University Bridge Fund

Atlantic Bridge connects Irish spinouts to the world: Global University Venturing Interview

Atlantic Bridge takes stock of its successes in helping Irish spinouts scale internationally through the $68m University Bridge Fund

By Thierry Heles, Editor, Global University Venturing 

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When University College Dublin (UCD) and Trinity College Dublin selected growth equity firm Atlantic Bridge in 2015 to manage a €60m ($68m) fund to back spinouts from Irish institutions, it was clear this would put the country on everyone’s radar.

This was not just because Atlantic Bridge maintains a global network of offices and promised to help spinouts scale internationally, but also because it marked the first time that Ireland gained such a fund – and thus also the first time that EU-owned European Investment Fund (EIF) had an opportunity to provide €30m in matching funds. In fact, the EIF’s cheque made it a “catalytic investor,” Helen McBreen, the investment director at Atlantic Bridge responsible for University Bridge Fund, told Global University Venturing.

You would not suspect that this was the first time such an initiative was launched in Ireland, however, if you consider the efficiency at which it all came together and how much has been achieved less than four years into the investment period.

McBreen said the origins of the fund were “a highly collaborative effort between a number of different entities. Chief among these were UCD and Trinity College Dublin, “which had a desire for their own seed fund and to have it managed by a professional fund manager.”

Through a highly competitive process, Atlantic Bridge was chosen as that fund manager “based on its model that would allow Irish business to scale globally and at a more accelerated rate through Atlantic Bridge’s global connections,” McBreen explained.

Atlantic Bridge wasted no time fundraising and, apart from signing up EIF, also attracted financial services firms Allied Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland, as well as the government’s enterprise support agency Enterprise Ireland.

EIF wired such a large sum because it “knew the strength of Irish research was there” and what they needed was to partner Ireland’s leading universities, McBreen said.

Ireland is a small country in terms of population (the 2016 census counted just under 4.8 million citizens) and in terms of third-level education entities: there are seven universities, 13 institutes of technology and approximately 50 research centres. Combined, those institutions offered a robust pipeline and showcased the opportunity that was underlying in Irish research.

“UCD and Trinity are punching high globally and they would have seen peer funds operate around other universities, allowing those spinouts to benefit from having an institutional seed fund in the ecosystem,” McBreen said. “The two were strategically focused on building a culture of entrepreneurship within their universities and build on the successes that they had had up until that point, but the missing part of the jigsaw was this fund.”

To source deals, Atlantic Bridge does regular pipeline assessments with tech transfer offices across the country to triage opportunities and work with teams to shape inventions into investable propositions.

Kathy Kelly, an investment associate of University Bridge Fund, added: “We have a very strong network with corporate partners, customers and other universities internationally. A lot of the dealflow would come through our proprietary network.”

Once a spinout has received capital, it benefits from Atlantic Bridge’s global platform and network: the firm, which has seven funds under management with a combined €950m in firepower, operates from five locations, including Dublin, London, Palo Alto, Munich and Paris It is also a multi-stage firm and while University Bridge Fund invests at seed, with capacity to follow, portfolio companies stand to benefit from later-stage growth funds.

Please follow the link here for the full interview.