NI in­ven­tors near fin­ish line in race for top prize

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - BY RYAN MCALEER

We look at the fi­nal­ists in the 2018 In vent awards who are hop­ing to fol­low in the foot steps of last year’ s win­ner, Dr he­len mc carthy

THE world’s most pro­lific growth in­vestor, the Busi­ness Growth Fund, is clos­ing in on its lat­est in­vest­ment in North­ern Ire­land.

The as yet un­named en­gi­neer­ing firm, be­lieved to be in Mid Ul­ster, is set to be­come the BGF’S fifth in­vest­ment here. It’s un­der­stood the BGF will also make its first in­vest­ment in the Re­pub­lic by the end of the year. In its eight years of op­er­a­tion, the ven­ture fund has ploughed around £2.5bn into some 250 UK SMES. To date, £40-50m of that has been in­vested for eq­uity in four North­ern Ire­land com­pa­nies: home builder Braid­wa­ter, re­cy­cling com­pany River­ridge, cof­fee shop chain Bob & Berts, and soft­ware de­vel­oper Au­dit Com­ply.

But, speak­ing af­ter meet­ing a num­ber of prospec­tive busi­nesses in Belfast on Thurs­day, BGF chief ex­ec­u­tive Stephen Wel­ton said the fund wants to ex­pand its port­fo­lio both north and south of the bor­der. The BGF has al­ready es­tab­lished it­self in the Re­pub­lic, an­nounc­ing a €250m fund in Novem­ber last year. But it has yet to make its first in­vest­ment there.

“We have yet to make our first in­vest­ment, we think we will make two in­vest­ments by the end of the year,” said Mr Wel­ton.

While it’s three years since the fund made its first NI in­vest­ment, in Lon­don­derry con­struc­tion firm Braid­wa­ter, BGF only opened its first per­ma­nent of­fice in Belfast ear­lier this year.

Paddy Gra­ham, who heads up the BGF’S op­er­a­tions in North­ern Ire­land and Scot­land, said the ven­ture fund has been tak­ing its time, build­ing re­la­tion­ships.

“It has taken time for us to es­tab­lish our­selves in the mar­ket here. We’re not fly by night, we’re not in and out.

“Once we got our first deal over the line, that gave us a ref­er­ence point for other en­trepreneurs to speak to. That has started to cre­ate more op­por­tu­ni­ties for us.”

He said Braid­wa­ter had grown ten-fold since the ini­tial in­vest­ment in Novem­ber 2015.

“If we look at the last three years, we’ll have in­vested some­where be­tween £40m and £50m, which is a sig­nif­i­cant change from not re­ally in­vest­ing any­thing in the first four years.”

Mr Wel­ton said BGF op­er­ates a re­la­tion­ship-led in­vest­ment model, of­fer­ing small to medium sized com­pa­nies in­vest­ment of be­tween £1m and £10m.

“The big­gest de­ci­sion they ever make is, do they bring in an out­sider?

“BGF’S ap­proach is to align our­selves with the own­ers of the com­pany. We are al­ways a mi­nor­ity in­vestor. We are a part­ner and we will in­vest for as long as it takes. Our mes­sage to own­ers is that we will be in­vested in this com­pany for as long as you are.”

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