Firms battle it out for Silicon Valley investment

Fifty companies from around Ireland pitched to leading Silicon Valley Venture Capitalists yesterday and the chance for the 20 best to travel to California to secure funding.

The Irish Technology Leadership Group pitch camp was the speed dating of business finance, with companies forced to condense years of hard work into six-minute presentations.

Some of the companies involved included Valhalla, a Cork company offering real-world analytics to shops. Another company, Zeto, is hoping to install monitors on refrigeration units across the world, cutting energy use by up to 20%. Safe Care Technologies pitched its revolutionary technology that uses eye-tracking, voice commands and touchscreen operation to allow disabled people live a more independent life.

“Several of the pitches had a glimmer of greatness,” said CEO and vice chairman at Accretive Solutions, Rich Moran, who had sat on a panel listening to presentations from some of the 50 companies.

Mr Moran said Irish firms were comparable to their Silicon-Valley-based counterparts in terms of passion, with one essential difference that could hold back the Irish entrepreneurs.

“The ‘to infinity and beyond’ mentality is less ingrained in the Irish,” said Mr Moran.

He said that when it came to looking for venture capital, this character trait could hold the Irish back, as VCs want a slice of the biggest possible pie.

The president and founder of ITLG, John Hartnett, said selecting companies in which to invest is like horseracing, where the horse is the project and the jockey is the team behind it.

“It’s like a horserace. The jockey is just as important as the horse. That’s not to say that we are gambling when we invest,” said Mr Hartnett.

Already, the ITLG fund managed by Mr Hartnett has invested $5m (€3.75m) directly, while companies that have gone through ITLG have won more than $50m in investment.

The managing directors of the ITLG investment company are particularly excited by past winners, 3D printing company Mcor, “the company to watch in 2013,” said Mr Hartnett, and he expects the 2011 winners, Skillspages, to go public with a multi-billion euro offer.

Mr Hartnett, who is from Limerick but now lives in California, said he had seen a huge change in attitude to entrepreneurs in Ireland in the five years that ITLG has been in operation.

“Five years ago, it was all about property, but nowadays the entrepreneur is king,” he said. Mr Hartnett believes that moves by the Government through Science Foundation Ireland and Enterprise Ireland could solve Ireland’s employment and economic ills. “Why can’t Ireland create the next Google?” he said.

Valhalla Technologies’ Owen Loughrey said it was his first time pitching to US venture capitalists. “They very much had their VC hats on,” he said. “Their view was more on the market and the scalability of the product rather than the product itself. Once the product was explained they got it off the bat, then it was park that, explain the route to market and what sort of return would we get, bottom line. It was great.”

However, once you have secured your funding and participated in the trip to Silicon Valley it is not all plain sailing. Dermot Dennehy was pitching his company SiWi, (See it, Want it) after securing a place on the investment trip to Silicon Valley last year with a previous company saveme4later. He secured funding from a Texan businessman they met while in Silicon Valley, but the promise of money fell through, forcing him to close his previous business and try again.

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