SOSV withdraws plan for Food-X in Cork due to lack of Irish support

Failure of institutional investors to get onboard leads venture fund to reduce plans

Bill Liao (managing partner), SOSV and Sean O’Sullivan (founder and managing partner). SOSV has stepped back from plans to establish a European version of Food-X, its international business accelerator programme for start-ups, in Cork.

Bill Liao (managing partner), SOSV and Sean O’Sullivan (founder and managing partner). SOSV has stepped back from plans to establish a European version of Food-X, its international business accelerator programme for start-ups, in Cork.

 

SOSV, a $300 million venture capital fund founded by entrepreneur Sean O’Sullivan, has stepped back from plans to establish a European version of Food-X, its international business accelerator programme for start-ups, in Cork.

The fund has also cancelled a planned second annual instalment of its RebelBio life sciences accelerator in the city and shifted its demo day showcase for the latest programme to London.

Bill Liao, founder of RebelBio (formerly known as IndieBio) and the European venture partner for SOSV, who lives in Cork, expressed disappointment at the decision, which he said came as a result of the lack of support for the accelerators from institutional investors.

“I really love Ireland and want to see it thrive and it is hard when there are so many unnecessary own goals,” he told The Irish Times.

Mr Liao, who also co-founded the not-for-profit CoderDojo initiative, had last year expressed high hopes of bringing Food-X to Cork with the group looking to avail of support from institutional investors here.

The programme, which currently runs twice yearly in New York, partners with early-stage food entrepreneurs to help them bring their products and services to market. Named as one of “the world’s top 10 most innovative companies of 2015 in food” by Fast Company magazine, it typically provides up to $50,000 in funding in return for an 8 per cent equity stake in individual companies.

RebelBio, meanwhile, was founded in Cork in 2014 as the world’s first life sciences start-up accelerator. It has been through four instalments to date with the demo-day showcase for the latest programme taking place next month.

The aim of RebelBio is to unlock the potential of biology as a technology, de-risk and accelerate scientific innovation and launch lean start-ups to build the future with biology. A sister programme operates in San Francisco.

Among the start-ups to have taken part in RebelBio are Perfect Day (formerly Muufri), which made headlines around the world when it revealed it was developing a synthetic cow-free milk product that is expected to hit shelves within the next few years.

“We have a current batch of 15 amazing companies (for RebelBio) and have decided to move demo day to London and also to spin up our second annual cohort outside of Ireland. We have the highest number of companies wanting to stay in Ireland with this batch than we have had in our four-year history,” said Mr Liao.

“The lack of Irish LP (limited partner) support in Ireland for SOSV is as disappointing as the lack of Irish State support for CoderDojo has been.

“Next year instead of running a food accelerator and two batches of RebelBio in Cork we will just have the one. The food accelerator is cancelled and the sixth batch of RebelBio will be held outside of Ireland,” he added.

SOSV, which was previously known as SOS Ventures, was established by former Dragon’s Den star and MapInfo co-founder Sean O’Sullivan in 1993. It has funded over 500 starts-up since it was set up and is currently funding over 150 firms a year through its accelerators, which cover areas such as hardware, software biology, food, robotics, medical devices, transportation and green energy.

The fund, which has $300 million in assets under management, employs over 80 people globally, including a small number in Cork city.

Mr O’Sullivan, who previously lived in Cork, returns to Ireland at least once a quarter.

Speaking earlier this month in San Francisco, Mr O’Sullivan said SOSV remains committed to Ireland, where it employs around 15 people, mainly in back office roles.

In a recent interview with The Irish Times, Mr O’Sullivan stressed that while it backs plenty of start-ups, many of them fail.

“We expect 60 per cent of our companies to never return any money and another at 10 per cent to do little more than that. That’s about 70 per cent of the firms not paying the bills so we rely on the remaining 30 per cent, who we dub the ‘winners and superstars who will do well’,” he said.

Eight out of 15 teams in RebelBio’s latest instalment of its programme are female-led, with women holding positions as either CEO, CSO or CTO.