EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2024

Raj Lala, President and CEO, Evolve ETFs

Entrepreneurial Spirit

The son of immigrant parents forced to flee South Asia, Raj’s entrepreneurial pursuits began at a young age, participating in his family’s self-made businesses in their new homeland of Canada. With the family struggling to make ends meet due to the real estate crash and the recession of the early 1990’s, Raj was forced to rely on his own means simply to pay tuition and complete his education. Whether it was cutting grass, selling baseball tickets, or advertising at trade shows, this personal financial uncertainty compelled Raj to develop the traits that guaranteed his future success as an entrepreneur – namely, hard work, resilience, network-building, and thinking differently.

It was upon graduating university that Raj discovered the perfect field to translate these skills: asset management. Building a remarkable network of industry and personal relationships simply from his positions as a telemarketer and a financial advisor, Raj developed the required technical knowledge to identify gaps in the Canadian asset management industry and turn them into opportunities. His first business, an alternative asset fund manager called Pescara Capital, proved to be among the top performing fund of funds in Canada during the early 2000’s. The next business, a structured products company called Propel Capital, persevered through the financial crisis of 2008, building an asset base of over $1 billion, before being purchased by one of Canada’s largest asset managers, Fiera Capital. However, it was while leading the Canadian business for WisdomTree, that Raj finally set his sights on his next business venture: exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”).


In ETFs, Raj found an accessible product allowing the average investor to create the financial certainty that he lacked in his youth.  However, rather than creating traditional ETF products, Raj, through Evolve ETFs (“Evolve”), fulfilled two gaps in the Canadian market. The first was a recessionary-resilient suite of products that could deliver investor returns in all phases of the economy, which, in today’s environment, has proved particularly prescient. The second was ETFs that would allow average investors to participate in tomorrow’s economy, which resulted in the creation of several innovative products premiering on the Canadian market, including those specializing in cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and green transportation.

Behind the execution of these strategies is a team at Evolve that Raj himself has personally recruited through the relationships he built from his past experiences. Along with Raj, the Evolve team have consistently demonstrated a relentless commitment to the firm’s main strategies, even at the cost of personal short-term gain for the benefit of corporate long-term gains. There is no greater example of such a sacrifice than the actions of senior management during the pandemic. With Evolve facing a critical juncture, having not posted a single year of profit through to that year, senior management was quick to implement the necessary measures to reduce its cost structures and modify its working styles amidst a remote environment. While difficult in the short term, they directly correlate with the three years of successive and growing profit that followed, amidst significant growth in assets under management which had tripled to $1.8 billion.


Evolve’s growth as a company can be viewed in several facets. From the perspective of performance, several Evolve ETFs have generated the highest annual domestic returns, dating back to 2018. Financially, assets under management have doubled each year for the past 6 years, and now total $7 billion offered through approx. 175,000 unique investor accounts. Strategically, Evolve has not only pioneered innovative products, as mentioned above, but have also created additional value by establishing sub-advisory agreements with some of Canada’s largest asset managers. These achievements, in an industry dominated by the Big 6 banks, have distinguished Evolve as a distinctly independent, innovative and creative brand amongst a sea of more traditional offerings.

While these achievements are shared as a group, they are also a product of the environment that Raj has established within the company. As someone who values thinking differently, Raj has ensured that a variety of perspectives exist amongst the decision makers of the Company – especially those of women, who are drastically underrepresented within the asset management industry. In hiring his team, Raj not only incentivizes them through equity participation in the company, but also through a self-directed and open environment that encourages the pursuit of new ideas. In doing so, Raj has created a corporate space for his team to develop the same entrepreneurial spirit that he has benefitted from throughout his career. In this way, Evolve is able to continue to identifying gaps in the industry, even while offering customers further ways to secure their financial goals.


Evolve’s impact on the community begins with its focus on the ultimate users of its products – investors. As Raj mentioned, it is his team’s continued focus on differentiating the investor experience through Evolve that has resulted in the Company’s public accolades, as opposed to any one particular investment strategy. In that vein, Raj has taken several steps to make Evolve accessible to the average investor. This includes cultivating past relationships to create non-traditional distribution channels to reach a broader investor audience, or simply through connecting with consumers through podcasts or other media to provide further financial literacy on upcoming economic industries.

Beyond creating themed products with a specific focus on ESG, such as automobile innovation, gender diversity or, cybersecurity, Raj and his team have also prioritized directly investing in the Canadian community around them. This includes an approved mandate to spend a percentage of total EBITDA per year on charitable donations to employee-selected organizations. Not only do these include larger not-for-profits, such as Make-A-Wish and United Way, but also other institutions, such as Second Harvest, which prioritizes redirecting excess food supplies to those less fortunate. Beyond simple donations, this mandate can also translate into active volunteer days, where employees may directly participate in the charitable act of an entity of their choosing. In so doing, Raj sees an opportunity to give back to the Canadian ecosystem that enabled his own success in the asset management industry.