Student loan firm to enter Irish market
US venture capital heavyweight Mark Stevens - who oversaw early-stage investments in firms such as Google and PayPal - has taken a stake in Ireland-based student loan provider Future Finance, underpinning the Dublin firm's plans to enter new markets.
And Future Finance chief executive Brian Norton has told the Irish Independent that his company hopes to have Central Bank clearance by the end of this year to begin offering loans to students in the Irish market by 2017.
The move comes as an option proposed under a recently-published Government report is that Irish third-level students would secure loans to cover the cost of fees.
Future Finance was established by US-born Mr Norton only two years ago.
It has already secured €47m in equity in two main funding rounds and has financial facilities totalling over £100m (€116m) to bankroll actual lending. Half of those facilities were provided by Goldman Sachs.
Mr Stevens's Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm, S:Cubed, has invested €2m in Future Finance. It comes on top of money the Irish firm raised in March.
A billionaire, Mr Stevens was a partner at high-profile US venture capital firm Sequoia Capital when it invested in companies including Google, PayPal, YouTube and Linkedin.
Sequioa invested $12.5m in Google in 1999 giving it a stake that was later worth billions.
Future Finance has a number of other high-profile backers.
Mr Norton said that Future Finance has loaned about £50m to students in the UK over the past couple of years. It has also just entered the German market.
"We'll be active in Ireland just as soon as we get through the Central Bank authorisation process," he said.
"The cost of higher education in Ireland is rising. Getting an MBA could cost north of €20,000. And while undergraduate education here is still technically free, there are a whole raft of fees that are associated with that. They can add up to thousands of euro a year.
"There is a big chunk of the population in Europe - including Ireland - where you've got deserving students who are offered good spots at great universities, but are unable to take advantage because of the cost," he added.
Mr Norton believes there's potential to secure thousands of customers in Ireland.
"We have a lot of room to grow," he said.
"We've had great success with what we've been doing. Raising additional money is almost the easy part.
"The work for us is making sure we're extending the right kind of help to the right kind of people."
Mr Norton said that, apart from Germany, Future Finance is also sizing up other markets it can target.
However, it's thought that it will be unlikely to enter markets still reeling from high unemployment following the crash.