Belfast Telegraph

Fortune favours people of Braveheart for £50m fund

By Clare Weir

The boss of the new fund which will dole out up to £50m to Northern Ireland businesses has urged firms to take advantage of "a totally new opportunity".

Braveheart Investment Group has been appointed to manage the Growth Loan Fund.

It aims to generate £150m sales growth every year for small and medium enterprises and create more than 2,000 jobs within a decade.

Braveheart was the lead bidder in a consortium which also includes NEL Fund Managers, based in Newcastle upon Tyne and Belfast's own Clarendon Fund Managers.

Loans will be made to businesses that can demonstrate sales and profitability growth, or strong growth potential.

Businesses that currently export and wish to further expand sales in international markets will be a key target.

The Growth Loan Fund was set up as part of Invest NI's Access To Finance strategy, after new and existing business owners complained that they were not getting enough support from the banking sector.

The fund will operate on a matched funding basis, with Invest NI committing £25m, while a further £25m is being committed by the private sector.

The fund will be managed on a fully commercial basis and will be constructed as a limited partnership with a 10-year term, subject to extension.

Geoffrey Thomson, chief executive of Braveheart, said that the fund was one of the largest of its kind and said that the investments could be "significant" in boosting the Northern Ireland economy.

"We are really looking forward to developing and administering what is essentially a completely new product for businesses," he said.

"It doesn't matter what sector the businesses is from, whether it is a traditional manufacturing company, a tech company or something completely different, as long as the firm has a good strong business plan and the potential for growth and requires a figure between £50,000 and £500,000.

"What makes us different to the banks is that we actually have money to lend for a start.

"Also we are not looking for personal guarantees, which is another massive difference.

"This is one of the biggest ever loan funds of its kind and that is very exciting to be a part of.

"We are delighted to have come through an exhaustive selection process against stiff competition to be appointed fund managers.

"We are also looking forward to working in partnership with Clarendon, who have a lot of local knowledge, and NEL, who are experts in their field."

Mr Thompson added that the fund would be open for submissions in May.

More information on how to apply for the funds will be released over the coming weeks.

He has also said the firm is unconcerned about its most recent set of accounts which showed that losses before taxation in the six months ending September 2011 were £842,000. It said that the figure reflected a recent re-structuring of the business.

Braveheart had net assets of £4.72m and six portfolio companies received financing of £11.73m in aggregate.

The firm has experience in administering similar funds in England and Wales.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said that the fund will help remedy the frustration of the SME sector at not being able to access finance.

"By ensuring that companies with high growth potential are not held back because they cannot access finance, the Growth Loan Fund will boost business confidence and help SMEs that have strong potential for growth, particularly in international markets," she said.

Braveheart

Braveheart is a UK specialist in investment co-funding of small and medium enterprises, aiming to establish and promote economic growth and job creation.

It focuses on growth capital investments for business angels, high net worth individuals and family offices.

The company already helped set up the Scottish Co-investment Fund in 2003, and in April 2011 announced its participation in the £50m Angel Co-Investment Fund, to support SMEs in England and Wales.

Braveheart is listed on the AIM stock market.

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