Angel investors aim to pump €10m into ‘genius’ start-ups

Faye Walsh Drouillard, co-chair of HBAN impact syndicate

Sarah Collins

A group of angel investors is looking to plough €10m into Irish start-ups that can make a positive social or environmental “impact”, as well as generate returns.

The money will go to firms that are “solving challenges” in areas including renewable energy, food supply or healthcare – as long as they can prove their sustainability credentials.

“There are tonnes of incredible geniuses with great, brilliant ideas out there,” said entrepreneur Faye Walsh Drouillard, who is co-chairing the new syndicate as part of the Halo Business Angel Network (HBAN), an Enterprise Ireland-backed umbrella group for early-stage investors.

“Everybody wants to say they are sustainable, but are they really? Would an early-stage company actually be solving a problem within the food supply chain by calling themselves sustainable, or is it actually going to shift the way that we grow or consume food?

“We are going to want to dig into how they think about that, how they measure it, if it’s viable and if there’s evidence that can be proved over time.

“The impact of a renewable energy technology, for example, like a smart meter in your home is going to be very different than, say, a SaaS [Software as a Service] offering to women going through menopause to help measure health outcomes over time.”

Investors across the world are increasingly looking to put their money in sustainable firms, as more customers, employees and governments demand it.

Since last year, EU banks and investment funds have had to report on environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks in their portfolios, with binding rules for large corporates currently under discussion in Brussels.

Ms Walsh Drouillard, the first female chair of a HBAN syndicate and founder of early-stage impact fund WakeUp Capital as well as charitable foundation The Giving Circle, says the syndicate is looking for pitches from start-ups.

And there could be even more funding on the horizon. The €10m envelope is “a nice starting point” for Ms Walsh Drouillard, who wants to add more investors to the group.

“We have a significant unbalanced population of people who are involved in angel investing,” she said. “To be quite honest, there are not very many women – not enough women and not enough people of diverse backgrounds, whether it’s ethnicity, or they’re immigrants, or because of the work that they’ve done.”

The syndicate will be launched online next Wednesday, with the first meeting due to take place in March.