Seedlings taking root with opportunities in the US and Canada
A business owner from Northern Ireland has revealed how attending an online conference to outline financing options for local small businesses last year helped open up new opportunities in the US and Canada .
Roisin Maguire, co-founder and CEO of Seedling, a digital platform for teachers to create personalized learning resources, attended the Access to Finance conference which helped accelerate her business by directing her to the right angel investors that could help him grow his business.
The third Access to Finance Conference, co-hosted by the British Business Bank, InterTradeIreland and Invest Northern Ireland, returns this year to a physical format at The Junction in Dungannon on Thursday 23 June from 8.30am to 2pm.
This year, it aims to demystify external financing for small businesses as well as raise awareness of alternative financing options and how they complement traditional bank financing to accelerate growth.
Roisin Maguire has gone from last year’s webinar delegate to this year’s panelist as she shares her experiences of the past 12 months with angel investor, Mary McKenna.
Roisin said: “Like most people running a start-up, I attended many webinars during lockdown to get advice on funding options and pitch to investors. I found the Access to Finance webinar very interesting and the speakers were first class. I immediately started connecting with the other delegates and speakers. I also contacted Susan Nightingale, the British Business Bank’s senior representative in Northern Ireland, who was very helpful and pointed me in the right direction.
Further conversations with investors Mary McKenna and Gillian McGolgan led to an investment in Seedling totaling £50,000.
Roisin has a background in graphic design, but soon turned to digital design, working for the BBC for several years on its educational services such as BBC Bitesize.
Her husband and business partner, Tony, had worked for a software company, and in 2002 the couple set up digital design agency Eyesparks.
The new company began working with the exam body CCEA to produce teaching materials for schools. Some of these mediums were digital educational games, many of which centered on minority languages such as Ulster-Scots and Irish.
Roisin explained, “We built a very easy-to-use platform that allowed teachers to create games very quickly. These games could be easily created without the need for any coding or design experience. We then contacted Invest NI which takes a stand each year at the British Educational Tech Show in London. During the fair three years ago, we met a representative from the Toronto School Board.
“After explaining to him more about our gaming platform, he said there would be a huge need in Canada as there are a number of minority languages in the First Nations population and the government is committed to provide the same teaching materials in all schools.
“Our platform could provide access to modern educational materials populated by minority languages.
“Invest NI helped connect us with an executive in Canada and six months before the pandemic our platform was in use at five schools there. It was also at this point that we transitioned from our digital services company, Eyesparks, to the SaaS (software as a service) company, Seedling.
“When the schools reopened, we partnered with a business partner specializing in selling to the government as our strategy changed to selling to school districts, which have up to 400 schools under their control, rather than to schools individual.
“We have also signed contracts with the Anchorage School District in Alaska and the South Dakota Department of Education in the United States.
“The investment money we received is being used to pay our business partner as we seek to sell on a large scale in America and Canada.
“We also plan to participate in another round of funding later this year as we need boots on the ground in Canada or America where we will seek to establish an office.”
Roisin considers the advice and support it has received from the British Business Bank to have been key factors in the development of Seedling over the past 12 months.
She added, “We were definitely at the stage where we were frustrated presenting to angel investors and doing nothing. We just couldn’t find the right people who shared our vision. If I hadn’t attended the Access to Finance conference last June, our company would certainly not be in the situation it is in today.
“The whole fundraising process takes time and effort, and the pitching can be endless. I would definitely recommend anyone starting their own business to take advantage of the support and information the Bank can provide.”
The Access to Finance conference is particularly aimed at local businesses in more traditional sectors operating in rural areas, as well as the business and financial advisors who work with them.
The event will help attendees understand the positive role of external financing when it comes to successful business growth.