Belfast Briefing: Start-ups on far side of finance hurdle

Entrepreneurs say innovation will help get new businesses off the ground

One man who had an ambition to have his own business is Patrick Joy, who will be in Belfast today to tell aspiring entrepreneurs how he made it happen. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

One man who had an ambition to have his own business is Patrick Joy, who will be in Belfast today to tell aspiring entrepreneurs how he made it happen. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Tue, Mar 11, 2014, 01:00

Setting up a new business can often prove to be a bit of a conundrum. But one father and daughter partnership reckons they have all the answers – at least when it comes their new start-up.

Vincent Rainey and his daughter Rebekah have just launched their first app – QuizFortune – which they hope is going to be a launch pad for a new business built around Vincent’s love of trivia and his daughter’s savy approach to “online engagement”.

Neither father nor daughter had high-tech credentials before embarking on their business venture together. Vincent is a partner in a Ballymena-based property and mortgage centre while Rebekah (26) has a background in law.

But Vincent, who has been a quiz master for 30 years, and Rebekah believe they’ve spotted an opening to feed the appetite of hungry social trivia addicts with their app which features more than 100,000 brain teasers. They spent two years developing their product, initially backed with finance from friends and family before a local angel investor, Alastair Kerr, who has a successful track record with high-tech start-ups, got involved.

Business ideas
The Raineys say their first app is just the beginning of ambitions to grow a new trivia and social gaming platform in Northern Ireland. It is quite a leap for the father and daughter team but it makes you wonder about how many others are wandering about with unrealised business ideas.

One man who had an ambition to have his own business is Patrick Joy, who will be in Belfast today to tell aspiring entrepreneurs how he made it happen.

Joy, who is taking part in the 13th InterTradeIreland Venture Capital Conference, says his initial source of inspiration was his father, a pharmacist who also ran his own business.

A chartered engineer by profession, Joy set up Suretank in Dunleer, Co Louth in 1995. It has since grown into one of the largest manufacturers of cargo-carrying units for the offshore oil and gas industry in the world. The company currently employs 600 people.

Joy, who won the 2013 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, expanded his business both by improving existing products and developing new ones – innovation was at the core of his business ambitions. His ability to harness not only his expertise but also that of his employees is just one of the reasons why Suretank today has annual revenues in the region of €71 million.

New research by Matrix, the Northern Ireland Science Industry Panel, suggests that if small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were more clever about harnessing in-house expertise and
exploiting their intellectual capital, they could deliver tangible benefits for the economy.

About 80 per cent of all employment in the private sector is in SMEs but, when it comes to research and development, there are only 480 firms out of a possible 80,000 involved in R&D.

Matrix says firms need to rely more on innovation and related investments to improve their competitive edge. It would like to see local businesses exploit intellectual capital to boost the health and value of their business and says many local organisations may not be aware of the value of what they are sitting on such as human capital, intellectual assets and intellectual property.

In other parts of the world, particularly in Germany, SMEs are now using intellectual capital statements to help leverage finance from banks and investors.

In Northern Ireland, where accessing finance continues to be one of the biggest hurdles for businesses, it might be a new way to persuade banks and venture capital organisations to look twice at their applications for finance.

Perhaps it is time to get smart when it comes to financing new ideas in the North.

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