Strange currencies can’t stop O’Brien making money

IT’S not easy being a billionaire. Denis O’Brien’s Digicel mobile business operates in Haiti, whose gourde dropped 20% against the US dollar last year. Papua New Guinea’s kina has also been going the wrong way.

Yet other interests are flying. O’Brien is a backer of Aspinall Capital, a low-key investment house in London’s Marylebone “servicing the investment needs of a small and defined group of celebrated entrepreneurs”. Clients include former Formula One team boss Eddie Jordan, polo-playing Nigerian oil billionaire Kola Karim and money-transfer mogul Francesco Costa. This posse of bazillionaires sits on Aspinall’s advisory board.

Aspinall backed Metro Bank in a funding round in 2014 before exiting handsomely after the British challenger bank’s IPO last year. It has also backed a school of osteopathic medicine in New Mexico; automotive and energy-sensor companies; and a €8m residential scheme in less exotic Birmingham, England.

Last year Aspinall backed Spring studios, a New York group that creates campaigns for luxury brands and caviar restaurants.

Billionaires get it, I suppose.

Soundcloud’s silver lining
When Sonia Flynn jumped ship from her job running Facebook in Ireland for streaming music start-up Soundcloud, many people thought her mad. Soundcloud was burning through money faster than it could grow sales. By mid-2016, accumulated losses had topped $52m (€49m).

Then it emerged that Soundcloud was in advanced talks with Spotify over a $500m buyout in November. Alas, the deal imploded as the two sides couldn’t agree on price. Berlin company Soundcloud still has $13m in the bank yet the pressure is on to find a way to make money or sell out.

I hear that Google has taken a look at the company, potentially as a way to bulk up its Google Play offering.

Sprout boss Kirwan has nothing to hide
Running into a meeting in the nip isn’t the traditional way of introducing yourself to a future investor. Yet it worked for Jack Kirwan, the 27-year-old founder of the Sprout & Co healthy food and juice restaurants.

Kirwan is backed by Rosaleen Blair, who sold her AMS recruitment firm to New Mountain Capital for €315m in 2013. Blair’s first venture was a nanny agency, and Jack’s mum, property manager Siobhan O’Dwyer, was her first customer.

Aged three, Jack burst into their first meeting starkers. Sprout has three restaurants in Dublin and is opening soon in Ballsbridge. Kirwan is teaming up with Avoca for a stand-alone at the retailer’s new Dunboyne store. Avoca’s Simon Pratt is also an investor in Sprout.

Downey may be in for a tweet from above
Followed by 20.4m people on Twitter, freshly minted US president Donald Trump follows only 42 other Twitterers. Among these are the Derry-born actor turned Hollywood producer Roma Downey and her husband Mark Burnett.

Burnett practically invented reality TV and helped create the Trump persona through The Apprentice.

Downey last year helped produce the $110m (€103m) epic Ben Hur. It bombed in the US but did well “internationally”, grossing more than $97m. It’ll make plenty from TV and downloads too. The pair are behind Light TV, a 24-hour faith-based television station, which started on Fox and is expected to roll out across the US in 2017. The chances of landing a presidential endorsement for the new business have got to be good.

O’Leary spreads property wings
While the racehorses seem to be Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s main interest outside of owning the skies over Europe, his commercial property empire may be bigger than previously thought. O’Leary’s Bradley Investments, which is involved in developing a bumper mews building at the back of a €2.85m Clyde Road red brick, also has a couple of office blocks in the centre of the City of London at Fetter Lane and Mark Lane.

It also owns a big chunk of a business park in Altrincham, near Manchester. The development, funded by Bank of Ireland a decade ago, houses the local Dulux headquarters.

Bradley Investments has also paid off Bank of Ireland borrowings on two swish buildings in Glasgow: a plum seven-storey sandstone office block in St Vincent Street, which houses the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport; and a building on Argyle Street, which includes a local Sainsbury’s.

Renewables put wind up Broder
Fergal Broder’s Sligo-based Lotus Automation, which owns the technical and engineering group LotusWorks, has taken a bit of a hit on building a new 72-turbine wind farm in Oregon. As if Sligo were not windy enough.

I hear that Lotus conducted a strategic review last year and decided to exit a bunch of less lucrative businesses including its renewables project and its industrial training business. It sold a facilities management division to Aramark just over three years ago.

Lotus racked up development costs of €6.2m on the Oregon project before deciding the sector was “challenging” and selling it off to local management.

It wrote off €900,000 on the rest of the value of the project. But the wind farm escapade is but a minor hiccup for Broder’s outsourcing business, which had sales of €63m last year.

Broder and his partner Tom Cafferkey have been racking up some valuable new contracts with multinationals and expanding into the life sciences sector. Much easier to concentrate on growth now that their wind problem is gone.

Miner problem with gender
Rose Hynes, a serial Ned (non-executive director), is quitting the board of the mining equipment company Mincon. She was appointed in December 2014. Hynes is the only female chair of an Irish-listed company, holding the joystick over at Origin Enterprises. Mincon is now without a woman on the board. It will have to drill the contacts book to find a replacement.