Think stock exchange, firms urged
More Northern Ireland companies should consider getting listed on the London Stock Exchange, a conference has heard.
Mark Fahy, head of UK small and mid-cap companies at the LSE, said flotation could bring new liquidity and the advantage of new investors.
"The biggest unseen benefit is profile," Mr Fahy told delegates at the Queen's University event on alternative sources of capital.
He said he had discussed the benefits of flotation with Newry-based financial software firm First Derivatives, a plc since 2002.
"They have said to me that the plc badge meant they could deal in a different way with customers, suppliers and funders because the prestige of being a plc added so much."
Currently there are only three listed companies in Northern Ireland - UTV Media plc, digital camera maker Andor and First Derivatives. The last two are listed on the Alternative Investment Market, which is designed for smaller companies.
Hugh Cormican, managing director of medical imaging firm Cirdan Imaging and a co-founder of Andor, said there was a "real shortage" of start-up funding to get companies on a road which could end in an initial public offering (IPO).
He had been involved in a successful IPO for Andor in 2004, which started life as a Queen's spin-off company. That IPO had raised £4.5m.
He said he could dismiss the objections raised by companies to listing, and added: "There is not enough experience of it here and there is a mystique surrounding it, which is misplaced."
The serial entrepreneur said he agreed with the views of newly re-elected President Barack Obama, who had said his JOBS Act -making it easier for young companies to float - would "help entrepreneurs raise the capital they need to put Americans back to work".
He also referred to the continuing campaign for a cut in Northern Ireland's rate of corporation tax. "Corporation tax is the icing on the cake," Mr Cormican said. "Indigenous companies should be growing their business and taking it global and that's what you need to rebalance the economy."