Early-stage companies 'attracting higher levels of funding'
EARLY-stage businesses in the north are attracting larger equity funding rounds than in previous years, but could raise even higher amounts if more external investors were aware of the quality of companies emerging from the region.
That's according to Clarendon Fund Managers, which manages the £47.3 million Co-Fund NI, which provides growth capital to early stage, high-growth potential SMEs alongside lead private investors.
Clarendon says that in the 12 months to March 31, despite the impact of the pandemic, Co-Fund NI invested £7.5m in Northern Ireland businesses, alongside £13.2m of private investment in 37 funding rounds, bringing the total it has invested to more than £31m, resulting in overall investment of £174m when private match investment and leveraged funds are included.
In the same 12-month period, its portfolio companies raised £56m of investment, with 15 companies raising Series A funding rounds averaging £2.9m – almost double the average value of Series A rounds raised the year before.
These included Cumulus Neuroscience raising £6m from DDF and Life Arc Science Fund; Neurovalens raising £5.2m from IQ Capital and Wharton; and Cirdan Imaging raising £3.6m from existing shareholders and the Future Fund.
Innovative heart rate software company B-Secur has also raised almost £8m in the first of half of the year, including $6m from a US-based fund.
Brian Cummings, investment director at Clarendon Fund Managers, said: “Co-Fund NI plays a vital role in funding Northern Ireland's high potential businesses through co-investment alongside business angels and other private investors, with the aim of helping them accelerate growth.
“Demand for funding is high, and the quality of the companies we are seeing coming through is increasing every year.
“It's clear from some of the Series A funding rounds raised by Northern Ireland companies in our last financial year that a number of equity investors are starting to take notice of the potential in the region.
“But I would encourage others who aren't already doing so to take a look at what's emerging in Northern Ireland as we'd like to invest alongside more external investors.”
Alan Foreman, chief executive at B-Secur, said: “Co-Fund NI first invested in our company in early 2020 at an uncertain time for our business in the early days of Covid-19 and have followed on with significant investment twice as the business moved back to growth.
“I was thrilled that B-Secur was able to find a Northern Ireland investor that understands our deep tech proposition and the immense global opportunity we have, while supporting our growth ambitions locally.
“Co-Fund NI's support since early 2020 provided a key endorsement as we sought investment from the US, a key strategic market for the company.”
Just over a third (34 per cent) of funds invested by Co-Fund NI have gone into tech and ICT companies, 31 per cent to life and health sciences, 14 per cent to creative and digital firms, 11 per cent to advanced manufacturing, materials and aerospace companies and 10 per cent into businesses in food, drink, tourism and consumer goods.
To support its increasing investment activity Co-Fund NI was topped up with £16m of fresh funding from Invest NI and British Business Investments, a commercial subsidiary of the British Business Bank.