Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? In the nascent stages of startup, founders need to achieve product-market fit to attract investors, yet, without investment, reaching that crucial juncture is exceptionally difficult. This is the hurdle that typifies early-stage development – the stage that is arguably the most precarious and pivotal for young companies. This is also the point at which angel investor Gianni Matera aims to make his mark on Irish startups.
Enterprise Ireland’s Pre-Seed Start Fund (PSSF) provides early-stage investment of €50,000 or €100,000 (in two €50,000 tranches), plus access to a Development Advisor and supports from the agency. The PSSF is the bridge for those startups that are still early stage but need investment to really start flourishing, and a large proportion of successful applications for PSSF have come from New Frontiers programme alumni.
The PSSF Booster fund, conceived by Gianni’s company Growing Capital, matches PSSF funding with an additional €100,000 to accelerate the startup. “Our hope is that this larger budget means the startup can reach more ambitious technical and commercial milestones. The process of finding that product-market fit becomes more achievable, more quickly, making it easier to then raise further investment.”
PSSF is emboldening Growing Capital to invest earlier in the journey of a startup, when you can catch a glimpse of product-market fit on the horizon even though it hasn’t fully materialised yet. With a keen eye on New Frontiers programme alumni, Gianni aims to deploy 15 such investments by the end of 2024. The target is bold but calculated, with the anticipation that 60% of these startups will progress to a substantial seed raising round involving Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) fund.
Gianni’s approach is resonating across the investment landscape. In fact, he believes that many venture capitalists, traditionally more inclined to invest more but at later stages, are starting to recognise the potential of earlier-stage startups. It’s a shift in the investment ethos that underscores a broader belief that the earlier the involvement, the greater the influence on a startup’s trajectory.
Anna-Marie Turley, Department Manager for Entrepreneurship & HPSU Operations at Enterprise Ireland, is excited to see how startups can leverage the combined power of PSSF and Growing Capital funding. “It’s a great endorsement to see Growing Capital adding on to the PSSF. It will give the recipients more bandwidth to bridge that gap to seed funding. It will also put companies in a much stronger position to avail of HPSU funding. Having an independent, external investor at this stage gives the business a lot of credibility. On top of the credibility that comes from having gone through Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme, this is really setting them up for success.”
For Gianni, investing is still more an art than a science. He eschews a convoluted decision-making process, instead relying on his own due diligence and judgement. His criteria, though, are clear and discerning. Growing Capital seeks extraordinary, talented people who have spotted an unserved problem in the market with a potential market that’s big enough to build a meaningful company. And he believes that New Frontiers is a great environment in which to find such vision and tenacity.
If you’re a founder hoping to catch Gianni’s attention, it’s vital you can demonstrate your laser focus on the problem to be solved and a strategy to get there with efficiency, innovation, and at a cost that stands out from the competition. Gianni’s ethos is to support, not to steer, allowing the founders the autonomy to make things happen. “In general, I foresee that PSSF will generate a robust, varied, and flourishing stream of investment opportunities for the Innovative HPSU Fund, which is the natural next step in the founding journey of the start-up.”
As a programme, New Frontiers focuses on developing the skills and confidence of the founder, who is often at this stage the only person in the business. However, successful startups require a strong and cohesive team. Gianni therefore expects founders to have pondered the pivotal question, ‘Should I embark as a solo founder, or do I require a co-founder?’
Statistically, there are lots of excellent and successful solo founders, so he is agnostic on this point. But he feels strongly that a founder should have considered both paths and be able to stand over their choice. Solo founders will need the strength of character and charisma that allows them to build and lead a team toward the startup’s goal. Otherwise, the skills and capabilities of the founder may need to be balanced by one or more co-founders.
There is an extensive range of supports available to assist entrepreneurs and startup teams to take those critical first steps in establishing and developing innovative high-growth businesses with international potential, and as Anna-Marie reminds us, “While startups receive significant media attention, it’s important to remember that Enterprise Ireland provides support throughout the entire business journey, not just in the early stages. As a business progresses, we actively assist our clients with follow-on investments and aid in their expansion efforts. We help them scale their operations and facilitate their internationalisation by leveraging our extensive network of over 40 overseas offices. This network equips them with valuable insights on market entry strategies and introduces them to potential customers as their company continues to grow.”
Growing Capital has already invested in around 20 Irish startups, including Glofox, Flipdish, and Siren. Their first PSSF Booster investment was a startup co-founded by New Frontiers alumnus Nipun Kathuria. Nipun completed New Frontiers at TU Dublin – City Campus. His company, Smile Genius Dental, is a platform for streamlining dental workflows for clinics, DSOs, and clear aligner companies, offering a one-stop digital solution for the dental industry.
Speaking about the investment, Nipun said, “This investment from Enterprise Ireland, plus the additional funding from Growing Capital, marks a significant milestone for Smile Genius Dental as we strive to transform the digital landscape for the benefit of dental practitioners and the outcome for their patients. This investment will help us to improve our product, make it more scalable, allowing us to enter key markets and integrate with other ecosystem partners. The New Frontiers programme at TU Dublin has been instrumental in preparing us for investment readiness and in connecting us to the investment network in Ireland.”
Smile Genius Dental’s success is just one example of the potential that lies within the New Frontiers community. The synergy between PSSF and the PSSF Booster has the potential to catapult the growth of 14 other startups by the end of next year, nurturing the seeds of innovation and underscoring the importance of support at the early stages where it’s most needed. As Gianni and his team cast their net wider into the pool of New Frontiers alumni, the PSSF Booster will help to showcase the resilience and dynamism of Ireland’s founders on the world stage.
About Gianni Matera
Gianni Matera is the founder of Growing Capital, an early-stage investment firm specialising in providing support to startups rooted in Ireland. Before founding Growing Capital, Gianni established DigiTouch, a digital marketing agency that has since been listed on the Italian stock market and employs more than 400 people. He also has prior experience as the country manager for Buongiorno and as a consultant at Accenture.
[Featured image: (l-r back) Diane Hurley, New Frontiers Programme Manager at TU Dublin – City Campus; Anna-Marie Turley, Department Manager for Entrepreneurship & HPSU Operations at Enterprise Ireland; Deirdre O’Neill,
About the author
Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.