Finance alone is not enough


Support is as essential an element in business development packages for hi-growth ventures as is finance: finance alone is not enough

The London Stock Exchange’s new programme designed to support the development of hi-growth businesses is the latest example of the need for support programmes alongside sources of funding; and support is the subject of a recent Nesta report.

The London Stock Exchange has just announced that it is working with Imperial Business School to offer a programme of bespoke management courses for a small number of ultra-hi-growth companies, together with access to a blue-chip collection of the City’s advisory and investment community, in order to help them to attract private investors and develop the right strategies for growth. Too many of these businesses, says the CEO of the London Stock Exchange, struggle to raise finance and sell out too early, and this programme will prepare them to gain access to the next layer of finance, including private equity and venture capital.

As Nesta, among many others, has pointed out, SMEs with hi-growth potential are the most important segment of our economy; and we might expect to find some of them in incubators, science parks, enterprise programmes and angel syndicates. The Technology Strategy Board has concentrated its funds on specific development hurdles – for technologies, sectors and clusters that have been identified as offering hi-growth potential in the UK. However, these focus respectively on space and on funding – more than on business development.

Level39 in Canary Wharf is an innovation centre that offers all sorts of support for early-stage ventures – from Hackathons, to Accelerators, co-working spaces for startups, and incubator space for SMEs. TechCity has developed its eco-system, where co-working spaces have thrived and specialised, to which supporters and funders have been attracted. Clusters have an energy of their own; and financial, medical, digital, retail, tourism and other hubs are being spawned; and they are taking root in other cities.

Fintech Lab London is an Accelerator programme designed to introduce a small number of carefully selected SMEs with products that might be of use to the banking industry with the help of chaperones from the Canary Wharf banking community. Accelerators like Techstars and Wayra Lab are multiplying, they are extending their scope – in their concern for entrepreneurship, and looking to support issues beyond apps and websites. They are extending their involvement both to earlier and to later stages; and they are becoming more specialised and thematic, and more institutionalised. (Accelerator programmes are moving away from learning sessions and towards personal learning support; away from huge networks of mentors and towards tailored and managed teams of mentors; and away from random relationships with VCs and towards more intimate connections with limited cohorts of funders.) And some incubators and science parks have attached the same importance to business development – to strategy, to the help of mentors, to business learning and to funders as do Accelerators.

Nesta’s recent publication ‘Good Incubation: the craft of supporting early-stage social ventures’ draws together experience from a number of such ventures, but much of that experience applies as much to ventures of all kinds, where its focus is on:

  • Talent spotting and selection – identifying big issues and teams to tackle them,
  • Mentoring – finding and engaging with people who can help on various topics and at the various stages of development,
  • Access to networks – peers, customers, users, investors etc,
  • Co-location – both shared working space, and event and training space,
  • and finally Finance.

The Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst has an Experts Panel, an entrepreneur-in-residence, and a business development executive; it runs regular meetings for its tenants to speak to and engage with one another, more formal “SBC Connect” events where they can present to a GlaxoSmithKline R&D audience, a series of science seminars, joint poster sessions, and information sessions about how to access leading-edge technologies/lab facilities. Belgium’s Plato programme is a full-blown programme of regular meetings for SMEs which have been matched up not only for sector but also for maturity. And each such group is provided with a couple of mentors from large companies.

Can we expect to see VCs and Angel groups working closely with business development programmes in the future, each working in aid of the other?

John Whatmore

April 2014