Belfast Telegraph

Learning Pool funder targeting another NI project

By Margaret Canning

The head of an Irish private equity fund has said he’s hoping to follow up a successful investment in a Londonderry e-learning company with support for another Northern Ireland firm in 2017

Carlyle Group managing director Jonathan Cosgrave said it hopes to make around three new investments Ireland-wide this year after it threw its support behind Learning Pool during 2016.

Learning Pool went on to acquire English e-learning firm Mind Click following its deal with Carlyle.

Its €292m (£249m) Carlyle Cardinal Ireland Fund — a joint venture with Cardinal Capital — has made five investments over the last two years.

Other firms it has supported include AA Ireland, chocolatier Lily O’Brien’s, and Irish food firm Carroll Cuisine.

Mr Cosgrave said: “We’re now having positive conversations with companies in Northern Ireland and we’re hopeful those will come to fruition.

“Of the two to three investments we hope to make in 2017, I’ve no doubt that one of those will be in Northern Ireland.”

He said the fund’s aim is to invest in growing companies “and help management teams and founders achieve their growth ambitions”.

“We announced our funding for Learning Pool on May 1 and within four months it had completed a big acquisition which allowed the business to add about 30% to its turnover,” he said.

“Our view is that companies get confidence to do certain things that they wouldn’t normally do when they have a supportive shareholder.”

Learning Pool is now “bedding in and integrating” its new acquisition. “We would love to see them making further acquisitions in time but in the short-term it’s getting integrated nicely as there are shared values,” said Mr Cosgrove.

The Carlyle chief —who spent 10 years with private equity giant Warburg Pincus — said the calibre of management teams were equally strong in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

“Look, we’re seeing really high-quality management teams on both sides of the border. We’re very impressed with the quality of teams’ ambition and entrepreneurship,” he said.

And he said the fund was open-minded as to the sector of the companies it invests in. “We invest across all companies with a good track record and strong, ambitious management teams.

“Our role is to provide finance and support and work in partnership with teams — but their job is ultimately to run the company and achieve the business plan.

“We don’t mind what sector they’re in. We’ve invested in premium chocolates (Lily O’Brien’s) and car insurance (AA Ireland) so we’re totally agnostic.”

Mr Cosgrave has a degree in pharmacy and says healthcare is a sector that’s close to his heart.

But he said few opportunities had arisen to invest in pharmaceutical or health businesses as they tended to be well advanced in their business plans.

And he said Brexit had so far had little or no impact.

“Of course it creates a lot of uncertainty but we are continuing to see opportunities with good companies and high-quality businesses in Northern Ireland and the Republic,” he added.

But he said currency fluctuations were a factor for some though the fund had been able to assist companies with hedging forward.

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