Is there really a shortage of tech funding?
In the world of technology, crowdfunding has really come to the fore in recent years.
In simple terms it’s a way of raising finance by getting a large number of people to invest relatively small sums each.
The internet has been a fertile platform for crowdfunding to grow but has this particular fad peaked?
Media reports at the back end of 2016 compared parts of the crowdfunding industry to the ‘Wild West’ as concerns mounted over potential risks for investors and a crackdown by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
The demise of crowdfunding may be premature but it certainly adds to the feeling that attracting funding for early stage tech remains a challenge.
Attend any incubator or technology conference and the odds are you’ll find yourself next to someone who is talking about the funding gap in technology.
Most people agree it’s not easy to fund at the £250,000 to £1 million accelerator end, particularly pre-revenue, but is the funding gap real or is it a myth?
Perhaps it’s not as black and white as some people would have us believe.
I was talking about this with Tech North as they have their finger on the pulse of tech. They described the relentless early stage and high growth tech industry tapping into facilities, grants and resources.
There are countless examples of banks, universities, local councils and the government supporting the tech scene nationally with the crucial incubation hubs.
The RBS Entrepreneurial Spark and Barclays Rise are popping up throughout the UK and supporting start-ups with facilities and mentors.
Two properties in Manchester city centre will also be refurbished to host and incubate entrepreneurs and SMEs working in the digital sector.
It’s all part of an initiative called Project Forward, which has seen £4m of funding split between Bruntwood owned Manchester Science Partnerships and Allied London Properties.
In addition Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Salford both have incubators and provide a great place for SME digital to locate and grow.
And the story isn’t just limited to Manchester. Each city that I visit in the UK is seeing growth in incubation hubs.
Liverpool has Sensor City while I’ve visited Innovation Birmingham Campus, which definitely falls into the ‘best kept secret’ category.
Westminster is doing its part too and as a proud northerner it is great to see the Northern Powerhouse gaining momentum with a number of specialist fund managers appointed.
The challenge for private equity is choosing the right moment to jump on board and to invest in tech businesses. Invest too early and risk backing a company that might easily crash and burn; invest too late and risk losing the opportunity to make the type of return more common in Silicon Valley.
Once a tech business is innovating and making profits of £1 million plus there is a real chance that Facebook or Google will say ‘I want that’ and pay serious multiples.
This disrupts the PE model and finding businesses which are just to the left of the tipping point is how the private equity sector is now starting to think about tech investment.
Over at NorthEdge we have seen tech investments creating real success stories for our fund investors, notably Sumo Digital.
The Sheffield-based video games company produce Sony super game Little Big Planet and delivered a 4.4x money multiple in September 2016 when it was divested in a secondary deal - proving how much tech can boost returns for investors.
We now think about the long haul tech investment strategy. Forming a dialogue with the founders early on and providing financial mentoring, non-executive director support and intros to potential customers and other contacts builds strong relationships.
The NorthEdge model for early tech is to help nudge the business towards the magic tipping point and be ready to invest when the time is right. We also see the value in early cash investment for the right tech enabled business. If it’s growing fast we are interested!
A new wave of tech fund is already starting to take shape. Neil Woodford, one of the UK's most high-profile fund managers, has teamed up with insurer Legal & General to back a government initiative to encourage venture capital investment in digital business in the UK.
So is there really a funding gap? I agree with the lads at Tech North because I don’t think there’s ever been a better time for tech businesses to get access to resources, mentors, clients and ultimately cash investment.
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