Northern Ireland Business of Finance – 29/3/2012

1 Apr

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster is pictured with Michael Taylor, Director of Insider Media.

The ambition of the Business of Finance conference in Belfast’s Europa Hotel was to bring together investors with local businesses and their advisers. To do so, the content of the morning would feature an eclectic mix: three different sized businesses from Northern Ireland with funding stories to tell; Graham Hallworth, a friend of mine and a proper heavyweight entrepreneur from the North of England; a good mix of different funders; and a strong inspiring opening from no less a figure than Arlene Foster, the enterprise minister of Northern Ireland (above).

I have to say that each speaker was first rate. They all projected a unique message that will have given the 120 or so paying customers some insights into the changing world of raising finance for their business. I did a relaxed interview with two entrepreneurs, Michael Black and Grainne Kelly, and was fortunate they were very expansive and revealing. My judgement prior to the event was that both would have responded better to this format than giving a presentation. Equally, Eoin Lambkin, one of our other speakers, thrives in an environment where he controls the messages. I knew that Graham Hallworth would deliver, he always does.

I’ve been let down by politicians before so was particularly pleased at how well minister Arlene Foster MLA performed. I appreciated that Invest NI, the business agency, saved an announcement for the day which got good coverage in the next day’s Belfast Telegraph.  Due to the security situation we weren’t able to publicise her appearance, but she was a real pleasure to work with.

In the final panel session we had some spark debate between four different funders – all private equity, but from slightly different parts of the market. They disagreed on a few points, which was good. My job, as chair, is to allow debate to flow and to think how their disagreements add to the understanding of finance, not just to stir things up. The questions weren’t exactly free flowing at the end, but often that’s the case when the panel seem so good and project such authority. There is nothing worse than a stupid question to bore everyone else – rather no questions – I’ll always have a stack I have prepared earlier.

This was a great day. The dinner afterwards and the experience of being in a city that is so determined to build a bright future after the dark days of its recent past.

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