When Ilan Jacobson was studying genetics, he never imagined himself working in the business world. In fact, nothing was further from his mind; he’d wanted to be a doctor since he was a child and that’s what he was determined to do. But Jacobson did want to develop his skill-set, so he enrolled in an MBA at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University. The rest, as they say, is history.
During his MBA, Jacobson was offered a job as a portfolio manager at a venture capital firm in Toronto. He had 12 hours to decide whether to take the job or return to medical school. After a long night discussing the pros and cons with his girlfriend (now wife), Jacobson decided to abandon his lifelong dream and take the job.
“Venture capital was fun but I didn’t make a great employee,” he says. “I needed more control so that’s why I ventured out in 2009, with literally just a desk and a chair, and started FirePower Capital (he’s President and CEO). “I didn’t pay myself for a number of years; people called it an overnight success but it didn’t feel like that to me.”
After starting as a small, family operation, Firepower Capital added an investment banking division in 2012 and has completed nearly 50 deals since then. The investment bank advises owners of lower middle-market private businesses on securing debt financing, acquiring a competitor, or selling to a buyer. “There’s a rock star status that’s given to entrepreneurs these days but I don’t think people realize how challenging it is to actually build a business,” Jacobson says. “It has been tough, but I love what I do. I’m fortunate to get up every day not feel that I’m going to work; I feel like I’m building something.”
Jacobson has lost none of the hunger that encouraged him to believe he could make it as an entrepreneur, and 2016 has been a great year for him and Firepower Capital. “In 2011, I developed a business plan for an asset management business, which I then shelved because I was concerned about my ability to execute it,” he say. “But after five years of learning my craft I dusted off the business plan and was able to raise a significant amount of capital, especially when you consider I had no asset management experience. That wasn’t easy, but you have to find people that believe in you. It’s been an incredibly good year financially but even better strategically.”
How an investment bank is attempting to support Canadian innovation
Become more productive in the coming year