Northern Ontario Angels—Synonymous with Success

Northern Ontario Angels (NOA) serving the region


Board and staff members of the NOA meet in Sault Ste. Marie.

Rna Diagnostics, a bio-tech company based in Sudbury, is in the final testing stages of a new service that aims to improve care for cancer patients, as well as their rates of survival. According to John Connolly, VP Corporate Development, the company has developed a new test to better determine which patients are most likely to benefit from chemotherapy, helping oncologists quickly switch unresponsive patients to other treatments.

With clinical trials underway with leading institutions in Europe, Japan and North America, Rna Diagnostics' new test is approaching the final commercialization stage. As the company prepares to break into world markets and positively impact this global healthcare problem, Connolly stresses the process has required extensive research, testing, as well as investment capital. That's where Northern Ontario Angels, an angel investor network, comes in.

"The real advantage of these angel groups is that they bridge a lack of funding available from the venture capital sector in Canada for start-up companies like us," explained John Connolly. "The investor angels have filled a gap, particularly for those of us in the bio-technology sector, and are providing a very important source of capital for knowledge-based companies."

Rna Diagnostics marks the 100th deal closed by Northern Ontario Angels in what has been a very successful decade for the investor group. Established as a not-for-profit entity in 2005, with FedNor support, the program has been linking investors with high-growth Northern Ontario companies at a success rate of 96 percent. Ranked as the number one investor group in Canada, Executive Director Mary Long-Irwin attributes the organization's stellar performance in part to Northern Ontario's inherent make-up: many small communities that are intimately connected and where everyone knows everyone.

Add to the mix a strong board, consultants in Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay, and a network of volunteer sector advisors across the North, Long-Irwin says she has the resources at her fingertips to quickly find out who's who in a particular community, as well as what would sell or work in that market. She asserts that come decision time, it's the intelligence on the ground that frequently helps seal the deal because the financials speak for themselves.

"We have some brilliant minds here in Northern Ontario but traditional lending institutions aren't wired to provide financing for ideas or concepts so that's where we can make a difference by connecting entrepreneurs who have the drive and passion to succeed with investors who can help them realize their dreams," explained Long-Irwin. "Thanks to FedNor support from the start, we can focus all our energies on making that happen, and that's why we're so successful."

Long-Irwin says the phone hasn't stopped ringing as word of the program continues to make inroads across the North. Last year alone, Northern Ontario Angels helped cement 25 deals in Northern Ontario including five in First Nation communities, for projects touching on everything from construction to IT.

"Our investors stand out because many have a strong emotional attachment to the region and want to help build Northern Ontario, company by company. They still want to make money but they also want to reinvest in the North to ensure their children have jobs here in the future. Giving back to the region is important to them."

Including Rna Diagnostics, Northern Ontario Angels (NOA) has closed 100 deals with total investments of more than $123 million. Entrepreneurs have invested approximately $40 million, leveraging an additional $23 million in government and other funding, as well as $45 million from commercial lenders.

But it isn't just about money. Sometimes, investors assist with a mortgage or co-sign for an operating line of credit. According to Long-Irwin, no two deals are the same. NOA ensures deals are in the best interests of the business and deliver results for the investor. "Often, the relationship between the investor and the business doesn't end when the ink is dry. Our investors make sure the young and expanding businesses have the tools they need, and frequently, that means investors serve as business mentors. That's why our success rate is so incredibly high."

By financing projects such as Rna Diagnostics, the Northern Ontario Angels group is helping nurture innovative ideas, create jobs and keep highly skilled persons here in Northern Ontario. And in the case of Rna Diagnostics, this investment might just lead to the establishment of a new standard of cancer care around the world.