Funded fledglings offer a glimpse into the future

9 Dec 2003

When we talk about a ‘new Ireland’ our rhetoric is often not matched by our actions but this year’s InterTradeIreland Equity Network Seedcorn competition was a living, breathing example of what the future might look like.

The competition, which is seeking to raise awareness of private equity funding for young businesses, attracted almost 200 detailed business plans from across the island for its top prize of €100,000. Eight companies made it through to the final which involved making a ‘virtual’ pitch to a panel of business and venture capital experts.

The finalists came from the length and breadth of the island and were an innovative bunch of companies that included both home-grown and imported talent amongst their numbers. As each of the eight finalists gave a short presentation and spoke about their products it sounded like the United Nations of the emerging business world with American, New Zealand and British accents amongst the finalists. The industry sectors they represented were equally diverse with solutions in the oil, e-voting, biotechnology and aircraft maintenance sectors.

The eventual winner, Luxcel Biosciences, was a good example of the diverse new Ireland. The CEO, Dr Richard Fernandes, was born in Cork but has a father from Bombay, India; Luxcel’s co founder is Dr Dmitri B. Papkovsky who hails from Russia.

“What impressed us about Luxcel was the thoroughness of their presentation and the speed to market of their product,” said Barry Fitzsimons, Chair of EquityNetwork.

This view was echoed by Aileen O’Toole, one of the judges and managing director of AMAS. “Although all the finalists were of a very high standard, Luxcel really stuck in our minds and in the end it was a unanimous decision by the judges.” Luxcel products enable high throughput cell-based drug screening and related applications and their mission is to become a leading provider of drug discovery solutions, tools and assay systems to the pharmaceutical industry.

Receiving the award on behalf of Luxcel Biosciences, Dr Richard Fernandes said: “This is fantastic news for the company and a reflection of the strong team we’ve put together. Apart from the €100,000 funding injection which we’ve now secured, winning the competition will be a great boost for our profile among other potential investors and partners.” Luxcel will be issued with a letter of offer and will be able to draw down the €100,000 against milestones highlighted in its business plan.

Fernandes admitted that he didn’t really believe they were going to win: “I didn’t even prepare a speech,” he said. However he was clear about who he wanted to thank. “Both Enterprise Ireland and University College Cork have been a huge support to us.” Luxcel was the first biotechnology company to get funding from Enterprise Ireland and UCC, which is a shareholder in the company, provides resources for research and development. Fernandes said that the money would be spent on business development, technical support and new equipment.

And it’s not just Luxcel that will benefit from this competition. Liam Nellis, CEO of InterTradeIreland, was keen to point out that all the companies in the final were winners and would gain from the endorsement of being regional winners. There is also the financial compensation of getting to the finals for the eight companies that will share a prize fund worth €120,000. Each of the finalists also received a day’s training before the final to help them with presentation and delivery skills.

It’s an encouraging sign that so many bright and innovative new companies are emerging from these shores and it’s obvious that cross-border initiatives such as InterTradeIreland’s Equity network have done much to encourage new companies to develop.

The impetus for the seedcorn competition came from a scoping study conducted last year by PricewaterhouseCoopers on behalf of EquityNetwork which found that a funding gap existed in the €75,000 to €375,000 region.

These findings were vindicated by the competition which attracted 600 expressions of interest. Commenting on the level of interest, Dr Martin Naughton, Chairman of InterTradeIreland, said: “The competition has proved that while there is no end of enterprising talent out there, many companies are unsure of how to secure venture capital funding. Luxcel is a good example of what can be achieved and although the competition is over for this year, EquityNetwork’s free advisory services are still on hand to help companies become investor-ready. If this island is to remain competitive it’s essential that entrepreneurs secure the funding necessary to make their ideas a reality.”

Gillian Cope