Waterford native and serial tech investor Martin Dunphy is backing more startups here, aiming to help them emulate the growth and success of investments he has made in US firms.
Dunphy is likely to see future paydays from US cybersecurity firm SixGen and data governance firm Immuta, both of which he was a seed investor in.
Immuta raised a series C round of $40m at a valuation understood to be $150m earlier this week from a group of VC firms including Intel Capital and DFJ Growth.
“Both Intel Capital and DFJ have an amazing track record. Around 50pc of the firms they back go public. Immuta has the potential to be a unicorn (worth $1bn), and SixGen is doing very well,” Dunphy said.
Five-year-old Boston-based firm Immuta – named one of the world’s 50 most innovative companies by US business magazine Fast Company – emerged out of intelligence agency the NSA. Customers include major banks and health services, which have to comply with data regulations across different jurisdictions.
He is working with Dublin’s Guinness Enterprise Centre to identify potential future investments here, having just backed one he declined to reveal.
Investing through his London-based firm Ascot Capital Partners, the 53-year-old – who made tens of millions from the sale of his finance firm Marlin Financial Group in 2014 – said he is particularly focusing on tech involving AI and privacy tech, adding that he has invested €20m since 2015, in 15 deals, and sees more than 200 pitches a year.
“I expect to do significant deals here in Ireland. The ecosystem is helping to nurture young talent here that need to be brave. It’s a strategy that’s working and everyone needs to double down on it.
“Look at the success of [the recruitment AI firm which recently sold] Opening.io, which I looked at backing, where Andreea Wade and her team are very impressive, and that’s recognised by a giant like Microsoft, a partner of Opening’s new owner iCIMS.
“Ireland ranks highly for talent in areas such as cybersecurity, fintech, AI and enterprise software, and from here you can expand rapidly and easily into the US and UK markets,” said Dunphy, who has homes in Virginia and Kilkenny.
“From an investor’s point of view, no deal is better than a poor deal. Founders need to tell a compelling story about how their valuation makes sense amidst the noise of the crisis in the wider economy.
“Underpinned by an exceptional idea, they need to execute what’s in their business plan, and deliver on time what they say they will.
“Investors aren’t making low-ball offers where the business case is strong. You might have a founder with a small stake. You don’t want them to leave the company.
“I’m a backer of WeSwap, a UK-based currency exchange platform, and it’s in the travel industry, where valuations are under pressure.”
Another UK firm Dunphy has backed is Birmingham-based Engineius, a sort of Uber for firms that manage and move a lot of vehicles to where they’re needed, such as rental companies and corporate fleets. “It’s a proven concept with 65 customers so far and decent monthly revenues, and it’s busy scaling up,” he said.