Friday 15 December 2017

Government scheme is yet to fund a single firm

Ambitious initiative has so far failed to strike deals with private investors

MINISTER: Richard Bruton
MINISTER: Richard Bruton
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

Not one Irish company has yet managed to raise any money under a €175m scheme launched by the Government last May to help young start-ups raise money.

The Seed and Venture Capital Scheme, launched by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton, was set up to encourage venture capitalists to invest in companies that find it hard to raise money in their early years, such as technology start-ups.

However, the Government has yet to strike a deal with a private investor under the scheme and only a dozen investors are interested in the project.

At the time of its launch, Mr Bruton said the scheme would benefit hundreds of Irish companies and create thousands of jobs over five years. As well as putting €175m of taxpayers' money into the scheme, the Government is hoping to raise an additional €525m from private investors.

The "first of several calls for investment" under this scheme was made on May 31 and investors had until the end of June to express an interest, according to a spokeswoman for the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. "Fourteen fund managers expressed an interest as part of this process," said the spokeswoman. "Two of the 14 withdrew their expressions of interest.

"In the normal course, it takes at a minimum several months after a call for expressions of interest such as this one before deals are concluded with venture capital funds. Enterprise Ireland and the Department were pleased with the level of interest."

Dara Calleary, Fianna Fail spokesman on Jobs and Enterprise, criticised the delay in securing investors.

"The first call for investors closed at the end of June," said Mr Calleary.

"We're now in November. Business moves much faster than that. No money has yet been allocated under the scheme and it is hard to see any money being spent on it this year."

Other schemes launched by Mr Bruton to help businesses raise money are also struggling to get off the ground.

The government-backed Microenterprise Loan Fund scheme, run by Microfinance Ireland, was designed to make it easier for sole traders and businesses to raise money if they had been turned down by their bank. However, the scheme, which has a €90m pot, has so far lent only €1.62m to businesses, according to figures released last month.

At the time of its launch in October 2012, Mr Bruton said the Microenterprise Loan Fund scheme was expected to create 7,700 jobs by 2022 – and lend money to 5,500 businesses. So far, only 118 new jobs have been created under the scheme and only 107 businesses have secured loans.

The €450m credit guarantee scheme, which has been up and running for about a year, offers a 75 per cent State guarantee to banks against the losses on loans given to particular businesses.

Though the scheme was expected to provide an additional €150m a year in lending for small businesses, it lent only €8.5m in its first 10 months.

"We're going into the sixth year of austerity and the whole issue of finance for small businesses is still a major problem," said Mr Calleary.

Sunday Independent

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