Entrepreneur Colum Courtney has only given two business pitches in his lifetime – both were on the same day and both secured funds to grow his business.
He is well aware of the importance of making a successful business pitch.
If you have not watched The Apprentice or Dragon’s Den, a pitch is basically delivering a business plan verbally to prospective investors.
In May 2014, Colum, Managing Director of Hybrid Mail Solutions, appeared on RTÉ’s Dragon’s Den.
During the show, Barry O’Sullivan, CEO of Altocloud, a Silicon Valley technology company, was impressed with Colum’s pitch and pledged a €100,000 investment for a 20 per cent share of Hybrid Mail’s equity stock. Colum said he would channel the money into IT and software development, sales and marketing across the UK and Ireland and potentially toward capital equipment.
Following his successful Dragon’s Den pitch in Dublin, Colum drove straight to Belfast for a meeting with HALO, the Northern Ireland Business Angel Network, a joint initiative of Invest NI and Intertrade Ireland, delivered by the Northern Ireland Science Park (NISP).
HALO comprises of ‘business angels’, high net-worth individuals with an interest in investing in companies with the potential for high growth. These angels are aware of the risks involved so invest across a portfolio of companies to spread these risks. They also rely on a small number of these companies to do extremely well in order to cover the losses on those that do not. In addition, business angels often bring commercial experience and a great list of contacts which can otherwise be hard for early-stage companies to access.
“Whilst Dragon’s Den was more show-piecey and you could bring props or entertain, HALO was completely different,” Colum explains. “HALO has very strict protocols about how business pitches are made. You’re only allowed 10 slides but it’s probably best to do it without slides. Then you host a dinner table with potential investors suited to your business,” Colum explains.
HALO only deals with with a significant presence in Northern Ireland. It does not assist companies dealing in property or land or those involved in ‘straight retail’ e.g. shops.
“I had six HALO guy interested,” Colum reports. “It was good having the different options of HALO and Dragon’s Den; I had choices to make. I took a HALO investor on board for a small percentage of the business and got investment.” “I wasn’t nervous,” he recalls. “I had been on Invest NI’s Propel Programme for one year previous and was so practised in delivering my pitch that it rolled off my tongue.” The Invest NI Propel Programme is aimed at high calibre entrepreneurs whose companies have export potential. It offers up to £20,000 financial support, a series of 12 high quality training workshops, individual motoring support from experienced international entrepreneurs, help with drafting an investor ready business plan, shared work space and support to make overseas market visits.
Hybrid Mail Solutions is a Lisnaskea-based mailing service that cuts the cost of sending post from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland by cutting out postal levies to the Republic. It has been operating for three years. One year after Colum had formed Hybrid Mail Solutions, he was advised by the Propel Programme to take advice on winding up the company. “That’s how tough things got one and a half years into the business,” he recalls. “But another order would come in and then another and we just kept going,” he says.
During Propel, Colum met Andrew Keogh, a leadership and management trainer. “He taught me how to pitch my business story in a simple but effective manner.” Hybrid Mail Solutions now has customers in New York, France, throughout Ireland and the UK. It also posts directly into Germany. “The business has grown by over 200 per cent in the last 12 months. We are on the last two companies bidding for a tender to supply all of the a public sector organisation in the Republic of Ireland.” The company has also signed a contract with one of the United Kingdom’s largest outsourcing companies.
Colum forecasts that his business will grow by a further 100 per cent at a minimum in the next 12 months.
Hybrid Mail Solutions employs three people and one part-time staff member. If more contracts are secured, Colum will hire more staff.
His advice to local business is: “You are only one or two conversations from the people you need to meet.
“Fermanagh business people need to get out of Fermanagh to meet people. If you want to grow an export business, you have to get on a plane,” he states.
For a successful business pitch, Colum advises: “Don’t take yourself too seriously; if you’re afraid to go out onto the street and try to sell your product to strangers, then you shouldn’t be an an entrepreneur; speak to the right people and be aware that the banks aren’t the only option, there are angel investors out there who might be interested in your business.”