More IPO role models may be key to public listings

Belfast Briefing: Top entrepreneurial economies need locally publicly-listed firms

It is not quite Wall Street but Northern Ireland’s only financial trading room does a pretty good job of capturing the excitement and nail-biting pace of a busy stock exchange.

The numbers may be impressive and the pressure to close the deal just as intense as in trading rooms in London or New York but sadly this is all just make believe.

Once the bell rings for real it simply means the end of class for students at the First Derivatives Trading Room at Queen's University in Belfast.

The hi-tech facility gives students the opportunity to trade in stocks real-time across the globe or, if they fancy, closer to home.


Not that there is much choice when it comes to investing in publicly-listed local companies at the moment– the choice extends to UTV Media, First Derivatives and, for not much longer, Andor Technology.

Belfast-based Andor last week agreed to the terms of a £176 million takeover bid by Oxford Instruments. The former Queen's University spin-out, which develops and manufactures high performance digital cameras, floated in 2004, and is the most recent Northern Ireland firm to take a stock market listing.

So why, despite all the potential promise, does the North appear to be such a barren environment for IPOs (initial public offering)?

Is it because the North’s business environment is dominated by family-owned companies and the culture simply does not exist to fuel IPOs? Is it because of the legacy of the Troubles or perhaps because too many large US companies come waving cheques at the most promising potential IPO candidates?

You could tick any of the above but Steve Orr, director of NISP Connect, the Northern Ireland Science Park-based organisation that aims to inspire and support entrepreneurial start-ups, says perhaps it is just a case of timing.

“I think we need more role models in Northern Ireland, the more successful IPOs we have, the more it will encourage other companies to do the same, to see that it is achievable.”

If the North wants to achieve its ambition of becoming a leading entrepreneurial economy by 2030 it needs to up the number of locally publicly-listed companies from three to 24, according to NISP Connect’s research.

But what will it take to turn these ambitious targets into results?

Dr Hugh Cormican has a few ideas. As one of the founders of Andor Technology he knows exactly what is involved in taking a spin-out to a successful flotation. And he plans to do it again with his latest company – Cirdan Imaging – which he set up with four former Andor colleagues.

Five years
Cirdan Imaging is developing pioneering medical imaging techniques which could revolutionise cancer detection. According to Cormican, the plan is take the company public in five years' time.

“Not only does a public listing help access serious investment it also gives you credibility and a recognition factor which is highly important when you are dealing with suppliers, customers and doing business, particularly in places like America and Japan which have such a strong culture of public listings,” Cormican says.