Venture capitalists are blossoming
A new company which sells flowers online has received a funding boost from two major angel investors.
Belfast-based Yours Florally, which was set up last year, has been given an undisclosed sum of seed funding from Lough Shore Investments and Stephen Lusty, a former head of sales and operations at Google.
Customers can browse the Yours Florally website and order flowers which are then sourced and delivered by florists from a selected network of suppliers in Northern Ireland.
Already it has teamed up with 100 florists in Ireland and plans to join forces with others in other parts of the UK.
Lough Shore praised the business for offering "a high-end personal service" which also gave a better deal to the florists.
Danny Moore, founder and principal partner of Lough Shore, said: "Yours Florally as a platform is scaling incredibly quickly and this investment will see them begin to build the network in the UK and develop the platform further on mobile."
He said the business model had given some power back to everyday florists: "From our very first conversation with Yours Florally, it was obvious that they could put the power back in the hands of these disenfranchised local traders whilst offering them an online platform to compete in what is a $7bn (£4.6bn) per annum market.
"It's a credible, more innovative network alternative at a fraction of the cost." Lough Shore's latest venture came as cross-border body InterTrade Ireland held a conference in Dublin on venture capital investment.
Maurice Roche from Delta Partners, which runs the Republic's biggest fund at €105m (£91m), said the Northern Ireland venture capital system needed state support to grow.
His firm has invested an undisclosed sum in TextHelp, an Antrim firm which makes software to improve literacy.
He said the Republic's venture capital ecosystem had evolved rapidly since 1994, when the Irish government encouraged pension funds to invest in venture funds, which in turn invested in technology companies.
And the success of technology firms had created a culture "where people will see their peers have been successful in a tech business and encourage others to try".
He added: "In my view, Text Help is a great company. Between Boston and Belfast it now has 100 to 120 employees. When we invested, they just had five or six.
"We have been looking at a couple of opportunities in Northern Ireland but nothing that I can discuss. There are impressive technology companies coming out of Queen's but often the professor who is doing the research won't be the right man to be CEO so you need a new management team."
The Northern Ireland venture capital environment needed state support, he said.
"There should be a killer incentive for private sector to invest in venture capital funds.
"People treat it as a risky investment but there has to be some state support and gentle persuasion to view it as a suitable asset class."