The Northern Ireland startup scene deserves more attention

Sam Louis from Angel Investment Network
AIN’s Sam Louis

AIN’s Sam Louis talks through why Northern Ireland’s thriving startup scene deserves more attention.

When it comes to reporting on Northern Ireland’s business climate the focus has, for better or worse, been on Brexit. With discussions about how to resolve the border conundrum continuing, there’s been little talk of much else. However, one exciting aspect has definitely been under reported – the growth of the Northern Irish startup scene. It is worth examining.

I judged the Digital DNA upStart awards in Belfast earlier this year and was overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of exciting companies developing in Northern Ireland. Across all sorts of sectors, there’s really something underway in the Emerald Isle.

Breadth of opportunities

Encouragingly, our data agrees. This year we created AIN’s first ‘State of the Angel Investment Nation’ report. Built on insights from the 100,000 businesses that came through our platform in 2018, it produced a detailed picture of the angel investment landscape. Within this, the report revealed that Northern Ireland had the second fastest growth across the UK. In raw terms in new entrepreneurs it was up 67% on the year before.

This is a great sign of things to come, as confidence builds within the country that top startups can be started and scaled on home soil. N. Ireland’s highest performing sectors were software and property. Cyber security businesses are particularly well represented within the software category. However, we are seeing a really encouraging breadth of opportunities – from health food companies and CBD ventures to dog grooming startups. Northern Irish entrepreneurs are setting up across all industries.

Increasing investment from overseas

Looking to the other side of the table, we’ve always had a strong core of investors coming out of Northern Ireland, many of them from a property background. What’s been interesting though is to watch their attention shift inwards as their home market grows. With increasing investment from overseas, this is something we hope will continue, with NI investors going in alongside international firms to fuel the local ecosystem.

As the world evolves, digital talent and capabilities will play an ever-increasing role in the international standings of the world’s nations. Key areas like Cyber Security, AI and Machine Learning are already a valuable commodity in dictating not only economic growth, but also geopolitical opportunities. As the Northern Irish start up scene continues to develop, especially in these highly technical areas, it has the potential to make a serious contribution to the UK’s already strong representation at the highest levels of the digital world. Whatever the outcome of Brexit, Northern Ireland’s start up scene looks set to grow. Let’s hear more about it.

Video: How to go from Idea to Investment

We’ve been helping startups raise money around the world since 2004. Over 900,000 entrepreneurs have used our site. And the question we get asked most is ‘How can I get my idea to investment?‘.

After all this time in the industry, you’d think we’d be well-placed to answer it. And we are. But it’s still not an easy question and the answer depends on the business in question.

We’ve been holding events and workshops to help entrepreneurs navigate this difficult first hurdle. Back in March we did a big one with global digital skills educator, General Assembly. And we filmed the whole event so we could share the wisdom with as many people as possible…

The film is quite long and you may want to watch specific sections at a time, so here’s a breakdown:

0:0017:06 Entrepreneur & Investor Olivia Sibony describes her experiences from the Grub Club idea to finding investors

17:0735:25 Ed Stephens, Head of Investor Relations at AIN & Host of The Startup Microdose Podcast, gives practical advice on optimising your processes for finding investment

35:26-END Ed Stephens interviews an expert panel of entrepreneurs on their experiences: Anthony Rose (Seedlegals, BBC iPlayer), Elizabeth Swanton (Feedr) and Wil Harris (Entale, Condé Nast)

idea to investment

Enjoy!

If you have any questions, please reach out to hello@angelinvestmentnetwork.co.uk

My 5 Tips for Raising Angel Investment

Back in 2013, I took a step that would change the trajectory of my career forever. After seven years at Goldman Sachs, I left for a new adventure. I was confident in my skill set, but terrified that I was abandoning the safety net of the corporate career path.

Fast forward six years, and how glad I am that I took that decision. I launched a foodtech startup called GrubClub, which I ran for five challenging but satisfying years, before EatWith acquired us in 2017.

olivia sibony grub club how to raise startup investment
A celebratory Grub Club evening

One of the things I learned on that journey was how hard and how important it is to raise funding. That’s partly why I joined Angel Investment Network last year. I had raised money through them for GrubClub and really bought into their mission to democratise angel investment.

So, here are my five key tips for getting investment:

1. Investors invest in teams

Many of the most successful businesses are at their core very simple ideas. Google allows people to search for stuff on the internet. Ford builds cars. But neither Google nor Ford were the first in their category.

Their success is commensurate to their ability to execute changes.

That’s why the team in charge of navigating this journey is so important. And that’s why investors invest in teams. So, keep that at the forefront of your mind both when building out the early team (obviously), but also when creating a story for your pitch.

Have you got an A team?

2. Remember that investors are not the same as customers

(This point is related to #3 below but is important enough to mention on its own.) Entrepreneurs often fail to communicate successfully with investors because they explain the benefits of their product/service as if describing them to a potential customer.

This is easy to do because during product and strategy meetings their focus has no doubt been on crafting the proposition to customers.

While your investors may also be customers, your proposition to them should not be the same. You will lose their interest if you talk to them as if they were customers. So, craft a story and a proposition specific to them…

3. Tell investors a compelling story

I hear a lot of people give advice like ‘tell a story in your pitch’. But they often fail to explain how to do that meaningfully. So, how do you tell a compelling story to prospective investors?

The most basic story that all investors want to hear is how they are going to make money. There may be other factors like the desire to make a positive impact on the world. But ultimately, an investor wants to make a return.

I heard a founder sum up this idea nicely on The Startup Microdose Podcast – he said, “Show investors what winning looks like.”

So, build the story of your pitch by putting dollar signs in the eyes of investors and by explaining to them how you are well-placed to execute on this grand vision.

Is your investor story compelling?

4. Create momentum

Investors are busy people. You will not always be top of their priority list. So, don’t be disheartened if they don’t get back to your message straight away.

But also, don’t be shy of sending them reminder messages.

The trick to doing this and engaging them is to try to include some impressive update that you’ve achieved since your previous message to them e.g. ‘Ex-CEO of Unilever has just agree to join the board’ or ‘1,500 new users sign ups in the last week’.

This creates the impression of progress and always helps to prove the competence of you and your team.

5. Don’t waste time

We live in a digital world. A world full of tools to boost your productivity and streamline your processes. Use them! There are some great ones for raising investment. My favourites are: Seedlegals – for digitally creating and signing all your legal documents; MixMax – for seeing if people have read your email and how many times and when; and, of course, Angel Investment Network – for meeting investors you could never otherwise hope to meet.

What do you think?

These tips are both from my own experiences. Do you agree/disagree or need more explanation? (Let me know in the comments!)

Author BIO

Olivia Sibony is an award-winning entrepreneur and ethical investment champion. She left a career at Goldman Sachs to launch foodtech startup, GrubClub, which she sold to Eatwith in 2017. She then joined Angel Investment Network (having previously raised money through them) to launch and grow SeedTribe, a spinoff platform focused on impact entrepreneurship.

She is also a Board member of UCL’s Fast Forward 2030, which aims to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to launch businesses that address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

High-End London Baker Orée Raises £425,000 Funding in Angel Investment Round

London-based bakery, Orée, has raised £425,000 through Angel Investment Network (AIN) the UK’s largest online platform connecting angel investors with startup businesses.

The French-style, high-end bakery started trading in March 2016 and currently has two shops at 275/277 Fulham Road and 147 Kensington High Street. The concept is bringing ‘a taste of the boulangeries and patisseries of rural France to London’. The funding will finance the opening of the next shop based in Covent Garden with a further location in London Bridge set for later in the year. The ambition is for more than a dozen shops across London and an international expansion.

The raise is one of the largest for a food business in AIN’s 14-year history. The highest to date was the £600k raise for Rosa’s Thai Cafe which raised £500k through AIN in 2014 and has since delivered returns to investors via a private equity buyout.

The combination of Orée’s high-quality product offering and high-end, high footfall locations across London, gives it a strong position within the food retail industry and made it an attractive proposition for AIN’s network of investors. Orée bridges the £8bn bakery market and the £6bn café and coffee shop market, both experiencing annual growth of 2.5% and 5.7% respectively. According to data from AIN, food and beverage was the second most popular category among angel investors in the UK for 2018, losing out only to software.

Xavier Ballester, Director at Angel Investment Network who brokered the deal, said: “Orée was of strong interest to our investors with its offering of a premium, authentic French Patisserie to a market that is increasingly captivated by continental cuisine. It satisfies several consumer trends that have characterised the UK casual dining market in the past couple of years, including ‘premiumisation’ and a concern for provenance.

New low-cost airline Flypop completes SEIS funding on Angel Investment Network

A new British-South Asian low-cost and long-haul airline, flypop, has raised £80,000 in SEIS funding through Angel Investment Network.


We gained a great deal of interest for the successful SEIS raise in Q1 2019 and hope this momentum carries on with the many global angels on the AIN platform. The low-cost non-stop aspect really resonated with a lot of investors from South Asia. They make these journeys frequently themselves and could really relate to this product.

Nino Judge, Founder offlypop

The airline focuses on point-to-point direct flights from the UK to secondary cities in several South Asian countries, starting with India. 
The list of affordable non-stop flights will be between the UK (initially London Stansted) and the Indian cities of Amritsar (Punjab) and Ahmedabad (Gujarat).

flypop ain airline investment
Targeting the 1.5 million Indian diaspora in the UK, flypop‘s service will offer return ticket prices from £350 (including taxes) with the first flights taking place in Q4.

The experienced founding team, with backgrounds including Ryanair, Team Lotus F1, British Airways, Emirates, JP Morgan and UBS, have stated that
flypop will be able to pass cost savings back to consumers via lower airport charges to tier 2 airports and its unique ‘wet’ lease start-up agreements.

There are ambitions to expand further from North America & Europe to South Asia via the UK and the business is now looking to raise £4m in its next EIS funding round. The team at flypop also intend to make the airline carbon neutral, offsetting each passenger that flies with the planting of a tree in a forest in the UK or South Asia.


Airlines still have an exciting allure to them and it was hugely exciting for our investors to invest in an SEIS round for one.

Ed Stephens, Head of Investor Relations at Angel Investment Network:

Good luck to Nino and the team! We will be following their progress with interest.

Former Spice Girl’s Startup breaks investment record on Angel Investment Network

Investors really really want to invest in Emma Bunton: £420k raise for Kit & Kin fastest in Angel Investment Network history

The commercial magic of the Spice Girls remains as strong as ever, as Emma Bunton’s ethical baby product business Kit & Kin, was responsible for the fastest raise in the Angel Investment Network’s 14 year history. It achieved its target of £420k in just one week.

spice girl emma bunton investment record
Spice Girl, Emma Bunton, Founder of KIT & KIN

More than £1m was offered in total for her eco-friendly nappies, wipes and skincare business but Kit & Kin decided to only accept £420k at this time, an amount which included a key strategic investor.

The raise received unprecedented interest from our 170,000 strong worldwide community of investors. The business was launched in 2016 by Bunton and business partner Christopher Money, with their products available through high street retailers as well as their e-commerce platform. The investment will be used for staff, expansion and stock supply to service larger orders.

According to Mr Money: “The raise via the AIN has certainly surpassed all expectations and we ended up having to cap the number of discussions. We’ve come away from the raise with a select few who will bring significant strategic value that will certainly strengthen our offering and help us realise our potential over the years to come.”

Money and Bunton will be hoping to emulate the success of another celebrity turned entrepreneur, Jessica Alba, whose business, The Honest Company, floated for just shy of $1 billion in 2017.

spice girl emma bunton investment record

According to Ed Stephens, global head of brokerage at AIN: “The level of interest for Kit & Kin’s business was unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It would normally take around 6 weeks to raise a similar amount – we had pledges for over one million and had to turn investors away…”

As a business it has some great fundamentals, but clearly Emma Bunton’s extra spice was a key ingredient.

Ed Stephens, Global Head of Brokerage

Bunton was famous for promoting girl power and her business was promoted through a new section on our site focused on supporting female founders and investors. This initiative was set up to address the under-representation of women as investors and founders in the industry.

The Spice Girls (1997)

Our investor community in the UK consists of around 17,000 angel investors, but less than 10% of these are women. We want to lead the way in tackling this industry problem starting with increasing the visibility of women-led businesses and helping them to find investment and mentoring from investors.

Here’s a few of the press publications that leapt upon this story (enjoy the headlines):

https://www.cityam.com/275884/baby-spices-baby-startup-kit-kin-breaks-record-fastest

https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-6896385/Spice-Girl-Emma-Bunton-raises-420-000-ethical-baby-business-just-week.html

https://www.angelnews.co.uk/blog/equity-crowdfunding/emma-buntons-kit-kin-completes-fastest-fundraise-in-angel-investment-network-history-/

https://www.rte.ie/entertainment/2019/0407/1041170-emma-bunton/