BQ Newsletter
As I See It

In with the in-crowd

Monday 11 October 2010 7:00

Craig McKenna says Scottish start-ups searching for cash should try a new method of funding – based on some smart thinking from the past.

Scottish business start-ups are feeling the pinch in the credit-crunch years; forecasts are gloomy and financial spirits are low.

But lo, what happens when the global markets take a dive? Entrepreneurs, new technology and great new ideas start bouncing around, gaining momentum and catching the public and financial imagination.

Crowdfunding is the new kid on the venture capital block, and it’s set to revolutionise the way businesses are born and businesses are grown. It’s not such a new idea, though. Crowdfunding’s roots lie in the old co-operative movement where communities clubbed together to invest for mutual benefit.

One of the earliest Crowdfunding ventures was the Irish Loan Fund, set up by famous satirist Jonathan Swift in the 1700s to provide loans to low-income families during famine. Micro-finance evolved from this in the 1970sand has been rapidly adopted for social enterprises.

For example, Dr Mohammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for transforming a tiny project – giving $27 to each of 42 women – into the Grameen Bank. The bank now has eight million borrowers, with 97% of the money going to women-operated businesses.

Since then, online businesses have seized the opportunity to raise money for social development, niche and creative projects. Kickstarter, RocketHub and IndieGoGo are just some of the organisations. And in the UK, there is Sponsume, Buzzbnk, Scottish-based Soloco, and Bloom VC. If you ever fancied yourself as a patron of the arts, the range of investment opportunities are enormous.

You can fund art spaces, musicians, documentaries, films, a soap opera exclusively made for smart phones and the archiving of oral folk tales. The scale of investment can start anywhere from £1 to £100,000, depending on your appetite. You can invest as a Cheerleader, Player, Mover, Shaker, Go Getter or as a Heavy Hitter.

The benefits or rewards you receive in return are tailored to please – VIP tickets, discounts, signed copies, site visits, acknowledgements in brochures and film credits.

One Melbourne theatre company recently decided to go all-out to secure its funding last month: “A private show for you and your own invited audience in your own home!!! We will provide pre-show drinks and canapés.

After the show, the director and performers will perform more of your favourite songs and write you a keepsake poem to mark the evening.” Amanda Boyle, founder and CEO of Bloom VC (Venture Catalyst), says: “The phenomenal growth of crowdfunding is due in no small part to the explosion in use of social media, which means people with great business ideas can reach out to their networks and beyond to raise the funds they need.

“With Bloom they can raise large or small amounts of money without giving up equity in their business and can access that money much quicker than going through traditional routes.

It’s a simple, alternative route to business finance.” These novel ways to fund social and creative ventures are breaking the mould of the social business funding model.

However, giving for good is one thing, but giving for profit is another. This is why the crowdfunding platform for commercial companies is a completely different model from the social enterprise one. When it comes to commercial crowdfunding, it truly is about buying shares and equity in the business with full dividend rights. So, enter CrowdCube, the commercial crowdfunding company regulated by the FSA and which took more than two years to get through the tight financial regulatory framework.

“CrowdCube is run by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs,” says Darren Westlake, its chief executive.

“It’s a solution to the dearth of finance options available to start-ups and small businesses.” Since launching in February, CrowdCube has signed up over 4,000 investor members, has successfully raised £75,000 for “Bubble and Balm” and is close to completing finance deals for several other exciting young businesses. I believe that CrowdCube and crowdfunding is the future of seed and early stage finance which is why we recently secured a partnership with CrowdCube to launch the Growth Academy CrowdCube and offer companies in Scotland and the North of England the opportunity to look at crowdfunding as an alternative way to source funds.

The Growth Academy helps companies either at the start-up stage or at the point where they are looking to kick on and grow; both of these stages can need a financial injection in order to allow them to perform the right activities.

At the moment, finding those funds has been both painful and a distraction. It is great knowing that we can now offer assistance.

With Growth Academy’s CrowdCube, by attracting lots of investors who invest smaller amounts of money you can bypass the traditional ways of venture finance.

I think it is about bringing cutting-edge knowledge and technology to help the people of Scotland. Emerging and growing businesses will be better equipped to weather the financial storms as well as outperform their peers. Providing the crowdfunding platform will help remove the frustration so many companies feel at their current inability to access funds through the banks. Crowdfunding is effectively the next generation of business investment for start-ups and business expansion. Entrepreneurs can offer investors the opportunity to pre-purchase their products as part of the incentives for investment. The Growth Academy’s CrowdCube will also allow budding dragons, family and friends to have an easy way to invest in people and companies that they wish to support. It will be interesting to see which businesses get funded now that the power is with the people. Will they be different from the ones banks and VCs chose? As they say on the ultimate crowdsourced TV show, Big Brother: “Only you can decide.” *Craig McKenna is owner of the Growth Academy which has secured a partnership with CrowdCube.