Mary Long-Irwin had a distinguished career as an entrepreneur, served as manager of the Community Futures program in Thunder Bay and as president and CEO of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce prior to joining the Northern Ontario Angels as executive director in 2009. Now retired, she continues to contribute as a part-time Angel consultant for Thunder Bay.
In this interview, she tells us how and why the Northern Ontario Angels was established and how it has evolved as North America’s most successful angel investing group. Funded by Fednor, it has brought together 300 investors -- high net worth people from across Northern Ontario – together with approximately 150 investors from the United States, India, Hong Kong and other countries to invest in startups in Northern Ontario.
Nine deals were done one year after Mary assumed a leadership role with the Angels. Today, the Northern Ontario Angels do an average of 60 deals per year. Since its inception, the angel investing group has invested approximately $200 million in more than 460 deals and created more than 4,000 jobs with a success rate of more than 98 per cent. The success of angel investing in Northern Ontario relies heavily on relationships with the innovation centres and the support of the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund.
For the last eight years, Mary tells us, it has been the number one angel investing group in Canada and has been recognized as the top angel investing group in all of North America. Mary attributes its success to the angel investors themselves “who believe in the North, who believe they can contribute and believe it is their duty to support local businesses. That’s what we have that others don’t have.” They contribute more than just financial resources, she tells us. They also provide the mentorship and coaching that startups require to achieve success.