What is it the company does?
Northstar Ventures is a venture capital firm investing in start-ups and SMEs in the North East of England. With over £100m under management, we find businesses that need support to grow and scale. That might mean working with a tech start-up that is looking for an equity investment one day, and supporting a later stage business with Mezzanine finance the next. We also manage the North East Social Investment Fund, which was set up to support charities and social enterprises looking to make a difference in the North East.
For a regional firm we are a big team. That’s why instead of introducing BQ readers to one director, we’ve invited BQ to ‘Meet the team’!
Sean Kelly, James Foster and Richard Charnley all work as Investment Managers on Northstar’s VC funds.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words.
SK: As investment managers we assess applications from companies that are looking for investment. This means meeting businesses, reading business plans, researching markets and competition, and understanding an applicant’s financial forecasts.
JF: We also manage a portfolio of companies that we have already invested in. This involves attending board meetings and keeping up-to-date with how the company is progressing.
RC: A big part of the role also involves finding the best companies in the region. We attend networking events, work closely with accountancy and law firms, mentor on business courses – it sounds like a cliché but every day is different.
Alex Buchan and Stephen Price are Senior Investment Managers at Northstar Ventures.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you end up at Northstar?
AB: Before joining Northstar I held a number of commercial roles in the biotechnology sector, as I have a PhD in Microbiology/ Biotechnology. Before that I worked as a stockbroker in London. This combination of experiences meant that when I was offered the opportunity to join Northstar in 2004, to help set up our very first fund, I jumped at the chance.
SP: I started my career as an Engineer, having completed a Doctor of Engineering in Materials Engineering. Following several years working for global companies, I was offered a role at Newcastle University, where I was responsible for overseeing the technology transfer function. After successfully raising hundreds of thousands of pounds to support spin out companies and product development, I moved to Northstar in 2010 where I now make investments into pre-seed and early stage businesses.
Alasdair Greig, Ian Richards, and Emma O’Rourke are the Directors of Northstar Ventures.
What do you believe makes a great team?
AG: Teamwork is incredibly important to us, as we have a large team working across the whole of the North East. For the team to succeed everyone has to work hard and work together, supporting each other where necessary.
IR: We’ve worked hard to get the right balance of experience at Northstar, with complementary competencies. We’ve got individuals with academic backgrounds, commercial experience, people who’ve worked all over the world – the one thing everyone has in common is that there are no egos. We judge our success as a team, rather than individually.
EO: Being able to have fun together is important too. With any job it can be stressful at times, and venture capital is no different. We try to make sure the whole team have time to socialise together regularly too, whether that’s going out for dinner or just a quick game of table tennis in the office!
Peter Gilson and Michelle Cooper are Senior Investment Managers who both work on the North East Social Investment Fund (NESIF).
Social Investment is still fairly new in the North East. What has been your biggest challenge in establishing a new fund?
PG: Letting charities and social enterprises know that there is a fund available exclusively for organisations in the North East was always going to be our first challenge. Now that more people know about NESIF, the challenge is demonstrating how flexible the fund is. Sometimes when we talk to charities about taking on repayable finance they can be slightly nervous, but when we start talking about the different ways it can be used – for example to help them purchase a property, or to provide working capital to deliver a new contract – they become really excited by the opportunities it presents.
MC: We’re lucky that we have been working with social enterprises for several years, as the Northstar Foundation also manages the Fresh Ideas Fund (a grant fund to help charities explore ways of generating income). We understand that taking on social investment is a big commitment, but we work closely with every organisation we invest in to make sure they have the support they need to succeed.
Jennifer Muldoon is Office Manager, Jessica Thompson is Finance Manager and Caitlin May is Finance Exec.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
JM: We’re a pretty health-conscious office, which really helps prevent stress. We were recently awarded the North East Better Health at Work Bronze Award as a result of several workshops and campaigns we’ve run – managing stress being one of them.
JT: We’re also encouraged to spend time giving back to our local communities: the Northstar Foundation matches our fundraising efforts or time spent volunteering. I recently volunteered with Young Enterprise, which was really rewarding.
CM: It also helps to know that the rest of the team have your back during busy times. I joined Northstar as an apprentice 4 years ago and have always had the support of my colleagues.
Laura Richards is Marketing and PR Manager and Jane Reynolds recently joined Northstar as Business Development Manager.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
LR: When I was little I wanted to be Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings films. As I grew up I realised what I really meant was I wanted to be a story-teller, which is a big part of my job now. I love getting to meet our investee companies and helping them to tell the business community about the work that they are doing.
JR: I actually wanted to be in medicine because of the new discoveries and treatments that bring advancement in the field. Northstar’s portfolio actually includes several life science companies – the North East is home to so many innovative businesses!
What advice would you give to an aspiring business?
Alasdair: Build the best team around you and be ambitious – make that call to the big potential customer or partner you don’t think you’re yet ready to engage with.
Stephen: Ensure that you have enough evidence as possible to validate your business idea and that the opportunity is large enough to meet your (and our) ambitions.
Jane: You cannot be a master of all areas that your business needs in order to grow. The challenge is to employ others with the skills you do not have.