Ask Me Anythings
April 28, 2023

Barry Brennan, Partner at Elkstone

Barry Brennan is Venture Partner at Elkstone and was previously the founder of CapF9 Ventures, where he focused on early-stage investment and advisory services.

Question (Jenna Farrell): Of the start-ups that have had great success with Elkstone, what did they do differently from others? While I'm in the early stages of building my MVP and talking to customers, what other areas would you recommend I focus on at this stage?

Answer: Founders and companies solving real and large problems are the ones that stand out. From a venture perspective, we are looking for large markets and real edges. The companies that have these have a greater chance of getting venture capital, and an opportunity to pivot in different ways around those opportunities. Also, areas that are tougher, such as consumer-facing tech, are a hard sell.

Question (A Scale Ireland member): As you look at the spread of start-ups in Ireland, are you seeing any particular vertical (beside tech) succeeding more than the others? If so, why?

Answer: My background and Elkstone's core thesis is around investing in great Irish companies, and in our ecosystem, there are some areas that are stronger than others and from a venture perspective more investable. The first is B2B SaaS, which is probably the easiest tech to export and build here. The second is MedTech. We have some real strength here on the island and this is something that isn't for everyone, but in some niche areas we invest in. For B2B SaaS, the size of the opportunity and the go-to-market risks are understood here, and we have a good track record on executing this. For MedTech, we have some real deep tech expertise on the island and that technology edge really makes a difference. It isn't for everyone and we tend only to invest as products are nearer commercialisation.

Question (Emma Smith): As a VC, you likely see many startups coming through - are there any particular things that make a pitch stand out to an investor, the things which make you pause and go deeper?

Answer: We are an early-stage investor, and the team factor cannot be overstated here. The first thing we try to assess is the founding team, the fit to the problem, and the fit to the market. Then we look at the opportunity and the edge!

Question (Miriam O'Flynn): What is the outlook for early stage-seed startups in 2023? Also, what are you seeing in the AI/ML space?

Answer: On the outlook in Ireland at seed, I am actually positive. There are a lot of new funds in Ireland aimed at early-stage investments, not just Elkstone but other investors too. I think the climate for Series A and beyond is more complicated. Valuations are under pressure, but I genuinely believe the early-stage funding ecosystem is in good shape, alongside the likes of various initiatives of Enterprise Ireland.

Question (Martina Fitzgerald): How would you describe the investment landscape now and what advice how you give to those raising at the moment?

Answer: Hopefully, I covered the ecosystem question above, but overall, I am positive pre-Series A with more challenges after that here in Ireland.

Question (A Scale Ireland member): Many start-ups don’t have a sustainability plan: I was wondering if there will be increased pressure for them to create one for future investments?

Answer: I think we as investors have to be realistic as to what we can expect at a seed stage of founders in this area. It is something to work together on and this can vary on a case by case basis. We do include these factors in our Investment Committee process and speaking to it on a slide is helpful. It also depends on how significant sustainability is to the actual solution

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