New chapter for NDRC as it makes move towards investment

The former research centre is in the right place to discover potential successes

When NDRC became the official name of the National Digital Research Centre, it renewed its focus on helping Irish early-stage tech start-ups. Now it’s considering a move into seed investment.

The NDRC may no longer carry out research, but just as it retains the abbreviated name, so its ultimate goal remains the same: to provide start-ups with mentoring, investment and support through a variety of programmes.

These range from LaunchPad, which aims to convert ideas into commercial entities, to VentureLab, which prepares start-ups to access seed investment.

In return for this backing, NDRC takes a stake in the firms.

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According to chief executive Ben Hurley: "They all want to get to the same place, which is being investor-ready."

However, he says there are other considerations such as “what are the needs of the opportunity and what are our needs to ensure we’re making a smart investment decision”.

Among the companies backed by NDRC are music discovery app SoundWave, log management firm Logentries and cloud platform firm Boxever.

By the end of last year, the organisation’s start-up portfolio had secured €88 million in follow-on investment from commercial investors and had a combined market capitalisation of about €220 million.

NDRC has dabbled in other programmes, including the GamePad accelerator, which was aimed at helping gaming start-ups with mentoring from larger games firms.

Digital accelerators

Now, NDRC is branching out further, changing its VentureLab offering and adding an investment fund it plans to open up to suitable ventures.

“NDRC VentureLab will continue as an open-call basis, geared towards someone with hard [intellectual property],” he says.

“We can see there are ventures there that might not have the same hard IP as VentureLab is looking for but are still worthy of testing.”

LaunchPad may have been one of the first digital accelerators in Ireland, but it's by no means alone any more.

There are now accelerators aimed at different sectors, from medtech to fintech, and at different stages in their development.

While NDRC concentrates primarily at the pre-seed funding stage, there are others out there aiming to help companies grow at a later stage.

One notable absence from the accelerator scene is Wayra. The Telefónica accelerator was opened in Dublin in 2012 in the O2 offices in Dublin, but with the merger of O2 Ireland and Three Ireland, the writing was on the wall. It shut its doors in June after the final cohort of start-ups had completed the programme.

Opportunity

While Hurley sees the closure of Wayra as a loss to the Irish tech sector, he sees it as an opportunity for NDRC.

It is now exploring the possibility of setting up a seed fund that would be closely aligned with its accelerator fund activities, though it won’t be exclusive to LaunchPad or VentureLab companies.

“It brings in the possibility of momentum and seamless continuity. You know there’s a runway to seed investment,” says Hurley.

At present there is no definite timeline for opening the fund and while NDRC has the capability to pinpoint potential opportunities at a pre-seed stage, moving into the seed funding stage will require employees skilled in this area.

“We’re not underestimating our own challenge in that,” says Hurley.