Ready Steady Grow! 2019 is the best opportunity for entrepreneurs, investors and business advisers to meet and share knowledge on all the exciting funding options and growth financing for start ups and SMEs.

Here at The MAC in Belfast we are bringing together small businesses, investors, funders, entrepreneurs and business advisers - all in one place to hear expert opinion from SME industry experts.


Neil Simms, Finance Director, Clarendon

Neil Simms is Finance Director of, and an Investment Manager with, Clarendon Fund Managers (‘CFM’), having joined the company in 2002. Neil has a BSc (Hons) in Economics and Econometrics from Nottingham University and is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland, having trained and qualified with Ernst & Young in Belfast. Neil has either led or been heavily involved in negotiating and completing multiple investment rounds, and exits, in over twenty Northern Ireland based SMEs, across a broad range of sectors. He currently represents Funds’ interests on the Board of four portfolio companies.

Ian Tracey, Head of A2FF, The Knowledge Transfer Network

Ian is Head of Access to Funding and Finance at Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN). He is responsible for growing and developing KTN’s strategies for assisting innovative companies through the application and raising of finance – lending, grants, or equity based. Ian is the Secretary-General of HEPtech network at CERN. Formerly he was External Technology Transfer lead at the Science and Technology Facilities Council, where he also co-created the UK Innovation Forum, to find the management required by UK research institutions to fill posts in their spinouts, or otherwise participate in the commercialisation of new technologies. He started his career at BT Research Labs, in Martlesham.

Mark Sterritt, Senior Manager, British Business Bank

Mark Sterritt is a Senior Manager for Northern Ireland at the British Business Bank. The British Business Bank is the government-owned economic development bank dedicated to making finance markets work better for smaller businesses. The UK Network was originally announced as part of the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy in November 2017, with a remit to identify and help to reduce imbalances in access to finance for smaller businesses across the UK. The UK Network will help enhance business finance ecosystems across the UK so smaller businesses, wherever they are, can grow and prosper. It will also help the Bank develop a deeper understanding of small business finance markets in all parts of the UK so that, ultimately, the Bank can improve its support to smaller businesses everywhere. Mark represents the UK Network across Northern Ireland and engages closely with business finance stakeholders in the area.

Conor Sweeney, Venture Partner, Elkstone 

Elkstone is investing in fast growing SMEs across Ireland and across nearly all sectors. We are currently focused on early stage equity investment opportunities. We have the capacity to invest from €250k up to €3m and we can access larger rounds of funding through our international network too. Elkstone Partners is a leading multi-family office group providing unique investment services to its Irish and international client base including wealth management, venture and real estate opportunities and alternative finance solutions. Elkstone Partners is the parent company of Elkstone Private which is a regulated entity that can provide our client base with an extensive range of MiFID investment services. Our focus is to proactively assist our clients in selecting investment opportunities that are directly tailored to their individual needs.

John Phelan, National Director, HBAN

John is commercially driven to identify, create and scale new business opportunities. He has grown and scaled companies, including his own, in Ireland, the UK and in the USA. These include several start-ups; one in the UK, three in Ireland (most recently RecommenderX AI) and GM of a games company in Chicago. His domain knowledge is in the AI, Software, ICT, MediaTech & Animation/content sectors. He is involved with all stages of funding (Equity, Debt, Grant, R&D) and stages of development from M&A exit transactions, Series A, Seed and R&D, and has also engaged in early stage Research (H2020 and the European Commission). Through his engagement with Dublin BIC, the Halo Business Angel Network, the AIB Seed Fund and Enterprise Ireland he has his “Finger on the Pulse” of entrepreneurial activity in Ireland. John is also the co-founder of RecommenderX, Chair of lifestyle learning content brands Knowhowdo and the Independent Chair of Animation Ireland with members employing over 1,500 and annual revenues ~ €100m.

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