Ready for anything: putting Irish companies on the road to growth

Euronext’s IPOready programme provides chief executives and chief financial officers of growth companies with the skillsets to evaluate the best sources of finance for their business

Euronext’s IPOready programme provides chief executives and chief financial officers of growth companies with the skillsets to evaluate the best sources of finance for their business. Picture: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

Nothing beats forward planning when it comes to being ready for whatever curveball life throws and nowhere is this more apparent than in business – as it is a given that industries across every sector will benefit from being prepared for any eventuality.

Of course, the events of the past year and a half came as something of a bolt out of the blue, but some companies were more adept at dealing with the crisis than others.

And this is where the IPOready programme from Euronext comes in. The leading pan-European exchange, which runs the primary stock exchanges in Belgium, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Italy, runs a programme designed specifically for chief executives and chief financial officers of growth companies which provides them with the skillsets needed to evaluate the best sources of finance for their business.

“We would say that being IPOready is the highest form of readiness for any business and if you are ready to IPO, you are ready for any financing event,” Niall Jones, head of listing at Euronext, said. “The course is sector agnostic and we run it in conjunction with our partners Enterprise Ireland and Isif, with the three of us sharing the same goal of supporting Irish companies to scale.

“It is very much an applied rather than academic model and as such, we attract a lot of founders and business owners.”

Gaining insights into the IPO process

One example is Jim Joyce, chief executive of HealthBeacon, which builds smart tools for managing medications, who participated in the 2019/20 IPOready programme and says its reputation is well deserved.

“The programme has an excellent reputation of guiding companies through both fundraising and the IPO process,” he said. “So we took part in order to gain knowledge and expertise of listing a company and to build out our network of advisers, companies and funders.

“It helped us tighten our funding story and approach to raising capital and gave us incredible insights into an IPO process.”

With an SME franchise of more than 1,500 issuers (<€1 billion market cap), Euronext also has an unmatched blue-chip franchise including more than 400 large, listed companies, and is the largest listing venue for tech SMEs in Europe with more than 700 tech issuers.

It has 1,920 listed issuers worth €6.5 trillion in market capitalisation as of end of September 2021 and has had its most active year ever in 2021 with more than 160 IPOs across its seven markets, so it is well placed to offer the best possible advice to its clients and programme participants.

“Our IPOready programme is delivered through a combination of seminars, one-to-one mentoring, pitch days and time spent on European campuses,” Jones said. “The seminars are Dublin-based and along with being interactive, are delivered by a stellar line-up of advisers and leading Irish corporates, investors and entrepreneurs.

“When it comes to one-to-one mentoring, each participant company is allocated a mentor with extensive fundraising experience and will have three tailor-made one-to-one mentoring sessions to help them through the programme and support them in developing their equity pitch and financing strategy.”

In addition, twice a year, in January and June, campuses are organised in Rotterdam and Lisbon to facilitate networking between partners and participants on all Euronext pre-IPO programmes.

“On top of this, there are ‘Pitch Days’ where participants can pitch their investment story to a panel of investors and gain insights in how to refine it. Euronext will also organise investor one-to-one meetings alongside the investor panel pitch on the second pitch day at the end of the course.

“The courses run from January to June 2022 and cover roughly ten days in total between the various modules, which include the three in Dublin, one in Rotterdam, one in Lisbon, and the various pitch days.”

A focus on the issues you need to know

Jones says that the main difference between the IPOready programme and other courses is that it offers a comprehensive introduction to the Irish capital markets’ ecosystem.

“On the last programme, over 100 advisers, company plc representatives and investors participated and gave their time and shared their debt, private equity and public markets’ perspectives,” he said. “We focus on the issues that public companies need to be aware of such as governance, fundraising potential, M&A and more – but all of these principles are useful to most companies no matter where they are on their funding and growth journey.

Tommy Kearns, chief executive of xtremepush, can attest to this, as the multichannel engagement personalisation and data platform benefited from participating in the IPOready programme in 2019.

“We’ve been around for six years, and our aim is to help brands across different verticals, for example e-commerce, retail, banking, sports, betting and gaming and media and publishing, to understand their users across all their digital channels and then help them to communicate on a one-to-one basis,” he said.

“We help them to create awesome customer experiences, save money by consolidation of different point solutions and generate more revenue. And two years ago, we decided that it would be beneficial to take part in the IPOready programme as we felt it was a rigorous course which would help us to get ready for everything, be it IPO or for scaling business.”

The boss of the Dublin-based tech firm said there were many aspects to the programme which benefited his company, and he would encourage others to consider taking part.

“It shows you the processes and governance which you need to run a company at scale whether you are to IPO or not,” he said. “We were at that juncture where we were scaling the business, so it was a great programme to be participating in.

“I particularly liked the mentoring as it was extremely insightful and helpful and gave us a great understanding into the different aspects of governance which is needed at this level of business. It also helped us to identify what gaps needed to be filled and it was very beneficial to be able to mix with like-minded chief executives and entrepreneurs who are all facing the same challenges. I learned a lot and would highly recommend it.”

Barbara McGrath, managing director of Brightwater recruitment company, agrees and says they initially got involved in the programme as they had “set up a platform to do some discreet acquisitions and grow the business” and both the knowledge gained and introductions made were hugely important to them.

“The FD and I felt that we needed to do the Euronext course to give us a really good feel for the world of M&A and strategic financing if we needed it for the group in the future,” she said. “The course gives companies an opportunity to really figure out if they are ready for an IPO and also get a good understanding of what is required to actually make that happen.

“We got a lot of benefit from it, particularly the knowledge of how the strategic financial world works and also, as a recruitment company, it afforded us the opportunity to get an insight and in-depth knowledge into the other companies on the course, so the networking opportunities were superb.”

McGrath says that the IPOready course also allowed the Dublin-based recruitment firm to take a look at its own operation and this, along with advice from other companies, was a great learning curve.

“It forced us to look at our own company and ask ourselves what we would need to do in order to scale up and be in a really good place, so if we decided to IPO, we could facilitate it quite seamlessly,” she said.

“I would be a great advocate for the programme and personally thought it was super. There were some brilliant speakers, fabulous networking events and lots of opportunity for question and answer sessions. Overall, it helped me to acquire a really good vision of what an IPO would and should look like and it was an opportunity to gain experience how to present business to financiers and crucially, how to speak the same language as them.

“IPOready really benefited us, and I would highly recommend it to others.”

An exchange with global reach

Formed in September 2000, following a merger of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, Brussels Stock Exchange, and Paris Bourse, in order to take advantage of the European Union's (EU) single currency and harmonisation of financial markets, Euronext is well established on the world stage.

It bought the Irish stock exchange in 2018, Oslo Bors in 2019 and Borsa Italiana in 2021, so is by far the most active exchange, consolidating its number one position in European equity markets, but also adding significantly to its bond and post-trade franchises.

It currently has approximately 2,200 employees across its global operations and its IPOready programme has been tried and tested with positive feedback from many participants over the years.

There have been three programmes to date, starting in 2015 and running in 2017 and 2019/20 and feedback for all has been good.

“So far, the programme has been extremely positively received by the 35 alumni and a lot of entrepreneurs will be aware of the programme from word of mouth,” Niall Jones said. “We expect to see some IPO candidates emerge soon from the alumni, but the timing depends on companies’ own funding requirements and growth plans – and we hope to use the programme to dispel the myth that many companies are too small to IPO.

“Elsewhere on the continent, we have seen companies join our junior growth markets at an average market cap of c €105 million year to date and raising fresh capital of an average €32 million at the time of listing. These are averages across more than 115 companies and so there are obviously much smaller companies included here too.

“We are seeking to show companies that if they have the ambition to grow, and perhaps need fresh capital to execute on their ambitions over the medium term, that the stock market has investors for all company shapes and sizes.

“In fact, some companies have joined the programme in the past wondering if an IPO could be within their grasp, but most, if not all, have come away realising that an IPO is a real option for them, perhaps they have identified one or two things that they need to change in their business or reporting structures before going public, but they know it is a viable and exciting option for them.”

As well as being rated as highly beneficial to companies wishing to be on top of their game, Richard Kennedy, chief executive of Devenish Nutrition says the Euronext programme is also a great way to meet people both on a personal and professional level.

He found the course very useful and despite participating several years ago, is still reaping the benefits.

“It was time incredibly well spent,” he said. “You get to meet businesses outside your sector, and you make new friends. It was incredibly impactful and practical in that it gives you a physicality to how you look to raise funds and you then have the opportunity to discuss the options and follow through. For us it was brilliant at the time, and it continues to have an impact on our business.”

The next course is due to begin in January 2022 and their Norwegian colleagues are also going to run an IPOready course in 2022. In other Euronext territories (and also in Switzerland, Spain, and Germany), Euronext runs TechShare, a course specifically aimed at private companies in the TMT, CleanTech and Life science sectors.

The IPOready course is open to companies if they are revenue generating (>€5 million), but can make some exceptions for certain tech and life-science companies that may be pre-revenue, can demonstrate a track record of growth and potential to accelerate revenues, and can commit two senior executives (typically chief executive, chief financial officer, founder) for the duration of the six-month programme (roughly ten days).

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