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.
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:
0:00–17:06 Entrepreneur & Investor Olivia Sibony describes her experiences from the Grub Club idea to finding investors
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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!)
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.
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).
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.”
This interview with Mike Lebus, founder and managing director of Angel Investment Network, was originally published in Sifted. You can read the full article on ‘How to Make a Smart Angel Investment’ with views from other industry leaders here.
Mike Lebus (UK)
Mike Lebus is co-founder Angel Investment Network, a platform catering to 205,000+ angels which has backed the likes of bed mattress startup Simba, geocoding business What3Words and kids media company SuperAwesome.
An angel investor for 6 years.
Number of personal investments: I try to make two personal investments a year. Through the venture division of the company (me and three others), we have a stake in over a hundred companies.
Average cheque size: I normally invest £10-25k.
The biggest misconception about angel investing is… that investors should be based in startup hubs like Silicon Valley and London. Online platforms and digital networks now allow investors to find great deal flow wherever they are based.
Do… take the time to meet and get to the know the founding team. When you invest in early stage projects the idea takes second place to the team. This is because the idea will have to change and evolve to be a success; and it’s the team who are responsible for doing that!
“Investors don’t have to be based in startup hubs like Silicon Valley and London.”
Don’t… invest in only one company. No matter how good the opportunity looks, there are so many unknowns when it comes to early stage investment. It’s a much better strategy to invest smaller in more businesses.
The biggest mistake I made was… to miss out on a great opportunity because I failed to build a good relationship with the team. In the early discussions I should have focused on getting to know them, their vision and their processes; instead, I was too blinkered on the valuation and deal terms. It ended up being a waste of everyone’s time. The company went on to do very well!
My personal top tip is to… manage your expectations. If you’re obsessed with returns and timescales, you’ll end up being a burden on your portfolio companies. If you relax and trust the team to execute on their vision, then you can focus on finding meaningful ways to help them with your experience and connections.
My most recent investment was in… Sweatcoin, an app that tracks your outdoor steps and rewards you with digital currency. It’s been the fastest growing health and fitness app in history in every country it’s launched in on the App Store. I know the founder well, so knew how talented he was. I also loved the company’s innovative approach to incentivising people to become more active and get healthier.
The deal I regret missing out on is… Funding Circle. We helped them with funding very early on, but I chose not to invest personally. Their IPO last year valued them at £1.5 billion!
If I could change one thing about the European angel scene it would be…More government incentives to encourage more people to invest into startups. The UK have the SEIS and EIS schemes, which have really helped stimulate early-stage investment. I think more European countries should introduce similar incentives.
This interview with Olivia Sibony was originally published in TechRound on 21st May 2019.
We caught up with Liv Sibony, the CEO of Seedtribe, a community hub for entrepreneurs, investors and change-makers interested in impact entrepreneurship and using business as a force for good.
Tell us a bit about your career…
I started out at Goldman Sachs before leaving to launch a foodtech startup called Grub Club. It was a platform for connecting diners with unique dining experiences. We sold to Eatwith in 2017.
I was only too aware, from my experiences at Grub Club, of the challenges entrepreneurs face in raising funds and I had always had a passion for seeing how business could be used as force for good, so I then joined Angel Investment Network (having raised money for Grub Club through them) to launch and grow their impact-focussed platform, SeedTribe.
Airex, an alternative to traditional air floor insulation reducing unwanted heat loss by regulating air flow.
Hopes Initiative which maps, analyses, and optimises the energy consumption of businesses, managing energy expenditure, consumption and impact on the environment..
But we soon realised that we could do so much more to make our own impact and help the eco-system develop.
So, what is Seedtribe now?
Seedtribe is a community platform to connect entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers, jobseekers and volunteers and together inspire, create and support businesses for a brighter future.
We basically try to support the business-for-good eco-system by bringing together all the right people into events, online discussions, fundraising campaigns and educational workshops.
What’s the mission?
We want to be the glue that brings the best, most talented, driven, passionate people together to be the change we all need to see in the world. We are the go-to place where impactful entrepreneurs connect with an invaluable network that help them scale.
Collaboration is the most powerful tool we have for inspiring and empowering change. At Seedtribe, we enable collaboration between individuals, startups, corporates and governments to create a better world.
By connecting the dots, we help each party or person find the right way to contribute. That way, we can get beyond all the noise and bluster, and allow everyone to take meaningful and positive action.
Our system will allow everyone to contribute positive action according to their experience, values and competencies.
What challenges do you face?
Despite reaching a market cap of $500bn and growing five-fold since 2013, the impact space is still in its infancy.
Some people still confuse investing in impact/business-for-good/profit-with-purpose with philanthropy. Even though this could not be further from the truth. ‘Impact’ business do not seek to achieve an environmental/social purpose at the expense of profit, but rather, the purpose and profit-creation are intertwined.
What’s your vision for the future?
I want to see more businesses working as a force for good. At the moment, investment is 100% tied to the idea of only caring about a financial return.
I wish we could see a paradigm shift where we feel more engaged in investing in the future, so that we can make more long-term, sustainable decisions that don’t just revolve around our personal financial returns.
If everyone were encouraged to see investment as the “triple bottom line”, companies would be incentivised to act in the interest of people and planet, we would see less short-termism, and I also think it might engage more people in the world of investing, as they’d see how it relates to their own values and future, not just a return in the next 12 months.
Where can people find out more?
We are currently rebuilding the Seedtribe site to create more of a community focus and attract users beyond just investors and entrepreneurs. They can visit the existing version at www.seedtribe.com and help us shape it at by answering this questionnaire. I’m also always open to chat so they can connect with me on LinkedIn too!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
£7bn was invested into private UK companies in 2018, down 19% from record levels in 2017 but still significantly higher than any year before 2017, according to Beauhurst. Could this be the beginning of a decline? These are dark and uncertain times; and even those ‘presiding’ over Britain’s exit from the European Union are unable to agree on what the first order effects of this momentous action might be.
Angel investors have far greater flexibility than any other investor type when it comes to adjusting their investment preferences. In times of macroeconomic uncertainty, they can easily defer activity until they have a clearer idea of the road ahead.
The warning signals, then, are there on a wider level. But on the Angel Investment Network platform, 2018 was a strong year with both UK investor and entrepreneur numbers rising to over 30,000 and 115,000 respectively. We now have over 1 million users globally. Our own analysis of the user activity on the site reveals some interesting insights into the angel investment landscape. And perhaps a light for the path forward.
Threadbare Fashion Sector
The High Street has had a tough time in the past year, with high profile fashion brands in trouble including House of Fraser and LK Bennett. According to user data on our site, investor willingness to back startup fashion brands has dipped dramatically with ‘fashion’ as a sector falling from the 6th to the 14th most popular sector in 2018, the largest slide of any category.
performances of high street mainstays may have played some role in this, but
more likely it is strong performances from other sectors that have contributed
most tellingly to this dip in popularity. Judging from the performances of
software, technology and the so-called ‘impact’ sector, it seems that fashion
brands looking to raise investment will need to embrace technology and/or
ethical mission statements as part of their proposition to regain investor
It will come as no surprise that the technology and software categories grew impressively and retained top spot for both investor interest and number of pitches looking for funding. The rise of AI and machine learning with applications across so many industries has meant that many new startups have some form of digital technology at the core of their value proposition. The prevalence of industry jargon terms like ‘agrotech’, ‘insurtech’ and ‘fintech’ speak to this intersection between specific industries and the super-industry that software and technology is fast becoming.
Fintech in the UK is a great example. London has developed a well-deserved reputation as a Fintech hub over the past couple of years, thanks, in part, to the growth of companies like Monzo, Starling Bank, Revolut, and payment-linked-loyalty provider, Bink.
Their success has inspired a surge of exciting innovation in the space with some very promising startups coming onto the scene including: Coconut – a current account with inbuilt accounting; and Novastone – ‘WhatsApp’ for the finance sector. Both of whom completed funding rounds through Angel Investment Network in 2018, taking their total funding to £1.9M and £5.6M respectively.
expect the fintech space to go from strength to strength in 2019 and beyond,
and it may offer some hope for carrying the UK startup scene on its shoulders
if the going gets tough.
The rise of impact investment
Another area starting to show promise is ‘impact investment’. Investor activity on the website mirrored growing societal interest in ‘impact’ or ‘profit-with-purpose’ – the notion that businesses should have some societal and/or environmental good at the core of their mission while still working for growth and profit, allowing investors to invest in line with their conscience without risking their chance of generating returns.
searches for impact-related terms were up an average of 24.9% from 2017. The
fastest growing sector was ’renewables’ which climbed from 40th to
32nd (a 25.4% increase in number of searches,‘greentech’
showed a 25.7% increase while ‘environmental’ had a 23.5% increase.
Some of the companies who benefitted from, or perhaps helped create, this growth in interest include: Verv – an AI home energy assistant – and Demizine – an end-to-end home water recycling system using technology originally engineered for space stations. In both cases, it is interesting to note the core role that cutting-edge software and technology plays in their value proposition.
Off the back of this, we recently launched a spin-off platform, Seedtribe, with the mission of building a community of impact entrepreneurs and investors. We are especially interested in the role technology can play for impact companies in bringing about positive change in the world, while generating returns for investors.
Equity property investments remain popular
final point, I should mention the property investment category which performed
strongly on the site for the third year running. For context, our site was
built to connect startup companies with angel investors, but from quite early
on, property development companies would ignore our pitch framework (designed
for startups) and submit their equity property deals on the platform. The
appetite for their type of deal (25-35% returns per year over an 18-24 month
period) was apparently strong among our investor community – perhaps as a less
risky avenue for diversifying their portfolio. This remained the case in 2018
and we expect this to continue even with the current volatility in the property
Overall, investor and entrepreneur activity on our site has outperformed the sector at large. But in these uncertain times, we recognise that our efforts to support the early-stage investment community will have to go even further in 2019 and beyond.
Whatever the political climate, UK entrepreneurs will continue to bring out innovative solutions embedded in technology across a variety of industries in 2019. The Internet of Things, robotics and AI systems including software for autonomous vehicles are creating real excitement amongst our investor community, and rightly so. It is up to these investors to continue supporting the industry with capital, expertise and contact; and to light a way in these murky times.
Originally written by Oliver Jones, Head of Marketing at Angel Investment Network, for The Haggerston Times
Every week The Sunday Times talk to a business angel investor, one of the early-stage investors who collectively inject £1.5bn a year into British start‑up companies. This week they featured our very own Olivia Sibony, Head of Impact at Angel Investment Network’s new impact-focused platform, Seedtribe.
SeedTribe raised £2m last year and is currently working on companies including gaming developer, Playmob, and 28 Well Hung, a “carbon-beneficial” steak and chips chain.
Sibony, 38, co-founded Grub Club, helping London diners find culinary experiences. Two years ago, it was sold and rebranded Eatwith.
Playmob can be integrated into a company’s website to engage users with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. Dove [soap] uses it, reaching more than 4m people in three months. It is profit-driven, but at the same time doing good.
People think we don’t want to make a profit. If you don’t have any money in your bank account, you’re not going to be able to make an impact.
Impact has to be embedded in the business. If you create a medical device that helps scan for early signs of skin cancer, the more devices you have the more impact you’ll have.
What I learnt
Building your own business teaches you what to do — and what not to do. I try to think of the next three things I need to do, rather than getting overwhelmed with 100 things at one time.
I wish I saw more…
Diversity among investors. That’s not just for the sake of diversity, which is important, but because we are missing out on so many potentially incredible businesses.
I wish I saw fewer…
Disposable cups and bottles all over the place. There is so much scope for creative entrepreneurship here. We can turn this growing and entirely needless problem into an opportunity.
Next disrupted industry
Housing. There’s a growing crisis — and great potential to do something that is financially viable that enables fewer people to be homeless.