Belfast Telegraph

The eager Northern Irish entrepreneurs vying for InterTradeIreland Seedcorn prize

Claire Weir meets the brains behind our eclectic new companies, each of which hopes to deliver the best pitch

Making everything from comics and cow-feeders to crunchy cereal, six Northern Ireland start-ups are competing for a cash prize fund to gain exposure to investors and to improve their business concept.

The InterTradeIreland Seedcorn Investor Readiness Competition is now in its 11th year.

Over the last decade, InterTradeIreland has supported more than 1,650 enterprising businesses through the Seedcorn Competition process. During that time, companies that reached regional final level have gone on to raise more than €165m (£141m) of new equity.

There are two categories for the 2013 competition – New Start Companies, which are deemed to be those who are seeking to raise between €50,000 (£43,000) and €299,999 (£255,000) and Early Stage Companies, deemed to be those who are seeking to raise in excess of €300,000 (£256,000).

Last year, Catagen from Belfast beat off competition from across the island and was named as the overall 'Best High Growth Company' winner.

Now the top three 'New Start' and the top three 'Early Stage' companies in each of the four regions of Ireland – Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht as well as Dublin – are being invited to present at their regional finals.

Prior to the pitch, all 24 regional finalists will be invited to avail of a day-long, intensive investment pitch masterclass to refine, hone and perfect their presentation skills.

Firms will deliver their pitch in front of a judging panel comprising venture capitalists, business angels and some of the island's leading industry experts.

The judges are looking for the same elements as a potential investor, including high growth projections, the optimum risk or reward profile, a strong management team and the ability to exit.

The six Northern Ireland companies will give their pitches tonight at InterTradeIreland's offices in Newry. One from each of the two categories will then go on to the grand final in Dublin on November 27.

Here, we take a look at the finalists:

New start

Crawford's Food/Just Live a Little Ltd

Directors Jill and David Crawford from Portaferry formed the company in summer 2010.

With an annual turnover of £85,000, the firm is a food company specialising in the manufacture and sales of granola cereal products, supplying to Tesco NI, Spar NI and many independents across Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The firm is the sole supplier of breakfast cereals to the Hastings hotel group and sells to 30 quality independents in London and exports to Hong Kong.

The company is also due to start supply to ASDA in 2014.

David previously created the Clandeboye Estate Yogurt Company and won best new product at the NI Food & Drink Awards and the couple started the new business started in their home kitchen.

Jill made the granola at evenings and weekends and sold at St George's Market – before the company landed the contract for Hastings Hotels.

Looking ahead, the company has been approached by Walmart in the US to supply their new food and drink social media company.

They say they would use the prize money to help source new sales personnel, to help research, develop and launch new product lines, and to buy some new equipment required to produce the new product lines.

Blow Moulding Technologies

Dr Yannis Salomeia and Dr Gary Menary founded the company in late 2011 in Belfast, manufacturing and selling test equipment for the plastic bottle manufacturing industry to Europe and the United States.

The company's annual turnover is around £130,000 and Dr Salomeia says that BMT has created breakthrough technology that is helping packaging commodity manufacturers to increase their revenue and protect their business. Blow Moulding Technologies is the embodiment of more than 10 years of research within the Queen's University of Belfast of the Injection Stretch Blow Moulding process.

The pair said that depending on the priorities at that time, if the company wins, the prize money will go towards supporting a research and development project or marketing campaign.

Dr Salomeia added: "The competition offered an opportunity for us to raise our profile. This is an imperative step in the plans for growth, that include seeking investment.

"The most challenging aspect of the competition is the need of presenting what can be complex technical and business aspects of our venture in a succinct and easy to understand proposition.

"Most rewarding is the acknowledgment from experts of our business path and plans."

Varifed Limited

The Ballyclare firm was established in February 2012 by Nigel Woodside and currently employs one person full-time and one part-time.

The company manufactures and installs an 'In-parlour' micro feed system for dispensing key minerals and supplements in precise amounts to dairy cows during the milking cycle.

The product is aimed at improving animal health, milk quality and output of dairy cows on 'grass-fed' dairy farms.

Customers include feed additive manufacturers and retailers to the dairy industry, farm nutritionists, farm consultants, dairy farmers and vets.

The initial target market is the UK and Ireland, with potentially 30,000 customers, with a view to expanding in to Europe, where there are potentially 600,000 customers.

Mr Woodside left school at 17 to pursue a career in engineering, with over 30 years working for Wrightbus and FG Wilson/Caterpillar.

He took redundancy from Caterpillar in October 2012 to pursue the development of the product and business – a prototype system he built in his garage which been in operation on a trial farm in Co Cork since August 2012.

Mr Woodside's big goal is to work on marketing and product development and to purchase some hardware to assist him – saying his current laptop is "trillions of years old".

Early stage

See Sense

The company was registered in April, 2013 in Northern Ireland by Philip McAleese and Irene McAleese in Newtownards.

The company, currently pre-revenue, is an electronics system design start-up, specialising in the use of advanced technology to make cycling safer. It aims to be the leading global brand known for producing high-end cycle lights and other innovative cycling technology.

The firm's lights are distinguished from competitors because they use sensor technology to react to their environment and flash brighter in response to risks and help improve cyclist visibility.

The pair said that they will use the prize money to invest in the business to grow more quickly and to create jobs and exports.

Philip and Irene have both lived and worked overseas and feel that there is a wealth of talent here on their doorstep. They want to create employment opportunities so it means that talented people don't have to leave in order to find interesting, stimulating work.

Philip said that in order to test the strength of their lights, they were attached to some helium super-pressure atmospheric balloons and sent them up to 16,000ft in the sky.

After liaising with air-traffic control, the coastguard, the police and RNLI, the four lights could be seen from at least eight miles away.

Uproar Comics

Established in Londonderry in October 2011 by Kevin Logue, Daniel McLaughlin, Holly Stinson and John Campbell, the firm has a total of 16 personnel, with eight full-time workers, two part-time, four graduate placements and two external freelancers.

Last year the company made £71,000.

Uproar has several products on the market, including traditional print comics, digital versions and apps.

The company's main revenue is generated through workshop facilitation and business-to-business services offering creative content solutions for marketing and promotional material.

The traditionally printed comics sell via Waterstones NI, Easons and select niche stores across the the UK. The company has had only interspaced sales to the US and EU, but apps sell up to 45% in the US and Canada. The company is currently working out of a co-working space and has now reached maximum capacity.

Mr Logue said that if the firm wins the overall prize, the money would be invested in some studio space and equipment to facilitate expansion.

"The firm would also bring on board dedicated admin and marketing staff to help us reach export markets," he said.

Kevin Logue and Daniel McLaughlin, as managing and creative directors, both come from engineering backgrounds.

"We wanted to work in an industry that didn't exist here, so we made it," Mr Logue said.

Adoreboard

Established in 2011 by Chris Johnston, Belfast firm Adoreboard is a business intelligence software, enabling companies to monitor and gauge the performance of their brand in real-time.

The company simplifies big data for brands by extracting meaning from text based on human emotion.

Adoreboard is a powerful and cost-effective way to conduct research on brands, desires and opinions of customers, resulting in an advanced business intelligence solution to measure the feelings people have towards brands in a digital world.

Focusing on export markets in Europe and North America, Mr Johnston said that the prize money would be used to contribute to hiring more staff.

"We've a number of positions we are recruiting for to aid our growth," he said.

"Our technology relies on understanding human emotion from unstructured text like newspaper articles and social media and has been developed in partnership with the School of Psychology at Queen's University, Belfast.

"We've talked to a number of companies who have been through the competition before and they always highlighted the positive experience of taking part.

"A few years back I got to hear Dr Richard Fernandes, who was Seedcorn winner, talk about his tech start-up story.

"That really stuck in my mind."

Belfast Telegraph

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