The Advantages of Gender Diversity in Health Innovation and Investing: Spotlight on Natalie Dakers

Natalie Dakers is a leading figure in the Canadian biotech/health sciences industry.  She is the founding President and CEO of Accel-Rx Health Sciences Accelerator, dedicated to maximizing the growth of early stage health science companies with critical resources to become the next generation of anchor companies. Natalie will be a panelist at the Cascadia Venture Forum Summit on November 15th, 2017.


Born into a highly academic family, it was expected that Natalie Dakers would follow a similar path. So when she took a sharp left and emerged instead as an entrepreneur, her family was at a loss, as she tells a captive audience of SFU business students: “They said, you’re the only entrepreneur in the family—where did you come from”?

While the path might have been unexpected to her family, it was a natural fit for Natalie. As founding President and CEO of Accel-Rx and CDRD, and named to Business in Vancouver magazine’s Influential Women in Business in 2017, rolling with the unexpected is where Natalie has made her entrepreneurial mark over the past two decades, building successful businesses from scratch by uncovering possibility and opportunity.

Whatever you do as an entrepreneur, chances are you are on unknown ground, so get comfortable with the uncomfortable,” she advises students grappling with how to handle the ups and downs of building a business. “When you do, you are in a totally different mindset—an entrepreneurial way of being. We should always be pushing ourselves—accepting the status quo is not the definition of an entrepreneur. And to stay the course you must totally believe in what you are doing.”

And “believe” she does.  In May 2017 Natalie was lead spokesperson in a trade mission on behalf of Trade and Invest BC to the UK and Germany. With a focus on Health Sciences, the goal was twofold: to build on strategic initiatives between BC and potential international investors as well as to advocate for investment in Canada.

“It’s not difficult to generate interest in Canada because there are real advantages to build on here. We have a remarkably good tax structure. From an innovation point of view, between the provincial and federal government you can decrease your taxes substantially through various programs.  Also, when it comes to research, Canada punches way above its’ weight. Between our youth and the number of PhDs, we’ve got a workforce with greater higher education fundamentals. Plus, we have reputation for being nice, friendly and trustworthy people to work with.”

She emphasizes the importance of this latter strength because for investors looking to partner with Canadian entrepreneurs, confidence in the relationship is everything. As Natalie frames it; “In real estate, it’s all about location, location, location; in business, it’s all about people, people, people.”

So, was the mission a success?

“When you are building something, you are never sure whether it is going to pay off but creating an extensive network that lets investors know what you are offering, combined with a strong value proposition, you’ve got a winning scenario.”

The Cascadia Venture Forum (CVF) is another opportunity where like-minded entrepreneurs and investors meet and find synergy. “The north south corridor here on the west coast is very important for us in Vancouver because east-west time zones are a deterrent. CVF offers a great advantage through this kind of alignment to learn about the different investment opportunities and meet the pool of individuals working in our companies.”

As a panel participant at the CVF Summit, the Accel-Rx CEO looks at specific criteria when deciding whether or not to partner with a start-up company, especially the team itself.  “Do you connect? Can you build a relationship? Are you going to be able to work together for the long haul?” she asks. "The technology may be awesome and sexy but it’s lower on the scale compared to 'Is there enough funding and can we all work together?' We won’t invest if these two aren’t in sync," she explains.

Team dynamics are extremely important to Natalie, not just with the companies she invests in, but also within her own organization — and she is quick to credit her own team with what she loves most about her job. “I love the people I work with and I love being able to make a difference.  I am fortunate to get to work with all these incredible people.”

Whether building successful teams or creating the next generation of thriving health science anchor companies or forging global trade partnerships, Natalie’s remarkable career will continue to make an indelible mark in her field and the future of health science innovation.

Jason Robertson