Wednesday 22 May 2019

Where can an Irish startups get vital funding?

Getting a loan can be a crucial step up for an SME. But what is the best way to decide which type of loan you need? Patrick Edwards reports on a new initiative set up to help make dreams a reality

Access to credit can be one of the most difficult hurdles for any SME to jump. Although the statistics have improved in recent months, nearly a third of SMEs who apply for credit from their banks are refused funding.

And despite an increase in new funding methods such as crowdfunding, taking out a loan from a bank is still far and away the most popular method of obtaining credit.

However, a new Irish website and conference is aiming to streamline the way in which SMEs borrow and help provide them with greater access to funding.

FundSME is a website and annual event helping SMEs and start ups find and access best fit funding to suit their particular business needs.

The initiative's founders are aiming to have €50m pledged by financiers and make available to SMEs at the conference, which takes place on May 28 in the RDS.

The event is designed as a one-stop shop linking SMEs with the most suitable funding provider, from bank-lending to crowdfunding.

With 200,000 SMEs in Ireland, access to finance from traditional banks and other sources remains a stumbling block for these firms despite improvements since the height of the recession.

In addition, many SMEs experience delays receiving payment on time.

One of the founders of FundSME Patrick Keaney says that he initially launched the website to help SMEs overcome barriers to accessing funding.

He said: "I've worked with and ran several SMEs before and I was confused as to why there is so much money in the market and why so many SMEs were struggling for funds.

"I started working on FundSME about a year and a half ago as an easier way of letting people know how to get credit."

FundSME allows SME owners to source credit through the website's Pathway to Funding tool.

The website profiles and explains all funding types available in Ireland including traditional banks, alternative finance, peer to peer and government grants.

For SMEs who want to know exactly what type of funding fits their business needs, the site's unique interactive 'Pathway to Funding' will help them figure it out swiftly. Results, based on the user's answers to ten questions, will return a list of best fit funder types along with their contact details.

There will be in excess of 50 sources of funding at the event. The funding exhibitors will include major Banks including the recently launched Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI), traditional banks, equity and angel investors, venture capital funds, invoice financing firms, peer to peer, crowdfunding platforms and Government support agencies.

At the FundSME events, SMEs will both learn about and meet these sources of funding.

FundSME CEO Nollaig Fahy said: "The greatest advantage of the "Pathway to Funding" tool is its ease of use as it transcends all forms of funding from government sector to banks through to private equity.

"It specifically encompasses providers of finance and so, works hand-in-hand with the government's own online SME tool which highlights government supports."

Mr Keaney says that he is aiming for the FundSME conference to help provide capital to assist in the creation of as many as 2,000 new jobs.

He said: "My logic is that to financially manage one person you need about €25,000. That means that €50m would create 2,000 jobs."

He added that he is aiming to do another similar event in Belfast later in the year, although not quite of the same scale. "Maybe a third of the size," he said.

He also said that he would like to do another two events of a similar size in Ireland next year if the show at the RDS proves a success, and added that he would "also like to do some work in the county if possible."

The company also pointed out that there "is no reason why the model cannot be brought to many countries as there are similar issues in the UK and many EU countries. The US systems are much further developed."

Tanaiste Joan Burton also hailed the event, saying that it is an important event to help SMEs.

She said: "Ireland is firmly in recovery mode. But while we are making firm progress, we've much more to do, and that is why I greatly welcome FundSME as an important event to help small and medium enterprises and start-ups.

"SMEs are the lifeblood of our economy, forming the backbone of our towns and villages, creating jobs, providing services to and sustaining local communities.

But funding dried up during the economic crash, and even now, with the recovery overseen by the Government, many SMEs and start-ups are still struggling to get the money they need to grow their businesses."

She added: "I am delighted to support FundSME and look forward to it playing an important role in our continued recovery.

"Its aim is simple, to help SMEs and start-ups find and access best-fit funding to suit their needs. And "access" is particularly crucial.

"It is always helpful for SMEs and start-ups to have sources of information on the range of funding available. But what many small business owners need is that crucial bit of additional insight - how to access these options." was established in 2013 Patrick Keaney and Nollaig Fahy. Both men travelled to the UK and US to see what was being done to address the difficulties facing SMEs seeking finance. After a number of months and many conferences and events, they realised that there was not any format that was specific to SME's seeking funds.

Eventually, after months of meetings with SMEs, funders and government agencies, was launched as an information site in preparation of FundSME events with the "Pathway to Funding" portal.

In just over five weeks since the "Pathway to Funding" portal was made available over 3000 individuals have visited, over 500 SMEs have completed the "Pathway to Funding" questionnaire and over 20 funders have already had direct multiple contacts from visitors to FundSME.

FundSME is based in Dublin and has a team of six people working with them. Further events are currently being prepared with the next FundSME event taking place in Belfast.

There are currently over 100 sources of funding across Government and private sectors - totalling over €6bn - available to SMEs, ranging from Loan Finance through to Asset Finance as well as government grants.

A Government survey of nearly 2,000 small businesses has shown a lack of awareness of these supports amongst Irish businesses, with 98pc of SME respondents admitting they had a low awareness of public supports available to them.

In the same survey of SMEs, small businesses respondents said that online is their preferred way of finding out information for their business, with 70pc of replies stating websites are the most used communications tool they use when searching for information.

Despite that there has been several positive developments for SMEs looking to borrow over the last number of months.

The latest ISME Quarterly Bank Watch Survey shows that bank lending rates to SMEs increased in the first quarter of the year. It was the fourth successive quarter of improvement in the success rates of SMEs who apply for bank loans.

A third of companies who applied for funding in the last three months were refused credit by their banks, an improvement on the 38pc refusal rate seen in the previous quarter.

It was also announced recently that AIB has approved €60m worth of loans made available through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland. The bank said there had been strong demand for the loans which are available at the highly competitive rate of 4.5pc per annum variable rate.

There has also been good news for very small businesses and early stage startups as a new scheme to make loans from the State-established Microfinance Ireland easier to access were announced last month.

MFI was set up to provide loans of up to €25,000 to firms employing no more than ten people because lack of credit was seen as a major blockage in the economy.

A rule that restricted access to the fund's loans to businesses that were previously refused credit by a commercial bank was scrapped following a State review, and it is now expected to kick-start a major increase in lending by the State-backed fund.

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