Northern Ireland

Invest Northern Ireland 'causes market failure'

Invest NI signage
Image caption Invest NI is described as "causing the ongoing failure of the market"

The aim of Invest NI is to stimulate investment in start-up companies and grow the economy in Northern Ireland.

No-one wanted to invest any money into companies here during the Troubles, and something needed to be done to stimulate the market.

But a new report seen by the BBC has said the publicly funded agency is going about it completely the wrong way.

It said that, in fact, Invest NI's involvement is now causing the ongoing failure of the market.

Subordination

It's been written by a technology guru from Belfast called David Kirk.

He has made it big in Silicon Valley and now lives in California but has invested in a few small technology companies in Northern Ireland.

In his report, he noted how a few months ago one venture capital fund, which took money from Invest NI, reported a profit for other private investors while Invest NI lost money on its loan.

It's a process called subordination - private investors are given a good return on their money, even when there isn't really a profit to be shared to encourage them to keep investing.

Invest NI takes the financial hit.

Mr Kirk thinks that is bad for the economy on a number of levels.

Firstly, he said the funds didn't seem to be focused on the areas that needed to be fixed.

Secondly, he said if investors are only getting a return for their money because they are being bailed out by public funds then they have no reason to trust the fund managers.

'Lack of hands-on experience'

He added: "Most (with a couple of exceptions) of the fund managers in Northern Ireland tended to be chartered accountants, so there is a great lack of real hands on experience that could be used to help those start-ups."

And finally, Mr Kirk thinks that the Invest NI training for entrepreneurs that has been running over the last couple of years has backfired.

He said that "because they probably didn't ask the right questions when they selected the people doing those programmes the end result is not only slightly ineffective but dangerous.

"They have graduates or alumni from these programmes that are actually dangerously naive when it comes to investing."

The report has been submitted to Invest NI and they have accepted a number of the points made, but Mr Kirk said there needed to be a changing of the guard when it came to giving advice on investing in Northern Ireland.

He added: "The 21st century technology start-ups are not your father's start-up companies and there's dozens of people within a square mile of where they are sitting that can provide real advice and real experience."

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