With many entrepreneurs seeking alternative finance to support their growth, The Impartial Reporter spoke to Iain Lees, Managing Director of HannawayCA Corporate Finance and Joe McGirr, founder of the Boatyard Distillery about their recent collaboration to secure expansion capital for the Fermanagh gin brand.

During the last few months of 2017, Joe’s team were working around the clock to produce large orders for customers, including travel retail customers covering all the major Irish airports, along with kick starting export to Denmark and Switzerland. 

Boatyard Distillery: sweet smell of home just the tonic for gin maker

Joe realised his credit cards were not going to be able to fund the stock for these orders which were worth many hundreds of thousands of pounds. 

The company also needed six figure sums to buy new stills to launch its Old Tom gin and its vodka brand and to start laying down whiskey.

He called up an old school friend who is a senior team member with Hannaway CA, a Belfast-based operation that works with fast growing companies that need assistance on tax, accounting and funding.

Iain recounts how it was “a huge effort helping private investors learn about and buy into Boatyard’s plans then get all the investment contracts drafted and agreed.”

He said: “We were pretty sure that Boatyard would appeal to private investors, especially as we were able to offer them SEIS, a highly tax efficient (but 100 per cent legal) investment structure. 

“Invest Northern Ireland-backed CoFundNI, which match-funds private investments into Northern Ireland’s young growth companies, doubled what came from the private investors. 
“Then, with sufficient cash going in, WhiteRock, which lends to growing NI companies, provided another £100,000 to Boatyard, bringing the total raised to nearly £350,000.”
He added: “With the excellent help from Tughans solicitors in Belfast, we managed to get the funding across the line late on Friday, December 22, meaning the Boatyard staff could get their Christmas pay!”
Iain continued: “On the financing side, Northern Ireland is actually really well set up at this point.
“We have fantastic tax breaks for individuals who invest as ‘angels’ and who often contribute experience as well as cash. They also get super tax reliefs - we used the government’s Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) scheme, which normally gives an income tax rebate worth 50 per cent of the amount invested.
“Then, there are a number of early stage InvestNI-supported venture capital funds which will support early stage companies from £50,000 investment (techstart) through to £2million (Kernel and Crescent).
“The venture capital that invested in Boatyard Distillery, CoFundNI, does just what its fund name says – it doubles up what the private investors put in to promising young companies. 
“Layer on top of this, ‘mezzanine’, or growth loans, from WhiteRock, which lends to early-stage companies with a bit of sales history, and there genuinely has never been a better time to try to fund a promising start-up in Northern Ireland.”
Iain said: “Of course, a strong business plan in an area of new opportunity or high growth is what all these investors are after, but with the growth in e-commerce, fintech, AI and even just cleverly-branded Irish and Northern Ireland food and drink, there really are no limits out there for those with ambition.”
Meanwhile, Joe explained: “I always knew that there is a limit to how much growth we can achieve without any investment. This much needed capital has gone to fund two new stills, employ extra staff to help with production and the launch of our export plan starting with USA, Switzerland and Denmark, which the Boatyard team launched last weekend in Copenhagen.”
He added: “Hannaway CA were confident from the start that they could complete the investment raise which they then went on to deliver in full. 
“I would say this method and route is great for new or smaller companies to raise funding as you can be paired with shareholders that really believe in your product and really understand your vision.”