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We Chat to Andy McCartney from VC Lab Whitespace
by Startacus Admin
One of the judges at the upcoming upSTART Pitch Battle in Belfast is a gentleman named Andy McCartney, founder and CEO of Whitespace Ventures, a VC lab which develops, funds, builds, and supports startup ventures.
He is an entrepreneur, a CEO and an impassioned builder & supporter of technology innovations, who has dedicated 24 years of his life to bringing cutting-edge technologies into being.
Ahead of upSTART, we have taken the opportunity to pick Andy’s brains on a number startup related topics including venture capital, trends in the investment market, and his own business Whitespace Ventures.
Tell us about your life in startup World to date - what's your own background and how did you get to where you are today?
I have been in the startup world from the age of 16, which was over 24 years ago, when I first fell in love with computers. I started life as a backend hacker and quickly realised that I was quite good at coding and decided there and then that I was going to build my own software.
At the age of 20 I built my first startup called Tricord Software in Lisburn and spent the next 15 years building startups which took me from the West Coast to China and everything in between, not all successful. About 5 years ago Microsoft called and I took on the role as CEO/Founder of Microsoft Ventures UK & Ireland, which was amazing as I got to support startups with the strength of one of the world's largest tech companies. Now I am the founding partner of Whitespace Ventures which is not your typical VC, not only do we invest, but we bring the corporate partners and routes to market, everything I wanted when I was that early stage guy building software in my bedroom. After over 24 years of building and supporting technology startups I am still that hacker geek, although my coding skills are nowhere near as good, but the passion never left.
Why should a startup consider investment via a Venture Capital Fund?
I would say to a startup treat a VC fund as any other part of the team. Necessary to not only build out your technology but also your vision of the company. Just like you go and purchase new offices to expand your new team or hardware to build beta versions of your technology, VC investment should be taken to invest in this growth. VC investment is amazing when it is smart investment, not only do you get the finance to allow growth to happen but you get a member to the team that will open their network which will allow you to focus on your vision. If a VC does not share your vision and treats you like a customer to a bank, then do not accept their offer. There are 100’s more that you can talk to, take time and find the right partner.
In terms of the state of the VC market in the UK - are funds starting to dry up, or are investors just being a little more cautious?
Since we formed Whitespace Ventures about a year ago we have had conversations with many funds and investors and they are certainly changing in the way they want to invest. I believe that the days of large funds is coming to an end as investors no longer want to put money into a fund which invests on a wide portfolio but wants to invest into specific technologies and have the choice of companies to invest in. Also we now live in a time where the investors are not just inherited wealth but from already successful entrepreneurs and they want to get involved with their investments directly. So I would say funds are not drying up but investors are just more sophisticated with their investments.
Will be there any longer term effects of this change of investor culture?
I hope so. There is a couple of areas that I would love to see changed and hence why I built Whitespace Ventures with other like-minded entrepreneurs, our vision is this change. What investors have to bring to the startups they invest in, is the same passion and hard work the founders of that company have. Investors have to stop trying to own the company they invest in and be part of the team and if you don’t share the vision of the founder then don’t invest, you will destroy that company. Also most investors have worked hard to get to that point of life, which means they have a brilliant network, bring it to the table, you cannot sit back, get involved, make that company a success. Investors are going to have to work now to be part of an awesome startup, investment of finance is no longer good enough.
What are you looking to see at upSTART at Digital DNA and what would a pitching startup need to demonstrate to spark your interest?
I am looking to meet some awesome teams, it is all about how the team work together, are they solving a real problem and why they came to be working together. Technology is inherently broken it is how you reiterate it that makes it special, so you need a rockstar team that is passionate about what they are solving and will never give up no matter what to solve the problem. If you invest in technology and not a team then when the technology goes wrong you have nothing, it's all about team. Everyone who knows me knows that I am mega proud that I came from N.Ireland and I believe that the geeks here are as talented as anyone in the Valley, and I want to find that team to show the world, we can kick your ass when it comes to tech.
You are a founding partner at Whitespace Ventures - tell us all a little bit more about the operation?
Whitespace Ventures is not your typical VC, we are all entrepreneurs that bring very different skills from technology to finance and everything in between. Our goal is simply to make startups global successes by bringing our investor network, corporate partners, technical partners and routes to markets to startups we support. We only work with a small number of startups per year as we become part of their team and live every high and low of that startup, we are not just about investment but sharing that vision and passion of the startup.
Thanks for the great chat Andy, and we are looking forward to seeing you on the judging panel of upSTART Belfast at Digital DNA. Find out more about Andy’s progressive approach to startups and his VC Lab Whitespace Ventures here.