Photo courtesy of Suraj K. Gupta.
While pursuing his MBA at Columbia University, Suraj K. Gupta witnessed many founding teams, especially ones headed by women and people of colour, having trouble getting financed despite their great ideas. Gupta’s belief that “genius is distributed equally” and his desire to create an environment of innovation in Canada led him to found Rogue Insight Capital, a capital and private equity firm committed to catalyzing change by seeking out women, visible minorities, and people of colour who dare to transform the world.
In an interview with The Edge, he discussed the challenges faced in supporting underserved groups.
What were some of the challenges you’ve faced as a result of the pandemic in 2020?
At the start of the pandemic, one of our early challenges was figuring out how to help the people that needed it in the most efficient way possible. We started with Project Kindness. When COVID-19 hit, we realized hotels and motels [weren’t] going to have a lot of business, and we [had] a bunch of food that [was] going to perish. So, what can we do with these items? Our team came up with ideas to mobilize the resources. We reached out to organizations like [food rescue charity] Second Harvest. Then we went to all our hotels and everyone we knew in the market and said, “If you have food that you know is going to go to waste, let us know and we’ll figure out how to pick this up.” And within two or three days, we had 2,000 pounds of food and supplies [to donate].
How do you choose which businesses and entrepreneurs to invest in given Rogue Insight Capital’s mandate to “find visionaries who dare to transform the world?”
We look for companies that have at least one female, visible minority, or immigrant in a senior leadership position—ideally, a co-founder. The second thing we look for is companies that are making a social impact [and] not ones that are just focused on their business and think that people are better off because of it. We really want to look for companies that are making a difference by solving a big problem.
We’ve created an internal assessment around how we can evaluate companies and how they can qualify. The questions are weighted to see how much of a difference they’re making. Our final question is, “If this company were to disappear tomorrow, would the world be worse off?” If the answer is “No,” we won’t invest.
Why do you think that women, immigrants, and people of colour are so important when it comes to transforming the world and creating change?
If you want to build a company that’s going to make a difference, you need to understand the people you’re selling to. If you have a very homogenous team, you’re not going to be able to understand the needs of everyone, no matter how self-aware or well-read you are. It’s always going to be difficult to understand other people if you’re surrounded by people who are the same as you. Whereas when you have people from different walks of life, different industries, different backgrounds, different genders, you will naturally have different perspectives [on] how you can grow a company.
I always love to point to examples of funny gaffes I’ve seen in the world market that have an interesting underlying message. For example, American Motors had a car called the Matador. It sold amazingly in the States, but then they tried selling it in Spanish-speaking countries—in Spanish, “matador” means “killer,” so you’re not going to instill a lot of confidence there. It just kind of shows you that when you don’t have a team with that diversity of thought, you’re not going to be able to expand the company in the right way because you’re not going to understand things like this that really matter.
Can you explain how the unique experiences of women, people of colour, and immigrants can be a competitive edge for businesses, and the consequences of lack of support?
This is a bit of a generalization, but we always hear stories of immigrants that come to a new country and face challenges. They don’t have the same resources that the incumbents might have and, more often than not, the ones that are successful got there because they worked extremely hard. They’re unbelievably gritty, and they take nothing for granted. All of those things are everything you’d want in an entrepreneur.
As for the consequences of not investing, Canada is a country that’s built on fossil fuels, and that’s an advantage that will not endure. So, I think that one of our greatest “natural resources” is our diversity. But you can have entire regions and economies fail if you don’t adequately empower 92 per cent of the population. I think that we could easily become a world leader in innovation if we don’t just support 8 per cent of the population. So, the repercussions for our community, our economy, and our society are massive. Nobody should have a lack of access to resources just because of the colour of their skin, their gender, or anything like that.
Marcus Medford | Contributing Writer