s amazing — did someone kind of help you work your way through that because that’s your capital is completely different then than it was 20 years before it and then it is even today?

Bernie:
Sadly no. I would have tried to find one, I think. The state of the market in the industry is it’s very different, much more evolved now than it was 20 some odd years ago or 20 years ago. I think you know I was in the New York market at that time — there was a handful of venture firms that were out there, but the amount of content that was being produced — they can find now the number of stories that you know were being transferred and handed down that didnR