Danielle Graham is a venture capitalist with a purpose, focusing much of her career so far on fostering and funding underrepresented founders. She created Fierce Founders Programs — the first women-focused accelerator and bootcamp series in Canada — and has been Principal at Sandpiper Ventures and Dream Maker Ventures. Currently as Venture Partner at ArchAngel Network of Funds, Danielle serves founders with a social and environmental purpose looking to scale their tech businesses. She is an advisor for incubators ventureLAB, Haltech, Volta, and the Holt Fintech Accelerator.
My first job ever was… As an Intern at USAID (United States Agency for International Development) in Ethiopia. I joined field trips to remote regional offices to improve data collection and support women’s microloan projects.
I chose my career path because… That initial experience I had working in microloans for women in the southern Somali region on the Ethiopia-Kenya border was impressive. Their success stories inspired me to realize the power of entrepreneurship and the benefits of women working together collectively. It inspired me to build the first women’s tech accelerator in Canada.
What I love most about being a venture capitalist is… You get to learn through doing. I have been fortunate to have a deep level of exposure to various investment models and to people who have taught me the ropes. It takes longer than imagined to raise a purposeful fund. My long term relationships have supported me through my career and every stage of that growth. I’m excited to share the news when it all comes together!
The most challenging part about being a Venture Growth Advisor is… I am one of the youngest Venture Growth Advisors at ventureLAB and a woman. Working with a host of unconscious biases makes me wise and kind beyond my years!
The best advice I received from a mentor was… That I’m thinking too small. I’m able to help founders think big, and as I do, I’m struck by how often we don’t apply our own advice to ourselves.
My biggest setback was… When I was writing and researching my Master’s thesis in South Africa, my backpack with my work and laptop was stolen the day I was leaving Johannesburg. I had to stay for a few extra weeks, get a temporary passport, and try to recollect as much of the research as possible. It took another 6 months before I was able to defend my thesis. A year later, one of my best friends lost all of her research when her computer crashed. She remembered my experience and kept telling herself, “If Danielle can do it, so can I.”
I overcame it by… Moving back to Ethiopia and surrounding myself with friends and family as I took the tedious steps towards rewriting my work. It was hugely productive to write in a relaxed and supportive environment.
If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I learned how to speak French while I was in the Acadian region of southern Nova Scotia, working in acid rain prevention research and as a wildlife technologist during my undergrad. I’m a bilingual environmentalist!
My best advice for anyone trying to scale a tech business is… Manage your expectations –– the inflection point for scale will be unpredictable. It’s more about the evidence gathered by the process, iterating, pivoting, researching, and responding to the market than guessing or trying to predict exactly how success will take place.
A great leader is… Willing to take a lot more informed risks, and have built up resilient skills and means to learn from failure, knowing that some risks pay off, and others won’t. Great leaders model the risks they advise others to take, and support others to build resilient competencies when faced with less than successful outcomes.
I stay inspired by… Engaging with incredible women entrepreneurs that are executing their startup visions to change the world!