Halo Director Alan Watts casts light on the wide variety of companies seen by Halo and NISP CONNECT at the NI Science Park by highlighting two contrasting ventures backed by Northern Ireland business angels
Halo is the business angel network for Northern Ireland, but since it's delivered from the NI Science Park, people often ask if only high technology companies can apply. The answer of course is no, Halo welcomes applications from companies in just about any sector except property and straight retail.
So in practice, while many technology-based companies apply, Halo sees companies from an amazingly wide spectrum. In fact, at any Halo meeting where between five and eight companies will pitch, there is always one which causes angel jaws to drop and more than one person to ask 'what's Watts on now?'
In the more unusual category, Halo has seen pitches on golf (a new type of putter and then training and tips on your i-Phone), chocolate that's good for you, a sports team, graves and a bid to record the wreck of the Titanic in high definition. It's never boring!
So this month we want to talk about two recent companies from opposite ends of the 'unusuality scale' which came through Halo and ended up winning their angel finance.
April saw the world premiere of the short film The Shore directed by twice Oscar-nominated Terry George and starring Ciarán Hinds. It's a great film, set in Coney Island, County Down about a homecoming which is full of humour as it tells a heart warming tale. It might even make it into to the Oscars. However, if you look at the credits you will see the executive producers are Stephen Morrow and Danny Moore and even Halo gets a credit. Of course the finance came from many sources, including Northern Ireland Screen and Tourism Ireland – but it also came from Halo angels!
This was achieved by a virtual pitch – that is to say that the company recorded a pitch on the Halo private video website and then all 120 angels were notified that it was there. Quite a few viewed the pitch, discussions ensued and in the end the backing was achieved.
Halo is used to training up companies to pitch, full rehearsals are mandatory and we're known for giving companies a very hard time at this. So it made quite a change to 'direct' a Holywood director to help him get it right, and Terry would tell you that we didn't go easy on him either.
The other interesting benefit, apart from a mention in the credits, was the opportunity to visit the filming. Naturally Halo staff were pressed into service as extras, but I have to tell you that our Hollywood career was short lived as our two seconds of fame ended up on the cutting room floor.
However The Shore, like any other Halo investment is now being watched with interest to see if it makes money. It's currently doing the film festival circuit before being released to a wider audience probably on DVD and then via i-Tunes. And the executive directors are waiting anxiously to see if their Oscar invitations will arrive.
In contrast to our first film, April also saw a technology company win the second largest Halo investment ever. Taskmaestro received angel backing of £0.5m for their interactive touch screen system for the hospitality industry. It reminds staff of their duties and ensures they are carried out systemically and as needed. One application would be in a food outlet where alarms would sound for important and often hygiene-related tasks. As well as the reminder, staff confirmation of the alarm is recorded so that they are accountable for the actions taken.
The product is already developed and the investment, which also brings significant management experience into Taskmaestro, will allow the roll out of beta tests to customer sites. Gabriel Bradley, CEO, confirms the company has been approached by a significant retailer interested in the efficiencies Taskmaestro can deliver for them. Following this, the company has aggressive plans to push their technology into a number of markets across many countries.
So, two very contrasting investments in two very different companies. Only time will tell if the film or the technology will make the best investment. But what is certain is that Halo angels will continue to see a huge range of opportunities and will no doubt continue to wonder just what Watts is on.