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A $72 billion Canadian investor is poised to start making venture-capital bets in Silicon Valley


Michael Yang Comcast Ventures OMERS Ventures

  • The $72 billion Canadian pension fund OMERS is expanding into Silicon Valley to make venture investments in US startups.
  • OMERS Ventures hired Michael Yang as a managing partner from Comcast Ventures to lead the effort. He's planning to staff up and open offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto.
  • US venture-capital funding has been climbing, with almost $100 billion invested last year, an 18-year high.
  • Yang is planning to invest in industries such as healthcare, transportation, and media.

A huge Canadian pension fund is plotting to expand into Silicon Valley, seeking to place bets on hot US tech startups.

OMERS, which manages more than 95 billion Canadian dollars, or $72 billion, on behalf of municipal workers in the province of Ontario, hired Michael Yang as a managing partner of OMERS Ventures to open the venture arm's first US offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto.

OMERS Ventures oversees about 880 million Canadian dollars invested in 35 companies, mainly in Canada. The goal of expanding to the Bay Area is to gain better access to Investment opportunities in innovative startups, Yang said in an interview. OMERS itself has been opening offices outside Canada to broaden its investment opportunities.

"Just look at where the deals are, the dollars are, where the innovation is," he said. "As they look to deploy more dollars, invest in more and more interesting projects, they need to expand their geographic horizons."

Venture-capital investment in the US reached the highest level in nearly 2 decades last year

Yang, 47, was previously a managing director at Comcast Ventures based in the Bay Area. Michelle Killoran of OMERS Ventures will also move to the Bay Area to help with the expansion, and the group plans to make additional hires over time, Yang said.

Read more: 6 top VCs give their best 2019 predictions for healthcare, from a biotech correction to a 'shadow cash economy' stepping into the light

Venture-capital investment in the US is soaring, increasing valuations and raising questions about whether another bubble is emerging. About $99.5 billion in VC funds were invested last year in the US, the highest total since 2000, according to the PwC/CB Insights MoneyTree report. That helped boost the valuations of 53 startups to over $1 billion, making 2018 a record year for the creation of so-called unicorns.

Yang said he was hoping that if funding were to become more scarce as other VCs pull back or market turbulence increases, that could create better opportunities for him to invest.

"There's been a lot of high-burn-rate companies that had access to easy capital that benefited from that and developed bad operating habits," he said. "A lot of people are hoping for a little bit of a pause in valuations and pricing."

OMERS Ventures will target startups in fields like healthcare, transportation, and media

Over time, Yang's group plans to focus its investments in five main areas: healthcare, transportation, the future of work, retail innovation, and new forms of media. The group has the flexibility to make investments ranging from seed stage (less than $1 million) to later-stage rounds where checks could be $40 million.

At Comcast Ventures, Yang invested in and served on the board of the healthcare startup Accolade, and more recently he helped found the financial-wellness firm Brightside. Other investments included the virtual-reality firm Felix & Paul Studios, the autonomous-vehicle company Pony.ai, and Precision Hawk, which helps businesses use drones.

Read more: 16 billion-dollar startups revolutionizing healthcare that you should be watching in 2019

Yang said he might bring the strategy of helping founders start companies — rather than simply investing in startups — to OMERS Ventures. OMERS Ventures already offers its startups services to help them grow.

Yang said he's mindful of the responsibility he's taking on to the roughly half-million people who rely on the OMERS plan to fund their retirements.

"We want to be good stewards of their future, of their capital," he said. "We want to make the right bets."

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A $72 billion Canadian investor is poised to start making venture-capital bets in Silicon Valley

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