From BCG Digital Ventures to Ontario Teachers’ Koru
Announcing Bryan Marcovici, BCGDV venture architect director, to join Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan’s new venture incubator, Koru, as GM and managing partner
BCGDV partner and managing director, Anthony Koithra, sits down with Bryan Marcovici, former BCGDV venture architect director, now Koru GM and managing partner, to discuss his path to Koru and opportunities the partnership between Ontario Teachers’ and BCGDV have already provided.
One of the key value propositions of working at BCG Digital Ventures is the opportunity to not just build and launch new ventures, but to become part of the founding team of the new companies we create — and BCGDV venture architect director, Bryan Marcovici, did just that, joining Ontario Teachers’ new venture incubator, Koru . I recently had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Bryan about this exciting new opportunity, and what he sees in store for its future.
Anthony: So, Bryan, it was about two years ago that you and I were sitting in a room just around the corner, and I was interviewing you for a VA Director role at BCGDV New York. What has your experience been like so far?
Bryan: For the past two years, I’ve been a venture architect director at BCGDV, focusing on the healthcare and consumer spaces. Venture architects play an integral role in building disruptive new businesses for our corporate partners. They are responsible for helping create the strategic ideas behind the businesses, and often serve as the entrepreneur in residence, or that individual in charge of bringing the team together, setting the course, and keeping all of the multidisciplinary functions driving towards the same objective. I’ve played this role across a number of ventures at BCGDV, and I’m looking forward to taking those skills with me to Koru.
Anthony: And what were you doing before you came to us?
Bryan: I started out my career as a consultant, and did that for about ten years before moving over to Bridgewater Associates, where I worked for a team doing large-scale business transformations. In 2013, I founded and led a tech startup funded by IMAX, called IMAXShift. As the CEO, I was responsible for designing, building, and launching an advanced fitness entertainment platform, which employed a really interesting, location-based use of IMAX technology to allow people to work out better and have fun doing it. Then, in 2017, I made the move to BCGDV, and the rest is history.
Anthony: So, we are about to unveil Koru, which we’ve been working on with our friends at Ontario Teacher’s for a while. Do you want to tell us a little about Koru and what it will do?
Bryan: Koru is a newly formed venture incubator built in partnership with BCGDV and Ontario Teachers’ that is focused on helping their portfolio companies develop new business models to address customer needs and play to their strengths. Disruption is affecting many of the industries Ontario Teachers’ and its portfolio companies play in, so Koru was designed to help protect them both against disruption and provide an opportunity to achieve breakout growth.
Anthony: In your role at Koru you will serve as the GM and managing partner. What does that mean and what have you signed up to do?
Bryan: As a GM, my job is to build Koru’s overall processes and approach. I’m responsible for establishing the structure for how we’ll bring these businesses to life, hiring the various teams we’ll need, and putting them in position to identify disruptive opportunities, incubate, and commercialize them. My goal is to take the processes BCGDV has codified — that ‘magic’ we’ve created that unlocks growth and brings real products to the market — and apply that to Ontario Teachers’ and their portfolio companies, creating massive value and return in the process.
The biggest area of opportunity we have with Koru is the number of portfolio companies already under our umbrella that are ready, willing, and able to work with us. The other big advantage is that the first set of customers for any new venture we launch is inherently built within Ontario Teachers’ portfolio itself. This gives us the ability to not only identify opportunities for disruption, but also to commercialize, grow, and scale them much faster.
Anthony: How do you think Koru is going to be different from BCGDV?
Bryan: The core of what we build at BCGDV and Koru is similar in that we’re both trying to find opportunities for disruption. The main difference is that Koru has a captive set of companies within Ontario Teacher’s portfolio, and BCGDV serves a wide range of Fortune 100–500s. So, structurally, there will be a bit of a difference in the way we will leverage our people. At BCGDV, we’ve had a lot of success with the cohort model, building very high-performance pools of talent that we can deploy across multiple different areas. Since we already have an understanding of what Koru’s venture pipeline is going to look like, we’re hiring talent that will immediately be deployed to building disruptive businesses. In this way, Koru is more of a bespoke approach than BCGDV.
Anthony: You’ve led a bunch of multidisciplinary teams now, both before and at BCGDV — you’re about to start building your own with Koru. What are you looking to do with your teams?
Bryan: The greatest unlock for BCGDV has not been in hiring all these people with diverse skill sets who are game to play well with each other. It has really been about aligning incentives. You need to create an environment where all disciplines have a seat at the table; where everyone feels empowered to execute to the best of their capabilities and bring competency to the market. But, more importantly, you want everyone driving towards the same goal. So, I think the key piece is that we’re trying to bring real startup people into Koru — people who have skin in the game, and know what it takes to build and deliver.
Anthony: What do you want Ontario Teachers’ portfolio companies to walk away with after engaging with Koru?
Bryan: For portfolio companies that engage with Koru, there is the opportunity to identify either ways to disrupt their business, or ways to take the assets they have today that just haven’t been unlocked, and build these large-scale businesses out of them. Ideally, Ontario Teachers’ portfolio companies should walk away with businesses that can stand on their own two feet and produce immediate value back to the organization. That value can take multiple different dimensions; it can be brand value, or revenue value, or even just knowledge in terms of responding more effectively to the challengers around them.
What’s really important is that we impart that ‘digital DNA’ to these portfolio companies, so we’re not just building a nice shiny toy for them that operates within a vacuum. The reason we work so closely with our portfolio companies is so that they can learn how businesses think strategically and digitally and then bring that thinking back into everything they do as an organization. Every portfolio company we touch we hope to help evolve in terms of how they evaluate not just their marketing or their competitors, but also how they do business.
Anthony: The journey to Koru’s launch started almost 18 months ago, with Hack-a-Futures in NY and London. Can you tell us a bit about what that was like for Ontario Teachers’ and the portfolio companies?
Bryan: The companies BCGDV works with are always blown away by the speed with which we’re able to come up with new ideas, and the extent to which these ideas push creative boundaries. When you talk to portfolio companies, it’s very new for them to go from nothing to real businesses that can be built and launched in such a short time. I think that’s a big unlock, because we could always spend time ideating, but that’s not really a business.
The other key piece is around the way they start to see their assets being used in different and unique ways. Oftentimes, in an older business, you tend to be very focused on what you do today, and you make incremental improvements based on the skills and capabilities you have. For us, it’s about the ability to extend that thinking further and uncover how to deploy their assets in new ways to get ahead of what might be coming in the marketplace.
Anthony: What roles are you currently hiring for at Koru?
Bryan: Right now, we’re looking for a head of product and a head of engineering to help us build out those disciplines. We’re also looking for strong internal support functions, such as HR and finance, as well as product managers, designers, growth marketers, and engineers, who will work together as venture teams. It would be great to also bring on board GM’s or “entrepreneurs in residence,” as we call them — people who can potentially run these ventures when they are launched. By the end of 2019, Koru aims to have approximately 10 employees, and 35–45 in steady state. To view current opportunities at Koru, visit hellokoru.com/careers.
Anthony: What profiles are you looking for in new hires?
Bryan: Koru is looking for people who want to be part of building disruptive digital businesses through competitive advantages that don’t exist in other places. It’s important for us to hire talent that is plugged into the startup community, all the way from three people in a garage, up to those who’ve built businesses with 10,000 people. We’re looking for folks who’ve either been at the helm of building a business, or who’ve played a role as they’ve grown from zero to one. The people who have the scars of failure on their backs are very interesting to us, because they understand what it takes to get a business to market — not just theoretically, but to actually put it out there in front of customers, test it, iterate, learn, and then bring it back stronger.
Anthony: Can you talk about what made you decide to make the jump from BCGDV to Koru?
Bryan: Having been with BCGDV NY from the early days, helping build the NY Center, it was obviously a very difficult decision for me to leave. Ultimately, what motivated me was twofold. Like with any company that grows from 100 people to 1,000 people, we’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way, and the ability to take the things that have worked well at BCGDV and translate those to Koru is really exciting.
The second motivating factor was the opportunity to work across Ontario Teachers’ 90+ portfolio companies. With Ontario Teachers’ behind this, we have a huge opportunity to put our money where our mouth is and say, “Can we actually do sustainable innovation in a controlled manner for a business that has 90 different opportunities?” If we can prove it out — which I wouldn’t be joining if I didn’t think we could — that really validates the BCGDV model we’ve been talking about for five years now.
Anthony: What are you most excited about with this new endeavor?
Bryan: I’m most excited at having the opportunity to build the first pure play incubator for a large institutional investor of pension that will specifically focus on their own assets. It’s a model that hasn’t been tried yet, and it has the possibility for a really big upside for Ontario Teachers’ as it relates to their ability to attract investments. The fact that Ontario Teachers’ is putting money towards disruptive growth and services rather than some of the more traditional private equity tools that get deployed to create value is a huge differentiator in the market. I also hope that, by bringing BCGDV’s methodology to the table, Koru can make an impact on the incubation community and tech ecosystem in Toronto, which is already such a strong market. The goal is to build a flagship that people really want to be a part of because we’re creating and launching unique, disruptive businesses.
Anthony: Where are you hiring for Koru? Is it all in Toronto?
Bryan: Yes, we’re primarily hiring to build teams in Toronto, but we also have activity in NY, and London, so we’re looking there too. We have to be where Ontario Teachers’ portfolio companies are so we can extend their reach. They are very strong in North America and Europe, but the goal is to get further into other markets, like Asia and Latin America. There’s a huge opportunity for disruption in these areas because there hasn’t been the same acceleration of some of the tech trends and developments we’ve seen in more established startup ecosystems.
Anthony: There are already some fascinating businesses coming out of Koru in less than a year of operation. What can you tell us about the first one, Elovee?
Bryan: Elovee is a new caregiver platform, built with Amica Senior Lifestyles, that allows people to care for their loved ones with dementia in a more hands on manner by leveraging technology like AI and machine learning to help mirror their voices back to these seniors with dementia. It’s an incredibly powerful tool that allows people with dementia to be calmed and nurtured and not get lost in their condition. What’s really unique about it is that it shows Amica’s willingness to make a bet on a future world. Amica is a renowned operator in the elder care space, with top-of-the-line customer service for their members, and premium residences. But, there was a gap in terms of being able to help seniors with dementia and alleviate common behaviors that come with it. With Elovee, they are exploring how innovation can invent an entirely new standard of care for the population living with dementia. Their aim is very much in line with the core Amica brand and that is to enrich the lives of seniors and their loved ones. Stay tuned for more exciting developments regarding Elovee. (www.Elovee.com)
Anthony: What industries is Koru is already playing in?
Bryan: To-date, Koru has had exposure to a broad set of industries, ranging from healthcare, to insurance, consumer fitness, and even a national lottery system. On the infrastructure side, we’ve worked with airports, energy utilities, and moving companies to name a few.
Anthony: What do you hope to accomplish with Koru? How do you see it evolving in the future?
Bryan: The ultimate ambition for Koru is to build ventures and businesses for Ontario Teachers’ in a completely self-contained way. The goal is to not just take an idea and work in conjunction with a portfolio company on it, but to own that idea, build it, and deploy it. We’ll be working hand-in-hand with our portfolio companies, both in terms of how we ideate and how we bring these concepts to the market. We need to be able to stand up multiple ventures — not just one and done — and I think we’ll see success with that in the three-year range. By five years, we expect multiple exits that will have returned value to Ontario Teachers’ portfolio companies.