Northern Ireland new start and early-stage firms from all sectors are being urged to enter the 12th InterTradeIreland Seedcorn Investor Readiness Competition which is now open for applications. Launched at Titanic Belfast, the all-island business competition offers a substantial total cash prize fund of €280,000 with no equity stake taken and aims to transform equity raising businesses into first class investor-ready companies.
InterTradeIreland confirmed that the simplified entry process, which was introduced into the competition last year, will remain. The online application process involves completing a short questionnaire along with submission of a visual representation of their business idea which can take the format of a short video clip, a presentation slide deck or both. Companies can enter one of two categories, new start or early-stage and there are four regions; Northern Ireland, Dublin (City & County), Munster and Connacht & Leinster (including counties Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan). Those shortlisted to go through to the next stage of the competition will be invited to submit their full business plan for evaluation and detailed feedback.
Connor Sweeney, Seedcorn project manager for InterTradeIreland, explained: 'Last year we consulted closely with the investment community and restructured the competition as a result. Seedcorn now mirrors the investment process as closely as possible. The change proved very successful and meant that more firms were able to benefit from the competition process, receiving independent feedback at every stage. As well as the significant cash prize fund, the competition helps firms to develop their business idea through a number of initiatives including business planning workshops, the provision of detailed feedback on business plans and a series of investment pitch masterclasses. Firms are also invited to join the extensive Seedcorn network which helps to boost companies’ profiles and can be an extremely valuable way of making contact with potential investors.
'Companies which have previously been finalists in the competition have gone on to secure €179m worth of new equity. European studies confirm that equity backed companies grow at six times the rate of non-backed companies; this can only be good for the local economy. We only have to look back within the last few months to see the success of local Seedcorn participants such as Belfast-based Catagen, which has expanded into the US with a deal worth around £750,000, and Analytics Engines, also based in Belfast, that recently secured investment worth £1m plus.'
Connor added, 'If you are a young, high potential firm, participating in Seedcorn is a very worthwhile step in securing investment and raising the funds to compete on the global stage.'
The important role that Seedcorn plays in preparing businesses to become investor ready was highlighted by investor Deirdre Terrins of Crescent Capital. She explained: 'We have invested in a number of firms following their participation in the Seedcorn competition, including most recently, Analytics Engines, who were entrants last year. InterTradeIreland’s Seedcorn Competition is very beneficial to both businesses and investors alike. It helps businesses to crystallise their strategies and benchmark their plans through independent feedback. For investors, the competition is very credible and if a firm has been shortlisted, we know that they have serious potential for investment and have all the necessary elements to be successful in the business arena.'
Jayne Brady of Kernel Capital added: 'We recognise that companies that participate in the Seedcorn competition are well-placed to take advantage of further opportunities. In the past number of years seven of our Portfolio Companies have been Seedcorn winners at both National and Regional level, the most recent being Radisens Diagnostics and Zinc Software. These companies benefit from a high level of awareness and respect held for the competition within the local financial sector.'
Over the coming weeks, InterTradeIreland will host a series of free workshops designed to guide those considering entering this year’s competition, including providing advice on preparation of video clips, presentation slide decks and business plans. These will take place in in the University of Ulster at Magee on 29 April, in Propel in the Hub in Belfast on 30 April, the University of Ulster, York Street on 30 April and Momentum Belfast on 1 May. More information on the workshops can be found on the InterTradeIreland website.
Following the initial application process, shortlisted companies will be invited to submit a full business plan. To assist with the preparation of the plans, there will be a series of all-day business planning workshops held around the country. Submitted business plans will be scored and the top three ‘New Start’ and the top three ‘Early Stage’ companies in each of the four regions will be selected to present at their regional final. All 24 regional finalists will be invited to avail of a day-long, intensive investment pitch master class to refine, hone and perfect their presentation skills prior to presenting at their regional final. The judging panel for the finals comprises of venture capitalists, business angels and some of the island’s leading industry experts. The judges are looking for the same elements as a potential investor including high growth projections, the optimum risk/reward profile, a strong management team and the ability to exit.
This year’s competition is open to independent ventures incorporated in Northern Ireland or Ireland, in the seed, start-up or early-stage of business development and ideally targeting international markets.
You can also follow the competition on Twitter @ITI_Seedcorn or join the Seedcorn Network on LinkedIn where businesses can get valuable information and advice from experts.