From writing code for computer games to writing cheques for start ups


As any start up will know, getting the backing of an investor early on can propel a business to new levels of success. Simon Cook, CEO of venture capital firm Draper Esprit, has been backing companies for two decades and knows what it takes to scale a business. 

Draper Esprit invest in technology companies across Europe, with a key focus on Ireland and the UK, but also cities such as Berlin, Stockholm and Paris. Draper Esprit has a clear definition of what to look for when it comes to a new company.

"We're looking for the next generation of digital companies, software, Internet, digital health and electronics companies, trying to find entrepreneurs with big ideas who can be global leaders. We're part of the Draper Venture Network, which is a global network of venture capital firms, headquartered in Silicon Valley. We focus on Western Europe. We see about 3,000 businesses a year. There's lots to pick and choose from," he explains.

"What we're really looking for is companies that can be leaders globally, so what we really like to find is a company with technology and a business model that are doing very well perhaps in one country in Europe and we can then help get them into America or to Asia. Too many companies try to go to America with a fwe millilon Euro and it's hard to break a market that big. We're much bolder and we can give ten or twenty million Euro to help those companies. We're not looking for small, local companies who can dominate their home market, they have to be global leaders." 

Cook has a reputation for backing the a winner. One example springs to mind as we discuss previous success stories

"Some of the great memories include a man named James Collier, who came into my office 1998, drew a circuit diagram on the wall for a chip. He said he could make radio chips for $2; that ended up being called Bluetooth. That was very exciting to be apart of from early on."

Cambridge Silicon Radio, Bluetooth chip manufacturer, received £6 million of investment from Cook. Seven years on, the company was worth $4 billion and dominated 70% of the world's Bluetooth market. More recently he has invested in LoveFilm, a DVD rental business that went on to become an online movie business. 

Entrepreneurs without borders  

Cook has been working with his co-founder for twenty years, investing in various companies before founding Draper Esprit in 2006. Speaking ahead of the Brexit vote, Cook said a Brexit should not have too much of an impact on the relationship between Ireland the UK, from a start-up point of view. 

"As venture capital backer, we rarely talk about geography. It's usually politicians and financial institutions that see borders. Entrepreneurs tend not to see borders. Some of our companies are virtual, they don't have offices and they can work from anywhere in the world. The whole notion of geography is an odd one." 

The average age of Draper Esprit's software CEOs is between 26 or 27 years old. Cook says youth is a virtue in this business.

"One of the interesting things about this industry is, as you get older you don't like change so much. The younger people see the world should be different. We're looking for people who are passionate about the problem they're solving."

Draper Esprit invests in at least one company a month and has done for the past 10 years.

"That's 120 companies over ten years. We have nine partners, so each of us look after five or six companies at any one time. Obviously we've sold some of those along the way and made some money - so at any given period we have 50 or 60 companies we're managing."

In the last few days Draper Esprit has listed on the stock market. This means that anyone can buy a stake in Draper Esprit and, by default, any of the start-ups they invest in. 

"Ideas are cheap; 3,000 ideas come to us every year and we invest in ten or twenty - so that means that there's 2,980 people who think I'm an idiot because I didn't invest in them. You have to keep at it. When you're raising money, you have to meet lots and lots of people. You have to keep refining your idea. Dyson is the famous example of the man who locked himself in his shed for years on end until he invented his vacuum cleaner. Execution and preserving are what really matter. If you believe in your idea, keep at it and someone will see that passion."

Jessica Kelly,

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