Mark Attanasio

Stay focused, stay humble, and use your failures and mistakes to make you smarter.


Mark Attanasio is a Toronto-based financial services executive and co-founder of Hillcrest Merchant Partners, a venture capital investment firm focused on a number of industries, including healthcare, industrials, cannabis, electric metals, mining, gaming and technology.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

I have spent 15 years in the Investment Banking business, and during that time, I always had a keen interest in the venture capital world. I have made a series of passive investments in various venture start-ups and find it very rewarding to be part of something that starts off quite small with the potential for exponential growth. So, after leaving the Investment Banking world, I started a merchant bank/venture capital firm called Hillcrest Merchant Partners.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My day starts at 5:30am where I will read a few newspapers to get up to speed on the markets. I will then catch up on emails, and likely have a few conference calls with the CEOs of our portfolio companies. The rest of the day is usually reviewing investor presentations from prospective start-ups looking for funding.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Typically, the ideas come from entrepreneurs who have an idea, and are looking for venture funding to bring that idea to reality. My part is to provide the capital if the idea has the merits of an investment.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The world is constantly evolving so there are many trends depending on where you want to focus. For me, I have 2 trends that excite me at the present time. First, Urban Security/Threat detection. With all of the mass shootings in the USA, and threats of localized terror attacks around the world, I believe weapon detection technology is becoming critical to safety in large crowds, concerts, stadiums, subways, airports, etc. So I see technologies that can detect and prevent mass casualty events as a trend that will become very relevant in next few years. Second, the global acceptance of Cannabis, moreso, on the medical side. Cannabis has been researched by scientists for many years, and the medical benefits derived from certain components of the plant could be significant in treating medical conditions such as Epilepsy, Parkinsons, certain cancers, and anti-inflammatory diseases. I believe the Cannabis trend is only beginning on the uses to treat disease.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Exercise. It’s very easy to engulf yourself in emails, presentations, meetings, conference calls, etc. Therefore, having a clear mind to evaluate opportunities requires an outlet. My outlet is Mixed Martial Arts. I train 3 days a week with my Muay Thai trainer, and I find this outlet very beneficial for clearing my mind.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would have told myself not to be afraid to make mistakes when I was younger. The reason for this is you can only learn and become better by making mistakes and using those experiences to better yourself.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

One thing I think it true, is that over the next 10 years, the digital banking and digital currency world will take over the physical world. By this, I simply mean that digital currency’s and the digital storage of value will be done virtually digitally in the cloud or blockchain, and the days of using physical fiat will diminish.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Before making an investment as a merchant banker, I always spend a considerable amount of time with the founder of a company, prior to making an investment. When investing in an entrepreneur, you need to ensure that the individual has the drive and passion to succeed because very often, there are bumps along the road, and you want to ensure the founder you are backing has the capacity to overcome the hurdles.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Stay focused, stay humble, and use your failures and mistakes to make you smarter. I do this by doing a “look-back” after every transaction or major experience and learn from the things that did not work.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

In merchant banking, you have to expect that not all of your investments will spur significant returns. Therefore, you need to condition yourself to take the failures, learn from them, and continue onward with the same passion as you did prior to the failure. This is what makes a successful merchant banker in my opinion.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I believe that over the next 5 years, there will be significant breakthroughs on using Cannabis for treating major illnesses. Finding the right entrepreneur to discover this will reap significant rewards.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Personally, the best $100 I spent was taking my wife for a very casual dinner to a quiet little restaurant we often visit where we are able to catch up and disconnect from our day to day jobs. There is more to life than 24 hours of talking business. Being able to disconnect is very important to staying focused.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Instant messaging software has been a tool that I use very often to share documents, and have multiple conversations with people.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

“Too Big to Fail” by Andrew Sorkin. It’s a great read on the intricacies and the build-up to one of the worst economic crises of my time. It was very interesting to learn that the crisis was an accumulation of many years of excessiveness.

What is your favorite quote?

“Don’t let the fear of losing be greater than the excitement of winning.”

Key Learnings:

  • Work on maintaining a work/life balance, there is more to life than business
  • The entrepreneur is just as important as the idea
  • Take time for yourself, it will make you more productive in the long run