Former Angel Investor and Technology Executive What is your business background?
I studied Computer Science in Trinity and emigrated to the UK after I graduated in 1988. I had a brief stint as a trainee programmer for a UK Plc before moving to London to work for Expert Edge, a small Irish software company, and I stayed working with them when I moved back to Dublin in 1991. In 1995 I joined Deloitte as an IT consultant and was promoted up through the ranks until I became a Partner in 2001.
How long have you been an Entrepreneur and what made you decide to start?
I stayed with Deloitte for 6 years before moving to West Cork and setting myself up as an Independent Consultant. I had a crazy first year doing the same sort of Consulting as I had in Deloitte but as the economy slowed down I took the opportunity to reskill and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Technology Commercialisation from NUI Galway. Over the next 3 years I became more and more involved in innovation, technology transfer and start-ups.
In a weird way, my thinking had come full circle. I left Expert Edge to join Deloitte because I wanted to design solutions for clients that were independent of any product, but after 14 years as a consultant I was tired of being the outsider and not having the power to get my recommendations seen through to fruition, so I started looking to get involved on the inside in late 2009.
Once I started, it seemed that one idea or opportunity led to another so after only a year there were more opportunities than l could deal with but I’m now focused full-time on Akari Software.
Apart from being an “Entrepreneur” what else do you do and who have you invested in?
I have been winding down my other involvements to concentrate full-time on Akari from the start of this year so I’m no longer involved in the Fusion technology transfer programme from InterTradeIreland and I’m not taking on assignments for my consulting business, Chaos Management.
I am still on the Board of Granite Digital Ireland’s best web development and online marketing firm (said with a smile). That takes a day or two per month. I had worked with Conor Buckley in Deloitte and was delighted to be able to help him out. They’re a great bunch of guys and it’s a privilege to sit on a Board with Alf Smiddy as Chair.
I invested in Whatswhat.ie back in 2010 which is an online business directory for companies in Ireland.
I’m also on the Board of the Sign Language Interpreting Service – the National Agency for the provision of sign language interpreting services in Ireland. It is an independent voluntary body supported by the Citizens Information Board. Both of my father’s parents were deaf and it’s hard for hearing people to understand the difficulties deaf people have in dealing with the State – especially in difficult situations involving health and legal affairs.
Are you more hands-on with some businesses rather than a “sleeping partner”? What do you prefer?
I (now) know that I need to be hands-on. That has changed my investment criteria significantly over the past year. If I can’t be hands-on, I’d prefer someone else to be doing the investing for me via a fund.
What is the criteria you look for when investing in a company? Do you prefer short or long-term investments?
I have a checklist I go through for investment opportunities. This covers:
Geography – I’m only interested in businesses based in Cork otherwise I can’t put in the time.
Expertise – can I bring something to the table that the business needs? If it’s just money, I’m out.
Technology focus – I’m only interested in software, online or high-tech businesses.
Target Market – I need to understand the target market. For me, that primarily means it needs to be a business rather than a consumer offering.
Stage – I’m interested in Seed to Early stage investment opportunities.
After that, it’s the usual due diligence sort of things. Five years would be a typical length for the investment. Also an investor wants to know what the money will be spent on and how they will get their money back – at a profit.
What common mistakes do you see by companies asking for investment? Is there something that turns you off straight away?
You’d be amazed how badly a lot of companies are at explaining what they do. Other clangers include asking for advice and then arguing with it, saying they have no competition or having a crazy valuation. Companies need to prove they are giving the investment money back at a profit and show how they intend to do this. The best advice I ever got was from an Enterprise Ireland mentor who reminded me that selling the company is different to selling the product.
What made you decide to concentrate the majority of your time on Akari Software?
In 2010 I was asked by Eoghan O’Leary to work with him on writing a business plan for Akari Software which provides software for Higher Education and somehow he persuaded me to take on the role of Chief Technology Officer. They had software that had been developed in conjunction with the target industry and had gained repeat customers. However I knew I could add value in terms of future product development, technology strategy and technical partnerships. It was a good fit for all my investment criteria.
Over the past year I’ve invested a huge amount of time and some funds in Akari. Eoghan and I have another Higher Education start-up idea called Innovation Island – it’s been on the back burner for the past few months while we get funding and a team in place in Akari.
Are there Angel Investment groups that you are involved in or would recommend?
The Halo Business Angel Partnership is a great organisation that brings together Entrepreneurs and Angel investors. I’ve been on both sides of the table with them. It’s a joint initiative between Enterprise Ireland, InterTradeIreland and the Business Innovation Centres. CorkBIC has been great for Akari. The related Network is focused on developing professional Angel syndicates.
Has the recession made a big difference to companies you are involved in?
None of them have escaped the effects of the recession but at least all of them are still above water.
What do you think can be done to help businesses in the current economy?
From the point of view of the businesses I’m involved in I think the best thing that could be done would be to end uncertainty about the future of the Eurozone generally. It’s affecting investor and consumer confidence in a sort of vicious circle.
Thank you Paraic for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview and I wish you lots of luck with all your projects. I hope this interview has given budding entrepreneurs an idea what to do (and not to do) when looking for investment.