Ulster Business

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‘We want to be investing £10m or £20m in NI over two or three years’

Since its first investment here almost a decade ago, Par Equity is now upping the game. It’s invested around £9m here but has ambitions to do £20m over the next couple of years. Founder Andrew Noble and Ronnie Geddis sat down with John Mulgrew for a chat about the road ahead


Ronnie Geddis and Andrew Noble

Ronnie Geddis and Andrew Noble

Ronnie Geddis and Andrew Noble

Andrew Noble is planning to undergo an ambitious cash injection and investment into burgeoning Northern Ireland firms to the tune of £10m to £20m over the next couple of years.

He’s head of Par Equity, an Edinburgh-based venture capital business which has already invested around £9m in six firms here.

And across the north of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Par Equity has invested in some 65 businesses.

“I think the market in Northern Ireland right now is very interesting,” Andrew says.

“Our first investment into NI was PathXL back in 2012. That was a successful exit in 2016 to Philips Healthcare. We have increasingly stepped up our interest in Northern Ireland, partly because a lot of the similarities between NI and Scotland exist.”

That includes the types of firms and the “ecosystem” around it, according to Andrew.

The firm is focused on emerging technology firms, especially those innovating and involved in ‘hard tech’, as well as software.

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“We tend to back companies which would be B2B deep tech,” he says. “That’s companies selling into small or large enterprises, and companies which are developing or have made some innovative step in technology that is solving very real scientific or engineering problems.

“That includes firms working across artificial intelligence, big data, nano technologies, photonics, cyber-security and genomics – there’s a whole range of different types of technologies which interplay with that.

“Par Equity was established in 2008, based out of Edinburgh, and is one of the most active seed to series A investors in the UK. We are writing equity cheques anywhere from £500,000 to £3.5m into companies across different rounds and maturities of businesses.

“Today we have backed 63 companies across the UK, around 90% of those are in the north of the UK.”

Here, its investments have also included working with medical tech firm Culumlus, Datactics, PlotBox – mapping software for graveyards – and TriVirum.

The latter is a California-based medical business which Par Equity helped bring to Northern Ireland.

Andrew, who competed for Team GB in alpine skiing at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, says there are a lot of “opportunities” on the horizon for further investment into Northern Ireland.

“Where we stand out as a venture capitalist versus other investors is we have a high percentage of our portfolio as hard tech. A lot of VCs like software as it is very scalable. The sort of stuff we invest into includes a lot of healthcare, medical diagnostic tools in particular. They take a little longer to get to market.”

In Northern Ireland, it’s eyeing further growth and a demand for equity in the £1m to £3m realm in particular.

“We have a good broad range of portfolio companies which are doing very well,” Andrew says.

“To date it’s about £9m into Northern Ireland so far. Fundamentally, we want to be investing probably another £10 or £20m over the next two or three years.

“We see the equity gap in Northern Ireland being that £1m to £3m cheque size. We want to do more of that. At a slightly later stage, there is quite a big gap with companies that want to raise proper series A money.

“Over the last years we have built a profile for Par Equity which is hopefully increasing as a good investor to partner with.

“We naturally get some inbound deal flow that is unsolicited through our website. We have set it up that way as we realise the VC industry is quite insular and you need to be able to create clear pathways for anybody to reach out for finance. We also get a lot of deal flow through our network.”

Ronnie Geddis is chair of the network in Northern Ireland, and the man on the ground seeking out opportunities here. A former sales and marketing director with Consilium Technologies, he says raising awareness is key to getting firms interested in investment.

“You can only get so much out of the grants which are available,” he says. “You need an injection of cash to build a sales team out, or take a product to the next level and get access to markets.

“A lot of people aren’t aware. It’s about educating the market as to what’s available to help grow your business.”

And Andrew Noble says the organisation is continuing to see “an increasing number of deals which are in our sweet spot”. “Companies which have created something which is really transformational to their market,” he says.

He says a key part of the investment process is the expert advice given to firms from those who know the sectors well.

“(It’s about) pairing them off with people in the network with the correct expertise,” he says.