Belfast Telegraph

Busiest time for Growth Loan Fund as it hands out £6m to boost SMEs

By Jamie Stinson

The fund set up by Invest NI to provide cash boosts for small and medium-sized businesses in Northern Ireland has had its busiest period since its inception.

The Growth Loan Fund approved 12 loans - totalling £6m - in the final quarter of 2014. The average loan from the £50m fund is between £300,000 and £350,000.

The criteria businesses need to meet includes: being based in Northern Ireland, being able to show growth potential, and typically aimed at firms in the manufacturing, engineering or services sectors. Businesses with export potential is an area which the fund is targeting.

Paul Millar of WhiteRock Capital Partners LLP, which manages the fund, said: "Demand for funding has been strong and inquiries for loans have consistently increased in number.

"The most recent quarter has been our busiest yet, with 12 loans approved at a total value of £6m, made up of loans ranging from £150,000 to £1m."

Last month Belfast software firm Automated Intelligence was one of the businesses to have a loan approved, allowing it to invest in support for ongoing sales growth, and research and development.

Established in 2012, Whiterock has so far lent just over half of the fund, with 90 loans approved with a combined total of £28m.

"At the outset of the Growth Loan Fund a little over two years ago, some banks were wary about what our role in the market would be," Mr Millar said.

"Today we mostly work alongside banks and equity providers to deliver joined up funding to SMEs. They now understand we are providing top slice mezzanine funding to companies that augment their existing banking facilities rather than replace them."

Whiterock was set up to manage the fund by the consortium of three partners - Strathtay Ventures Ltd, NEL Fund Managers, and Clarendon Fund Managers.

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