IIBN caught up with Gavan Wall, Co-Founder of Belfast based ‘The Change’ Venture Capital Ltd. Gavan revealed to IIBN my Co-Founder is Andrew Cuthbert and we invest in people with ideas that have the potential to change the world. We are Northern Ireland’s only privately funded early stage Venture Firm. We’re focused on Tech and Science opportunities.
What are your main priorities and goals in your role?
Our Gorilla Goal is to turn an acorn of a £10MN first fund into £10BN of value in 10years.
What are your biggest challenges?
First and foremost, Northern Ireland has a very limited history of private venture capital, particularly at early or seed stage. Breaking down barriers and mindsets is our first big challenge. Success in startups is often measured in creating a few extra jobs within NI. Whilst that is a laudable achievement at The Change we want to smash the glass ceiling and create a production line of startups backed from NI hitting £20MN series A investments.
How has your business strategy been adapted in the context of the Covid-19 crisis?
COVID-19 has been difficult for us, as it slowed down the registration of our fund by the FCA and lockdown was a major block to our fund raising opportunities both in relation to our ability to get to London to raise and in relation to a contraction in the flow of cash.
We also reviewed all of our potential investments for COVID-19 resiliency which meant that we couldn’t proceed on all the investments we were hoping to.
Our marketing, fundraising, how we engage with our stakeholders and everything in between has all been tweaked strategically following COVID-19.
How do you keep your team/staff motivated?
We’re at an early stage, we’ve a Team of x8 including Board Members and Consultants and keeping everyone motivated and on message has certainly been interesting during lockdown with the new remote working.
The first thing we instituted following lockdown was that my cofounder Andrew and I have a 7am Zoom every morning to start the day, to check in on each other around mental health, motivation and to encourage each other around our respective areas of responsibility.
What are the challenges facing your industry going forward?
There is capital available, but as an new VC Firm we are still in raise mode ourselves, so we need to make sure that the Investees we have selected reflect our DNA so we are well positioned for the current unusual times. It’s easy but dangerous to simply kneejerk to where the ‘market’ thinks the immediate opportunities are during the pandemic, some of which may pass in the medium term.
We don’t want to do the latest Me2 opportunity only to be left with no swimming costume on when the tide goes out later in the year or next.
What new trends are emerging in your industry?
The immediate trends are around dispersed working, virtual collaboration and online purchasing.
In The Change we’re really interested in Genetics and MedTech which we believe will be the next front following the immediate sectoral opportunities that money is flowing into in the aftermath of COVID-19.
Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?
The European VC sector is very concentrated in London. There is a burgeoning market in Dublin and we want to bring that into the regions and Northern Ireland in particular.
Belfast was iconic in the Industrial Revolution for things like ship building and linen, previously known as Linenopolis, and it’s time we had great venture capital firms supporting the bleeding edge of tech and innovation.
Are you finding any skills gaps in the market?
We have the people with the skills, we just don’t have the ambition in NI! The Change is here to shake this country from its slumber and the lack of ambition which is accepted in Northern Ireland.
And subsequently to deliver that ambition to the world.
We look forward to the world waking up to the skills we have in a well educated and trained market.
How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?
There are obvious economic concerns in the UK and Ireland about the impact of Brexit and the inevitable reduction in growth across the UK, but we are hopeful that NI will be in a unique place with a foot in both Europe and the UK and The Change will be a beneficiary of that opportunity.
How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?
I was on the Best of Belfast podcast a few years ago and was asked what was the one thing I’d change about Northern Ireland, and I stated that a collective ability to use and embrace the word ‘success’ which we’re currently afraid to use.
My own podcast, the Speed Mentor Podcast, is the No1 rate business podcast in NI, and there you’ll hear me talk of owning both your failures and embracing your successes and bringing that message to every entrepreneur and intrapreneur across the country is something I get up for in the morning.
The more people who are allied to that goal, the bigger the tribe we’ll build for The Change and we’ll deliver even more value to ourselves and others.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?
I have so many mantras of my own that I use such as, ‘stop selling start adding value’ and ‘it’s your choice’.
What have been your highlights in business over the past year?
Without doubt getting The Change Venture Capital registered with the FCA. It has actually taken us a year to get it across the line and it was a very tough process but is now the platform for the next decade.
What’s next for your company?
Continuing our own raise as we make our first investments, three of which are ready to go imminently.
What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2020/21?
In 2020/21 we plan to invest in x8 startups with a ticket size of approx £1MN each. We’re building a Team of A players who’ll support us on that journey such as Henry Algeo former the MD of Brewin Dolphin who’s just joined the Board. Further deal flow is critical to get the very best investees.
Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?
This time next year, we want The Change to be a recognised brand in the VC space in the UK & Ireland, to be the market leading VC in Northern Ireland, to have backed x8 startups and to have changed mindsets of many who’ll be inspired to chase down success and build value in Northern Ireland
As Gandhi said, be the change you wish to see in the world! We intend to evidence that in the year ahead.