Belfast Telegraph

Business Growth Fund to make fifth Northern Ireland investment

By Ryan McAleer

The world's most prolific growth investor, the Business Growth Fund, is closing in on its latest investment in Northern Ireland.

The as yet unnamed engineering firm, believed to be in Mid Ulster, is set to become the BGF's fifth investment here. It's understood the BGF will also make its first investment in the Republic by the end of the year. In its eight years of operation, the venture fund has ploughed around £1.6bn from pot of £2.5bn into some 250 UK SMEs.

To date, £40-50m of that has been invested for equity in four Northern Ireland companies: home builder Braidwater, recycling company RiverRidge, coffee shop chain Bob & Berts, and software developer Audit Comply.

But, speaking after meeting a number of prospective businesses in Belfast on Thursday, BGF chief executive Stephen Welton said the fund wants to expand its portfolio both north and south of the border. The BGF has already established itself in the Republic, announcing a €250m fund in November last year. But it has yet to make its first investment there.

"We have yet to make our first investment, we think we will make two investments by the end of the year," said Mr Welton.

While it's three years since the fund made its first NI investment, in Londonderry construction firm Braidwater, BGF only opened its first permanent office in Belfast earlier this year.

Paddy Graham, who heads up the BGF's operations in Northern Ireland and Scotland, said the venture fund has been taking its time, building relationships.

"It has taken time for us to establish ourselves in the market here. We're not fly by night, we're not in and out.

"Once we got our first deal over the line, that gave us a reference point for other entrepreneurs to speak to. That has started to create more opportunities for us."

He said Braidwater had grown ten-fold since the initial investment in November 2015.

"If we look at the last three years, we'll have invested somewhere between £40m and £50m, which is a significant change from not really investing anything in the first four years."

Mr Welton said BGF operates a relationship-led investment model, offering small to medium sized companies investment of between £1m and £10m.

"The biggest decision they ever make is, do they bring in an outsider?

"BGF's approach is to align ourselves with the owners of the company. We are always a minority investor. We are a partner and we will invest for as long as it takes. Our message to owners is that we will be invested in this company for as long as you are."

Belfast Telegraph

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