Ireland Strategic Investment Fund yet to embrace ‘big idea’ proposals

Recent deals fit with plan to put money into venture capital funds to provide cash to SMEs

When the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund was launched last year, the view was that its biggest challenge would be finding appropriate homes for the billions it wanted to invest.

The challenge was to find projects that would give a commercial return, boost economic growth and jobs, while not simply displacing investment, or economic activity, that would have happened anyway.

As one of the fund’s directors, Eugene O’Callaghan, said at the launch, there is no point investing in one hairdresser to the detriment of a hairdresser down the road.

The fund had almost €7 billion of its own money and, as it aspires to having private sector co-investors, total investments of €13 billion-€15 billion over four years or so is involved.

So is the buying of Denis O’Brien’s BB’s chain of Irish and UK muffin outlets an instance of the fund achieving its objectives? The chain was bought by a consortium assembled by Brentwood Investments, and includes management, as well as several private investors.

Debt financing was provided by BlueBay Ireland, an investor established in 2013 by BlueBay Asset Management with the involvement of cash from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund.

Carlyle Cardinal Ireland is reportedly backing a management buyout of Tullamore-based Carroll Cuisine from Swiss-Irish food giant Aryzta, and has acquired Payzone Ireland, in deals that involve fund money.

These deals fit in with the fund’s plan to put money into venture capital funds as a route to providing money to SMEs. For larger investments, the fund will deal directly with the targeted business. This end was to see the bulk of the money.

At the fund's launch deputy director Nick Ashmore said it was open to "big idea"-type proposals that would have a major impact on the Irish economy. Think outside the box, was his advice. We haven't seen that end of the model yet, though given the sums, it is early days.