How EIE helped two Scottish start-ups to grow

Picture: Celtic Renewables
Picture: Celtic Renewables
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Every year, the Engage Invest Exploit (EIE) investor showcase event in Edinburgh and London sees start-ups pitch their businesses to investors.

The events, organised by Informatics Ventures, offers small Scottish businesses the perfect platform to network with industry leaders, experts and potential investors.

Picture: Firefish

Picture: Firefish

Perhaps one of the most important things small firms can gain from participating in an EIE event is invaluable experience in pitching – which these two Scottish start-ups attest to.

Celtic Renewables

It almost sounds too good to be true – making money, not to mention a fuel of the future, out of the waste produced by Scotland’s national drink.

But that’s exactly what Edinburgh-based Celtic Renewables intends to do, with the company’s first production plant set to be built in Grangemouth this year.

The firm is blazing a trail in the production of biobutanol, which could one day be used as a replacement for petrol.

The fuel is produced from the fermentation of biological wastes and residues, and with Scotland’s £4 billion malt whisky industry producing around three million tonnes of exactly that, Celtic Renewables reckons it could generate a new £100m-per-annum industry from these residues alone, while also solving a waste-disposal problem for the whisky industry.

The demonstration plant, which will create up to 30 skilled jobs in Grangemouth, will cost £25m but Celtic Renewables has been boosted by a grant from the UK Government’s Department of Transport (DfT) to the tune of £11m. And according to Celtic Renewables chief executive Mark Simmers, the firm’s participation in EIE events in 2013 and 2014 proved to be helpful when it came to securing that hefty grant.

“This was an exhaustive and comprehensive competitive bidding process and we were delighted to have been selected as one of three successful projects to be supported by the DfT.

“With the imminent completion of the required private match investment, the project will get under way later this year.

“The exposure of the technology and the experience of competitively bidding for investment at events such as EIE prepares companies like Celtic Renewables for the bigger challenges ahead of full-scale market deployment of the technology.”

The firm’s participation in both the Edinburgh and London EIE events in 2013 proved immediately fruitful as it won the Investment Pitch awards. But it was the experience in pitch-making that was perhaps most rewarding for the firm. “We thought our involvement at EIE was really important in the company’s journey through its start-up phase,” says Simmers.

“The networking in both Edinburgh and London was excellent and the events put us in front of very worthwhile investment prospects.

“In addition, the pre-event pitch-training allowed us to practise and hone our proposition and to improve our presenting style and skills.

“[The events] enabled us to showcase our technology and value proposition to a knowledgeable and well-connected commercial and investment audience, and the awards we received were a fantastic third-party validation of the business opportunity Celtic Renewables is commercialising.

We would certainly recommend the involvement with EIE to any young technology company in Scotland.”

Firefish Software

Back in 2006, Wendy McDougall was running her own IT recruitment agency and growing increasingly frustrated with the limitations of the recruitment software on the market. She and her team decided to develop their own – and it was such a hit that Firefish Software became a company in its own right in 2010, with McDougall going on to sell her agency in 2013 in order to focus on helping Firefish grow. And it’s been doing exactly that ever since.

“This year we are still actively expanding across our three core areas of the business; Product, Growth and our Happiness teams,” says McDougall.

“We are excited to be organising our first recruitment leaders event on June 1 at the Glasgow Science Centre ‘The Future of Recruitment’ attracting the world-renowned speakers Greg Savage and Jonny Campbell. As well as this we are continuing to add candidate engagement tools that enhance our customers’ ability to predict when candidates start to look for a new job before they have even told those closest to them.”

According to McDougall, a crucial point in Glasgow-based Firefish’s development was its participation in EIE14, which she says was “invaluable” thanks to the pitching experience on offer.

“We attended EIE14 to raise our first round of investment. However I was also attracted by the journey that participating in EIE offered. We learned how to pitch, engage and present to suitable investors.

“Entering into the world of raising investment can be a daunting task at first.

“However, like everything, it becomes much easier when the unknowns are explained to you in a safe, non-judgemental environment – EIE provides this.”

According to McDougall, it was no coincidence that just a few months after its attendance at EIE14, Firefish won some crucial financial backing. “The amount you learn is invaluable and I am pleased to say it paid off as five months after EIE 14 we successfully secured our first round of investment.”

And in turn, that investment has helped the firm continue on the path to growth as it tripled its workforce and boosted its turnover. “In the following 12-month period, this investment allowed the company to increase our headcount from seven to 21, double our turnover, move offices and increase our international client base to service customers across 26 different countries.”

• This article was produced in partnership with Informatics Ventures and investor technology showcase EIE16, which will be held on 12 May in Edinburgh.