Should EI Invest Directly in Irish VC Companies?
Well first of all lets look at it from Enterprise Ireland’s perspective. They divest themselves of significant sums of money each year through CORD, RTI and a host of other schemes. They also co-invest in venture backed initiatives and the Irish “big three” (Trinity, Act, Delta) are the guys they bump into time and time again. So its clear that somebody had the brainstorming idea of saving a huge amount of the tax payers money by directly investing in these companies and leaving them to it. I’m presuming that these funds will be invested under the standard terms as a VC limited partner.
So does this mean that EI will not be offering matching funds anymore? Or is this in addition to the joint investment model, which introduces the concept of double funding, something EI has shied away from in the past (every try to get an RTI grant while you’re receiving CORD money? not a chance buddy). What will happen to the Seed Capital Scheme? Nobody has answered these questions as yet.
Now saving the tax payers money is never a bad idea but its not really EI’s job. EI’s role is to foster the creation of export driven businesses that enable Ireland plc. to compete in a global market place. They have to be efficient for sure, but efficient at what? This gambit seens like a low cost way of disbursing funds rather than a way of adding value to the creation of strong businesses that can compete with the best in the world. Lets be clear, this is not a dig at the irish VC community, but with the best will in the world their job is to generate 10x returns for their limited partners. If that can be achieved by flogging the IP overseas and closing down the Irish arm of the business so be it. This is not exaclty congruent with EI’s goals.
At the the Recent InterTrade Ireland Private Equity Conference several themes emerged. The first is that VC investment and regional development are not well aligned. So don’t expect much of that 200m euros to land outside the pale. The second is that early stage investing will never be a marketing mediated activity. So nobody in the irish VC community is going to pay you 50-100k to develop your idea, investigate the market, learn about your customers etc. This is the gap that EI needs to fill with its 200m, not subsidising successful VCs with money over which it looses control the day after it is invested.