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Lack of funding for Irish startups worries investors

Senior venture capitalists have described as “worrying” the lack of money coming through for new Irish startups.

While the overall amount raised on both parts of the island reached €545m for the first six months of 2020 – the highest for four years -the figures were skewed by a handful of giant deals, leaving early-stage funding struggling badly.

”The number of companies raising funds declined by over 20pc and the number of companies raising investment for the first time fell by almost 60pc,” said Brian Caulfield, a venture partner in Draper Esprit and a long-time investor in Irish tech companies.

“There is also clear evidence that early-stage companies are finding it particularly difficult to raise funding, with only three companies founded since 2019 raising just €340,000.”

The wider figures collated by TechIreland include venture capital (VC), grants and other funding sources attracted by tech companies in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The headline €545m figure is up 25pc on the first six months of 2019, according to the organisation’s study.

Nevertheless, “the headline conceals some very worrying trends,” said Mr Caulfield.

The chief executive of TechIreland, John O’Dea, said that the overall funding figures so far this year have been “distorted by three very large investments into Fenergo, LetsGetChecked and ALX Oncology, which between them add up to €237m, more than 40pc of the overall funding”.

There was a slight drop in funding into companies outside Dublin, with the exception of Cork, where eight firms raised a total of €88m in the first half of this year, up from €37m into 5 firms last year.

While Dublin saw an increase in funding raised, the number of investment rounds dropped by 27pc compared to last year, according to the TechIreland report.

Meanwhile, funding in Northern Ireland halved from €25m in the first half of 2019 to just €12m during the same period this year. ”Investment is still concentrated in Belfast with little of note in the rest of the province”, said Mary McKenna, an investor based in Northern Ireland.

Despite the concerns over very early-stage companies, some venture capitalists say that they are surprised at how much continues to be invested during the Covid-19 crisis.

“Every VC investor I know assumed capital markets would be shut or suppressed for 12-18 months following lockdowns, including me,” said Paul Murphy, a general partner at London-based Northzone. “We were all wrong. It’s a funding frenzy out there.”

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