Venture capital firm SmartInvest here to stay

Entrepreneurs gather for a SPARK challenge mentoring session in Ireland last July.

SmartInvest Ventures, an international venture capital firm, announced plans to maintain a permanent presence in Delaware.

The Irish firm first came to Delaware last spring with a series of mentoring sessions for 11 early-stage Delaware companies. The idea was to prepare the startups for investors with tough expectations for their return on investment. The first round of the “SPARK Challenge” took place inside The Mill, a co-working space in downtown Wilmington.

SmartInvest identified the participating startups through a screening event in early 2017. Now it plans to hold a second event, called “Life’s a Pitch,” on Sept. 25 to find companies for another SPARK challenge in October. The goal is to hold these events regularly, providing a kind of base camp for northern Delaware’s burgeoning startup scene.

The sessions, which take place over nine days, combine leadership development with nuts-and- bolts advice on how to test and verify assumptions  and begin outreach to the global network of angel investors.

The company’s commitment to Delaware, in part, stems from the state’s familiar economic situation. Gerry Moan, founder of SmartInvest, said it reminds him of what Ireland faced in the 1990s.

“The historic large-company economy of Delaware is changing rapidly,” Moan said. “We see tremendous opportunity to ignite the investment community here in Delaware by using the same public-private partnership approach that has been so successful, for example, in re-energizing the Irish economy over the last several years.”

The firm is running a similar initiative in Israel.

SmartInvest has three distinct models operating under one umbrella. Its SmartBase division provides mentoring and education. SmartStart facilitates angel funding. And SmartInvest draws on existing venture capital, as well as providing support in finance, human resources, legal issues, budgeting and other business functions.

In the early stages, at least, the goal is to shape up young companies.

“We know that our vetted, intensive, hands-on process works exceedingly well,” Moan said. “Start-ups come to us at opportunity phase, and our mentoring educational program digs deep. We had some 3 a.m. nights.”

Fred Hosaisy, partner at SmartInvest Ventures, said the company’s model is hands-on and adaptive. “The model works because we provide active mentorship and guidance, and take an active, in-company role for individual LPs,” he said. “My partners and I have a shared passion and strength for our companies, and an ability to work across geographies and cultures.”

One company from the first batch of startups has already leveraged its experience in the SPARK Challenge.
“We are learning and doing, not just sitting in a classroom,” said Jimmy Jannuzzio, founder of BookBandit, a startup seeking assistance from the SmartInvest team. The app, now available in the Apple Store, aims to make textbooks more affordable for college students.

Jannuzzio said the sessions helped him refine his elevator pitch. “This was live, on-the-spot refining of our story, and we got better every time at delivering it,” he said.

BookBandit attracted $50,000 in angel investment following the sessions.

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