The UK is widely recognised for its entrepreneurial spirit and this, aligned to a rich investor base, deep pools of talent and respected legal and regulatory frameworks, has long made it regarded as one of the best places to start a business, globally.
However, it is also acknowledged that barriers remain – notably for businesses that are founded outside of London. This report explores key themes discussed at the recent Treasury Select Committee hearing on the UK venture capital landscape, including:
- Addressing the challenges in accessing funding and capital;
- The critical role of government and policy in empowering and supporting venture;
- The need for a fairer and more diverse ecosystem, including a greater focus on the regions and more diversity among founders and investors.
- Addressing the challenges in accessing funding and capital
Knowing who and where to go when looking for funding
Cold outreach to investors is a surprisingly common strategy employed by startups to secure funding. However, due to the high volume of requests, it can be difficult for startups to stand out and capture the attention of investors. Crafting a compelling pitch and clearly articulating the unique value proposition becomes crucial in making an impression.
When it comes to investor preferences, there has been a general inclination towards asset-light businesses, particularly in software and financial services sectors. Investors often seek scalable business models that can demonstrate high-growth potential. Startups operating in these sectors are more likely to attract investor interest due to the perceived lower risk and potential for significant returns.
Moreover, regional and sector aspects play a role in shaping investor interests. Investors tend to focus on sectors that are already thriving in specific regions, resulting in concentrated funding opportunities. Startups operating in industries outside of these focus areas may find it more challenging to attract investment, highlighting the need for efforts to foster a more diverse and geographically balanced startup ecosystem.
Flexibility and accessibility in venture capital
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about significant postive changes in the accessibility of finance for startups. In-person meetings have been replaced by virtual interactions, enabling startups to connect with potential investors from anywhere. This shift has increased the accessibility and reach of funding opportunities, breaking down geographical barriers.
However, startups still face challenges in finding investors. Many founders resort to personal financing or credit facilities to fund their ventures. Encouraging a culture of venture capital investment and highlighting the value proposition of startups are important in overcoming these challenges.
Flexibility in valuation and funding stages is crucial, particularly for early-stage startups. Alternative financing options such as convertible loans, which allow for the conversion of debt into equity, provide startups with more flexibility and reduce the immediate pressure for equity valuation. These alternatives enable startups to secure funding while navigating the initial stages of their development.
Domestic and foreign capital
While the UK attracts significant investment from foreign capital, there is a need to stimulate domestic capital towards venture capital. Efforts are being made to channel more UK capital into venture and adjust regulations to encourage domestic investment, ensuring that innovative startups can grow and thrive within the UK over the long-term.
Long-term investment and Deep Tech industries
Deep Tech industries, such as nuclear fusion, require long-term investment commitments due to their complex nature and extended timeframes for achieving profitability. Collaboration with politicians and legislators is crucial in finding innovative financial solutions and providing support to these industries. Balancing the impatience for immediate profits with the patience for long-term returns is essential for supporting deep tech industries and fostering innovation in the most cutting-edge technologies.
Growing support from local pension funds
Local pension funds are encouraged to consider venture capital investments, as they can significantly contribute to supporting the growth of startups. Long-term capital from pension funds can play a vital role in providing stability and support to startups.
- The critical role of Government and policy
Government support and initiatives
The UK has a number of well-regarded schemes, policies and initiative that enable government funding and grants to play a significant role in supporting the venture sector. The government plays a vital role in creating a conducive environment for startups by providing financial support, infrastructure development, and fostering a culture of innovation.
The British Business Bank (BBB) operates a Finance Hub that serves as a valuable resource for entrepreneurs. It provides guidance on funding options and organises networking events to connect startups with potential investors. Additionally, the government’s initiatives like the Help to Grow program and various resources aim to support and empower entrepreneurs in their startup journey.
Efforts are also being made to address market failures in venture capital access for small and medium-sized businesses. The government recognizes the importance of levelling the playing field and ensuring that startups across all regions have equal opportunities to access funding and support.
Funding gaps, policies and innovative financial solutions
Startups often face funding gaps when aiming to scale up their operations. Continuous fundraising becomes a necessity to support growth, as securing substantial investment at each stage of development can be challenging.
Policy changes are necessary to address structural issues, biases and limitations within the funding process. Recommendations include lifting or increasing investment caps to attract more substantial investments, reducing state aid burdens to support startups across all regions, reversing cuts to R&D tax credits to incentivise innovation and lifting company age-related restrictions that disadvantage regional businesses (regional business typically take longer to reach scale).
In addition, policies should be considered that enhance the liquidity and attractiveness of the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) as a platform for raising capital for startups.
Investment schemes like the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) play a crucial role in providing early-stage funding and tax incentives for investors. These schemes should be maintained and potentially improved to further support startups.
Innovative financial solutions are also being explored to bridge the funding gaps and support startups in their growth journey. Alternative options such as convertible loans, revenue-based financing and crowdfunding platforms offer flexibility in valuation and funding stages. These solutions provide startups with additional avenues to access capital and tailor financing options to their specific needs.
Networking and collaboration
Collaboration between industry, government and academia is vital for driving innovation and supporting startup growth. By fostering strong partnerships, startups can tap into the expertise, resources and networks of established institutions, leading to increased knowledge-sharing and innovation.
Efforts are being made to bridge the regional imbalance by promoting collaboration beyond London and encouraging the growth of startup ecosystems in other regions. This includes initiatives to connect startups, investors and support organisations across different parts of the country. By fostering collaboration and sharing best practices, startups can benefit from diverse perspectives, opportunities, and resources.
Networking and physical meetings play a significant role in connecting entrepreneurs with potential investors, fostering collaboration and facilitating knowledge exchange.
Industry partnerships provide startups with valuable insights, resources and market access. By collaborating with established companies, startups can benefit from mentorship, strategic guidance, and access to customer networks. This collaboration not only enhances the chances of startup success but also promotes knowledge transfer and industry-wide innovation.
Government support and involvement are crucial for creating an enabling environment for startups. Government initiatives and policies should focus on reducing regulatory burdens, streamlining processes, and providing financial incentives for startups. By working together with startups, the government can nurture an ecosystem that fosters growth, job creation, and economic prosperity.
Partnerships with academia are equally important, as universities and research institutions are hotbeds of knowledge and innovation. Collaborating with academic institutions allows startups to leverage cutting-edge research, access specialized expertise, and tap into talent pools. Through joint research projects, incubation programs, and technology transfer initiatives, startups can accelerate their development and gain a competitive edge.
Networking events, industry conferences and startup communities provide invaluable opportunities for entrepreneurs to connect with potential investors, partners, and mentors. These platforms facilitate the exchange of ideas, experiences, and best practices, fostering a supportive and collaborative ecosystem.
Transparent venture capital practices
Transparent and accessible venture capital practices were recognised as vital. Efforts are being made to share investment rules and guidelines openly, promoting fairness and equal opportunities for all entrepreneurs. Transparency in venture capital practices creates a level playing field, ensuring equitable access to capital.
Acknowledging the challenges faced by startups in securing funding, the discussion highlighted the need for flexibility, transparency, and efficiency in funding processes. These factors promote a supportive environment that enables startups to access the capital they need.
- Building a fairer and more diverse ecosystem
Regional imbalance and ecosystem building
There is a longstanding concern regarding the concentration of startup activity in London and the South East, often overshadowing opportunities in other regions. This regional imbalance calls for concerted efforts to create a supportive ecosystem across the UK, beyond the confines of the “Golden Triangle.”
To address this issue, the BBB has set its sights on creating regional investment clusters. These clusters aim to foster entrepreneurship, attract investment and create a more balanced startup ecosystem across the country. By nurturing startup ecosystems outside of traditional hubs, the UK can unlock the potential of startups in diverse regions, leading to greater economic growth and job creation.
Gender and ethnic diversity in entrepreneurship and funding
Promoting gender and ethnic diversity in entrepreneurship and funding is an important aspect of building an inclusive startup ecosystem. While progress has been made, there is still work to be done to achieve true gender equality and drive greater balance in the background of business founders. Today, the typical founder remains overwhelmingly white and male. This lack of diversity means the UK is missing out on the significant opportunities that a more diverse ecosystems of entrepreneurs would create.
Initiatives such as the Women in Finance Charter are actively promoting gender diversity and inclusion within the finance sector. Efforts are being made to increase the representation of women in leadership positions and create a more supportive environment for female entrepreneurs.
Similarly, challenges faced by people from ethnic minorities and underrepresented communities are being recognised. Efforts are underway to increase diversity within venture capital firms and provide support to underrepresented entrepreneurs. By fostering a culture of inclusivity, the startup ecosystem can tap into the rich diversity of talent and perspectives, driving innovation and creating a more equitable playing field.
Education and entrepreneurship
Discussions highlighted the importance of education in promoting entrepreneurship. Proposed suggestions involve incorporating subjects such addressing the founding and financing of businesses into school curricula. By instilling an entrepreneurial mindset in students from an early age, education can play a crucial role in preparing future generations of founders.
Moreover, education plays a vital role in cultivating the upcoming cohort of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship programs and initiatives inspire and equip young individuals with essential skills and knowledge.
Inclusivity and equal opportunities
Making investment schemes more inclusive and accessible to a diverse range of individuals is crucial for addressing social inequality and promoting equal opportunities in funding. Efforts to promote diversity and inclusivity in entrepreneurship and investment are being made to provide equitable access to capital for underrepresented communities.
In conclusion, nurturing a vibrant and inclusive startup ecosystem in the UK requires a multi-faceted approach. By addressing regional imbalances, promoting diversity, enhancing accessibility to venture capital, and fostering collaboration between stakeholders, the UK can unlock the full potential of its entrepreneurial talent, drive innovation and establish itself as a global leader in the startup ecosystem.