"We see it as our responsibility to encourage female founders, and founders from other minority groups, to feel confident enough to reach out to us, and other investors, to access the tools they need to level the playing field and build a more equitable tomorrow." -- Isabelle O'Keeffe, Principal at Sure Valley Ventures

Sure Valley Ventures was founded by Barry Downes in 2017. The entrepreneur-led firm is focused on investing in innovators at an early stage and helping entrepreneurs grow and scale industry-leading technology companies. Specifically, the firm is focused on supporting teams working in fintech, IoT, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). This year, Sure Valley's investments include Ambisense, an environmental risk assessment firm and VividQ, a Cambridge-based startup developing holographic display technology.

Sure Valley was formerly known as Suir Valley. Today, the company is headquartered in Dublin, Ireland and London, UK and maintains offices in Dublin, London, Cambridge (UK) and Waterford (Ireland).

I connected with Isabelle O'Keeffe, principal at Sure Valley to learn more about their approach to finding and selecting some of Europe's most promising founders. Isabelle was most recently been awarded  "Specialist Investor of the Year" at the 2019 Women in Finance Awards.

Hi Isabelle! Thanks for coming to take the "Reverse Pitch". First, can you summarize Sure Valley's investment thesis in three sentences?

Sure Valley Ventures (SVV) an entrepreneur-led venture capital fund that invests in high growth, frontiers of tech software companies, that are solving significant real-world problems through disruptive IoT, AI and immersive technology platforms. We invest at Seed stage and take a hands-on approach to working with the founding teams and fostering a long-term relationship.

What industries and business models are you most interested in investing in?

We look to invest into companies where the technology provides a clear defensibility for the business. We tend to be vertical agnostic when it comes to industry favoring software solutions. To date we have invested into companies targeting the following industries: Cybersecurity, Gaming & Entertainment, Media & Advertising, XR (VR & AR), Logistics, Fleet management and Last mile delivery, Environmental and Financial Services. We are open to different business models both B2B and B2C as the industries we are targeting are very varied but ultimately, we want to see a recurring revenue model emerging with a clear growth trajectory.

Which technologies do you find most exciting right now, and why?

We are very excited about the fact that tech sectors are converging giving birth to more deep tech companies supported by enabling tech such as AI, AR/VR, IoT and a combination of these technologies being applied to different industry verticals. For example we have invested into a company in the Creative AI space, a company combining IoT sensor data and AI to targeting the environmental and construction industries and XR technologies targeting the advertising space.

How much do you typically invest?

We typically invest as the first investor into the pre-seed, seed and Seed extension and will follow on into Series A. This can range from a cheque size of €300k - €1million. We are happy to both lead and co-invest depending on our conviction about the deal and our ability to add value to the founders in a meaningful way.

Beyond funding, where does Sure Valley provide the most “value-add” for founders?

SVV was founded by an entrepreneurs who really knows the pitfalls of founding a business and how to navigate these and identify the gaps in founding teams in the early days. As a result as a team we have built a comprehensive start-up platform for founders that delivers mentoring, networking, training and a series of growth supports that help accelerate the development and growth of founders and their companies. As we do have a focus on deeptech companies there is a clear alignment and understanding of the founding team of what is needed to scale these businesses and we aim to provide this through our platform strategy.

Do you have any geographic restrictions on investments?

We currently invest across Europe with a focus on the UK and Ireland. However, we assess deal flow from other regions and if we see a compelling enough opportunity we can and will invest into that company despite its location.

What is your commitment to diversity and inclusion?

We see it as our responsibility to encourage female founders, and founders from other minority groups, to feel confident enough to reach out to us, and other investors, to access the tools they need to level the playing field and build a more equitable tomorrow.

We continuously track diversity and inclusion throughout our deal flow to understand the sources, the flow through the pipeline and investment conversion to better assess how we can improve this. On gender-based diversity we are tracking well with 56% of our investments in our current portfolio being female founded or co-founded teams. Members of our team are part of key diversity communities, including: Diversity VC, The SoGal Foundation, and mentoring programs at various incubator and accelerator programs such as Huckletree Alpha’s Diversity Cohort.

2019 Investments

Company Name Location Industry Business Model Stage
Stealth (undisclosed) Ireland/UK Last mile logistics B2B Seed+
Stealth Ireland/UK Cybersecurity B2B Seed
Ambisense Ireland Cleantech B2B Seed
VividQ United Kingdom Holographics/XR B2B Seed
Admix United Kingdom AR/VR/XR B2B Seed
Nova Leah Ireland Cybersecurity B2B Seed

If you could invest in any type of business or technology right now (real or imagined) what would that be?

I think there are vast opportunities in models that use deep tech tools such as computer vision or AI as enablers to existing solutions. In particular you can see great opportunities in transforming more traditional, low-tech industries. I am interested in businesses that are looking at how technology can really drive the sustainability agenda and provide data and solutions to both analyse and help behavioural change across different industries and in the consumer world.

What is the best way for founders to get in touch?

We are very open to approaches from all sources. The best place to start is by looking at our website and familiarizing yourself with the team. You can also follow us on Twitter for updates and can message us directly there. You can also connect with me and the rest of our team members on LinkedIn.

Thank you Isabelle and Sure Valley!