“We know starting companies is hard because we’ve been there,” says James Lochrie of his team at Thin Air Labs. And his managing partner has certainly had a tough time launching a company.
He did extremely well. After studying technology at the University of Calgary and information and management studies at Western University, he co-founded a company called Wave Accounting. He served as the company’s chief product officer and chief technology officer, providing accounting services to small businesses, before it was acquired by H&R Block for more than $500 million.
With tremendous faith and trust in Calgary and Alberta, Lochrie began investing in technology startups with the vision of helping young companies grow and stay here to make this city an influential technology hub.
His experience as an angel investor was successful and, wearing his entrepreneurial hat again, he took the opportunity to expand the experience and form a company that could help many more. Along with two co-founders, he launched Thin Air Labs in 2020; a venture capital and services firm that creates human value by helping early-stage startups scale globally.
Thin Air Labs Fund 1 set out to raise $20 million, including $4 million from the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund. That financing round closed in October and the company began to build a client base that currently stands at 19, to which two more will be added shortly.
Lochrie also knows the value of an experienced and like-minded staff. He calls the 20 people who work in his Calgary office a team of different minds – a team of diverse talents and experience ready to help.
Thin Air Capital’s executive team consists of Lochrie, general partner and CEO Rick Bird and general partner Raghu Bharat. Crystal Phillips is Vice President of Thin Air Labs Fund 1.
Many of its investments are in life sciences, reflecting the experience Phillips has in that sector. He co-founded and created the Branch Out Neurological Foundation, but joined Thin Air to expand his impact on humanity.
The fund has already achieved notable successes with several of its investments.
Good examples include Syantra, a precision biotechnology company co-founded by Tina Rinker, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Calgary, which has developed a blood test to detect cancer, starting with breast cancer. Fluid BioMed was also born at the university thanks to two neurosurgeons who developed the next generation of stents to treat aneurysms.
One of our university superstars, plastic and reconstructive surgeon Breanne Everett, who also earned an MBA from the Haskayne School of Business, has received a lot of plaudits for Orpyx Medical Technologies. The company she founded and is CEO of developed an insole to prevent diabetic foot ulcers and therefore prevent many amputations.
And Tactile Orthopedics also has roots at the University of Calgary. Founded by two orthopedic surgeons, it has developed realistic models that feel like human bones and soft tissues, to improve access to surgical training models for knee replacement and shoulder repair.
Fintech companies also benefit from the fund, including PayShepherd, which helps large industrial facilities manage contractor billing, and Fillip, which developed a digital fleet card.
Lochrie had every reason to be confident in the future of this city’s high-tech sector.
Thin Air Labs has a second division that helps startups and scale-ups expand their runway by raising non-dilutive capital, such as grants, debt, and tax credits.
Entrepreneurs stay busy running a new company; writing grants takes many hours. Thin Air Labs has a group of strategists and technical writers within its Funding Catalyst team who work as an extension of the venture teams to help their businesses grow.
It is not necessary to be in the company’s portfolio to access its services. He currently supports businesses throughout North America and has secured business funding totaling over $30 million to date.
It also has a Product Traction team that helps with product management, design, and engineering to ensure a company’s product or platform connects with customers.
Lochrie’s vision of creating good in the world by helping entrepreneurs is paying big dividends.
David Parker appears regularly in the Herald. Read his columns online at calgaryherald.com/business. He can be reached at 403-830-4622.