Toronto executive Claudio Rojas named new CEO of National Angel Capital Organization

Claudio Rojas talks to Small Business Minister Mary Ng during the Canadian Dream Summit in Toronto on February 19, 2019. Canadian Dream Summit

Claudio Rojas, managing director of Hurt Capital, will be named the new CEO of the National Angel Capital Organization (NACO), The Logic has learned.

Rojas will replace Yuri Navarro, who led the angel investing organization as CEO since 2016.

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Talking Point

Claudio Rojas, managing director of Hurt Capital, will take over Yuri Navarro’s role as CEO of the National Angel Capital Organization. Rojas is a frequent critic of the lack of high-growth companies in Canada. He takes over the organization as it looks to play a larger role in shaping the country’s innovation policy.

Rojas confirmed the appointment when reached by phone late Thursday night, but declined further comment because the organization had yet to notify its roughly 3,000 members across Canada.

The announcement was shared with NACO members early Friday morning in a press release after Rojas was contacted by The Logic. In the release Rojas said he was: “Excited to have an amazing operational team and the guidance of our highly accomplished board to bring transformative and positive change in a wide range of areas that will impact our ability to create, grow and scale innovative companies in Canada.”

Rojas has been an outspoken champion of tech companies founded by Canadians in recent years and a frequent critic of the lack of high-growth companies in the country. For the past 11 years, he’s been the managing director of Hurt Capital, a Toronto-based venture capital and capital investment firm which has regularly beat the S&P 500, largely due to a buy-and-hold investing approach, according to a 2016 paper by Rojas.

In a February interview with The Sociable, Rojas said he was particularly excited by fintech and AI, but concerned that Canada has only two out of 300 unicorn companies. “I’m passionate about solving Canada’s unicorn problem,” Rojas said at the time.

Navarro announced in December 2018 that he would be stepping down from the CEO role to work with Panache Ventures, a Montreal-based venture capital firm focusing on seed-stage funding. He declined to comment on Rojas’ appointment when reached by phone Thursday night.  

During Navarro’s six years at NACO, the organization grew from 24 angel groups and networks to 40 across the country. Canadian angel activity also grew during Navarro’s tenure. In 2017, a total of $162.6 million was invested across 505 deals, up from $40.5 million in 139 investments in 2012, according to NACO’s annual reports.

At the time he announced his departure, Navarro said the organization was in a place to better use its data to do more policy work, and told BetaKit that the organization required new leadership.

“My interest tends to be around growing things, which is why I enjoyed the last six years at NACO and getting it to this point, but it’s time for me to go,” Navarro said at the time.

Rojas is a board member of Montreal’s Holt Fintech Accelerator—launched in 2018 by the Holdun family office—and the Canada FinTech Forum. In February, Small Business Minister Mary Ng praised Rojas for having 50 per cent of attendees at his  Canadian Dream Summit tech conference be women entrepreneurs. In March 2018, Rojas tweeted that he spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “about helping Canadian founder-run companies to become global champions.”

He has repeatedly highlighted the importance of centring founders in discussions around innovation policy. In a 2017 paper written for a University of Oxford blog, Rojas wrote that traditional ownership structures are being replaced by new, much better ones: “when the inherent advantages of concentrated equity ownership converge with robust business fundamentals, competitive agility amplifies, productive output surges, and exponential value accrues.”

NACO runs programs to encourage new angel investors. In 2017, it partnered with startup co-creation company Highline BETA’s Female Funders program to run an education program for women investors. It also advocates on behalf of its members. In October 2017, NACO produced a research paper warning that the federal government’s proposed changes to the small business tax deduction might lead to “decreased access to early stage capital.” Navarro also co-signed an open letter opposing the move along with the Council of Canadian Innovators and the Canadian Venture Capital Association.

Tech leaders were particularly concerned about a proposed higher tax rate for income from “passive” investments—those unrelated to the core business—held in small firms. Following the backlash, Finance Minister Bill Morneau softened the proposal, exempting the first $50,000 in passive investment income from the higher rate. “We will maintain incentives for people to be angel investors helping startup businesses to get going,” he said.

The government has also encouraged NACO’s growth, and used it to help administer key programs. At NACO’s World Angel Investor Summit in September 2018, Ng announced that the organization and five other angel investor groups would receive a combined $1.5 million to expand their networks. And, NACO is the only group trusted by the government to designate which angel groups and business incubators can sponsor entrepreneurs to come to Canada under the Start-up Visa program.

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect a press release sent by NACO to its members Friday morning.