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  • Jacqueline Tran

FinTech Female Fridays: Meet Laura Lenz, Partner at OMERS Ventures

Laura started her career working as an investment banker at BMO Nesbitt Burns where she worked on a variety of initial public offerings, buy-side, and sell-side transactions for telecom, media, and technology companies. In 2000, she was involved in an IPO for a payments company that, on the second day of trading, had a market capitalization larger than the bank. She did a stint with the bank in private equity (Toronto) and growth equity (NY) where she caught the investing bug. Laura moved into venture capital in 2004 with EdgeStone Partners, a time when there were not a lot of venture capital funds in Canada. And the rest is history.

Laura is an early-stage tech investor and prides herself on being a valuable partner to the founders whose businesses she invests in. She is deeply metrics focused and knows what it takes to succeed as a venture backed business. Some of the companies that Laura has invested in, and worked with, during her venture career are: Keyfactor (exited to Insight), Nudge Rewards (sold to Axonify), SurfEasy (sold to Symantec), Rypple (sold to Salesforce), Taleo (sold to Oracle), and Varicent (sold to IBM).

Laura currently works at OMERS Ventures, which is interested in financial value exchange - companies operating at the intersection of fintech and commerce. OMERS invests on behalf of over half a million municipal workers in Ontario - people like paramedics, firefighters, children’s aid workers and librarians. For Laura and her investing team, it feels fulfilling to know that when they are successful, it goes to support the retirements of those who uphold communities. OMERS is a C$127B business and the Ventures group has approximately C$2B assets under management. What differentiates them is the fact that they are backed by a pension fund that can take a long-term view and OMERS has assets all over the world that can benefit some of their portfolio companies. They are also focused on four specific centers of excellence – one of which is fintech – and prides themselves on going deep into the sectors and building a thesis in areas where they choose to invest. Some of the companies they have invested in include Crunchbase, DuckDuckGo, Hootsuite, Hopper, Jobber, Shopify and Wave.

As a venture investor, Laura looks for areas that will be seriously disrupted, with an interest in data exchange and enrichment; companies providing the orchestration layer to manage and drive insights from the multitude of applications and point solutions that exist in an enterprise; fraud and identify management; and agile billing platforms that enable companies to be flexible and responsive in their pricing models. An area that Laura is passionate about is the ability for technology to unlock financial literacy, and products for those who have traditionally been underserved. She likes products that are emerging to prevent people with low incomes from getting trapped in endless debt cycles. The conversations being had in the Senate right now to cap credit card interest rates are harbingers of change. Movements like these will prompt real innovation in financial services, focusing on giving customers products that add real value.

Laura believes that if you don’t challenge yourself daily in this line of work, you become obsolete. She is always reading about new trends, new innovations, new go-to-market motions, new pricing models, new organizational design etc. So not challenging herself is a luxury she doesn't have. Currently, Laura's focus is on understanding the nuances of the fintech value chain better than any other early-stage investor, so she can continually refine her point of view on the future of the market. She differentiates herself by making it clear that she is open to cold outreach from founders (when many investors are explicit that they only take warm introductions), by being transparent about the metrics she looks for in a business (and sharing these publicly), and by being brutally honest with the founders she backs.

Laura believes that true fintech continues to run hot - with the global market expected to reach $324B by 2026. She sees a future where there are infinite financial components, services, or processes but they can all be centrally coordinated to work together seamlessly with improved access to data and better orchestration. Part of this will be that real-time financial services become the norm.

"If you think of it, why on earth are customers prepared to wait days for money to hit their bank account following a transfer? Or even being paid only once a month? I think the urgency to digitize and move away from legacy banking structures to truly make sense of the plethora of data for improved customer 360 which will result in both value delivered and personalization. And, hopefully, with the increasing democratization of financial products, financial literacy and self-enablement for all customers will become attainable. Of course, real-time access to money movement increases the risk of identity theft and fraudulent transactions and I’m always on the lookout for companies solving this challenge."

More on Laura

Where you currently live: Toronto, Canada

Living arrangement: House with a basketball net for my boys and a garden for me

Family at home: Husband and three boys

Hometown: Scarsdale, NY

Favorite hobby: Martial arts and kickboxing

Favorite show to binge: Books preferred – this month I read Tomorrow, Tomorrow, & Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin and Trust by Hernan Diaz.

What is one piece of advice someone told you that resonated with you that can give to other women in FinTech?

Share your ideas freely and broadly. As women in Fintech, we represent a minority demographic and can offer the lens into a different perspective.

What's the best job decision you ever made?

To push for a secondment to the bank’s growth equity platform in NY in 2001. It gave me the opportunity to broaden my knowledge of private transactions and my network.

Can you tell us about a time someone encouraged you to try a task or take on a project you didn’t think that you would know how to do/or be good at?

Women are known for not applying for a position or jumping in with both feet unless they are uniquely qualified and check all the criteria to be successful. Martial arts has always been a passion of mine, I obtained my black belt in Karate at the age of 16, and continued to train until I started a family, when I put training on hold. After sitting on the sidelines, my son’s Tae Kwon Do instructor gave me the encouragement and confidence to start martial arts again. So, with three boys under the age of 5 years old, I started training again. Those early sessions were tough and embarrassing (I’d neglected my abs after 3 babies and could hardly do 10 push-ups). But, my instructor’s encouragement and my perseverance resulted in testing (a test that included a 10km run and 100 push-ups) and receiving my first degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do seven years later.

What is the most important lesson you have learned from a mistake you’ve made in the past?

A strong leader is paramount to any successful company. A massive market opportunity and an innovative technology are never enough to be successful on their own. Both vision and values are set from the top, and without this, employees have too narrow an aperature and don’t clearly see the long-term vision nor have the right values for hard-work, collaboration, and accountability.

Do you have any productivity hacks? What keeps you motivated? How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I don’t know if I consider them hacks, but I am extremely disciplined about my calendar. There’s nothing in there that isn’t critical, and I am intentional about when and how I do things. I color-code my calendar based on categories (internal meetings, portfolio meetings, new deal meetings, networking, personal) so that I can have a quick visual snapshot into where I’m spending my time in any given week and readjust, if necessary. I strive to leave a day each week meeting-free, which ensures I always have the time I need to do deep reading and writing or pursue a last-minute opportunity. I’ve built frameworks and templates that I use for basic VC skills such as company reviews and financial analysis. I’m also starting to use generativeAI tools and portfolio company Wrk’s automation platform to help accelerate daily tasks.

I am the mother of 3 active boys, one of whom has a physical disability, so I learned early on that family and health come first. Being a strong role model for them is one of my biggest motivators. I’m also committed to staying healthy and train in martial arts or kickboxing on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday.

Daily Diary

At around 6:00am - wake up and enjoy a cup of coffee in bed before getting organized for my children’s’ day at school and activities.

I’m typically in the office by 8:00am, as I love the quiet time at my desk to cross things off my To Do list before a day of meetings start.

What unfolds in a day is anybody’s guess, but it’s generally a mix of portfolio management, new company meetings, industry research, networking, and internal meetings. The best part about venture capital is you are never bored and always learning!

My workday usually ends with a walk home, with a colleague or a friend. Then I’m either back to mom-life (making dinner and taking kids to activities) or personal time (seeing friends, spending time with my husband, reading).

Before shutting down in the evening, I always check my calendar to ensure that I’m prepared for the next day.

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