Farm Ireland

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Agri start-ups claim lack of funding is holding back their potential

Entrepreneur says she 'couldn't afford to attend the Ploughing'

The Grasshopper product from Truth North Technologies
The Grasshopper product from Truth North Technologies

Jamie Ball

Fledgling agri-business start-ups have claimed they couldn't afford to exhibit at this year's Ploughing Championships because of a lack of support from investors and state agencies.

Colette Martin, who developed the Slurrysafe product that won the Safety ward in the Innovations awards at the 2014 Ploughing, said she could not afford to return to the country's biggest trade show this year.

"Last year, Enterprise Ireland helped us out because we had an innovation, but our business could not afford to go to the Ploughing this year.

She added that several other companies who had exhibited at the Innovations event at the 2014 Ploughing couldn't afford to return this year either.

"There is very little help, and every show you go to costs you more money," said Ms Martin.

Slurrysafe is a safety platform for open pit entrances that prevents children, adults or animals falling into the pit while a farmer is agitating or spreading slurry.

It originally secured funding from Waterford Leader Partnership and Waterford County Enterprise, followed by a €25,000 investment from Enterprise Ireland.

"We'd have no problem with angel investors trying to help us out," added Ms Martin, who says her company is seeking a five-figure investment to develop the business.

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Paddy Halton of True North Technologies, the developer behind an award- winning paddock management tool, says the agri start-up sector needs to "better communicate agri-business opportunities to the financial community, which are usually quite disconnected to farming.

As reported by the Farming Independent in June, the Shannon-based company's Grasshopper product is a pioneering plate-meter farm management information tool, designed to improve paddock performance by 25-30pc above the national average.

The company secured a €25,000 investment from Enterprise Ireland in its Competitive Feasibility Fund to develop Grasshopper and this year won the Agri-software Award at the Innovations Awards at the Ploughing.

Mr Halton said he believes that Enterprise Ireland is primarily focused on assisting export-oriented companies rather than working with companies focused on the domestic market.

He the only other funding source he approached was his bank, which was "totally non-responsive."

The company is now trying to attract investment of "a low-ish six-figure sum," from potential investors.

Enterprise Ireland spokesman, Dennis Duggan, says both venture capitalists and angel investors are active in Ireland's agri-business space.

Enterprise Ireland also run an investment fund, whereby €200,000-€300,000 of its money is matched by venture capitalists, angel investors and high net-worth individuals.

"We do see agribusiness companies coming through every year in this investment," added Mr Duggan.

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