The US Government recently made a headline-grabbing commitment to a 50% reduction in carbon emissions, while the UK committed to an even steeper 78% carbon reduction by 2035. So the question on everyones’ lips is how to achieve this while ensuring economic growth continues? The solution to marrying a low carbon future with answering our continuing energy needs lies in innovation and the ideas of many brilliant startups now seeking funding.
For our latest in depth focus article, Olivia Sibony, CEO of SeedTribe takes a look at sustainability and the development of startups that have the power to help save the planet. Olivia has recently been recruited by the Government to advise on the impact-focused startups we should be encouraging to set up in the UK.
Size of market The global Green Technology and Sustainability market size is anticipated to grow from USD 11.2 billion in 2020 to USD 36.6 billion by 2025, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 26.6% according to Report Linker
On the platform – Renewables became the 11th most popular keyword for searches in the past year, a rise of 37 places compared to 2018. – This trend is being replicated by other popular keywords being used at the moment. During the pandemic Greentech became the 13th most popular keyword, up from 47th two years ago.
What is the reason for the soaring interest in sustainable focused startups during the past year?
I think the change really started snowballing in 2019.The mood music had changed on the back of consumer activism and changes to government policy. From Greta Thunburg to the Extinction Rebellion there was a concerted effort to ensure climate change became top of the agenda. It worked. Governments and businesses suddenly started making dramatic commitments to cutting carbon. While it might have been expected that investors would be retreating from these categories in favour of safer investment opportunities during the pandemic, the exciting news was these businesses are actually generating more interest from investors.
Concerted government policy worldwide is certainly helping, along with increasing grants from the UK Government to stimulate innovation in this space. In order to hit these ambitious targets, innovation will be critical. Investors know this and so are backing the early stage startups with the vision to help governments and business in general hit these ambitious targets. We are also seeing something of a shift in the investor profiles, with some younger millennial investors coming to the fore who have purpose very much as their watchword. For many investors, rather than a ‘nice to have’ having purpose baked into their business plan is becoming a prerequisite for receiving backing.
What are investors saying about sustainability?
Investors are starting to see ESG measurements and reporting being embedded into listed companies and realising that the more they invest in companies that do this from the outset, the better chance they have of succeeding as they scale. It’s important to note that a lot of investors are interested in this segment but struggling to understand it, as there’s a sliding scale of shades of grey in what the “impact” and investment spaces, ranging from profit-first to impact-first.
Our belief is that there shouldn’t need to be a compromise, so that profit and purpose are perfectly aligned and inextricably intertwined. The key difference is that it’s important to take a long-term view as some of the growth may be slower, but in the long term it’s more sustainable so has a better horizon for long-term profit. So investors are interested in this space but need help understanding the change in growth curve. When investors understand that growing consumer demand (culture), coupled with an increase in regulation (policy, systemic change) are driving this growth, it’s a clear path for investment for anyone looking beyond a three year horizon for their investments.
What innovations are most needed to power sustainability?
The three key areas of focus should be circular economy, carbon-capturing technology and renewable energy. We need a big focus on the entire food and agriculture chain where farming needs to capture carbon, food should be produced as close to home as possible, vertical farming practices are further developed, food surplus becomes minimal and a resource to turn into energy. Where water from agriculture is clean and no longer contaminates our waterbeds. We need to focus on trapping heat emissions from carbon and methane in order to slow down the melting ice caps. The quicker the ice caps melt, the more gases and unknown bacteria and viruses will be released and the harder it will be to reverse. We’ve already seen the impacts of one single lone virus and this should be a good incentive for us to not release unknown ones that have been trapped in our ice caps for millennia and have potential to cause incalculable damage.
Zoï environmental network uses its technology to treat and monitor wastewater systems, especially cleaning fats from public drains and pipes. Their core product is an environmentally-friendly system which doses special bacteria to the wastewater system and degrades the fat molecules in the system. The system prevents the development of fatbergs in the sewer & wastewater systems, allowing cleaner water to flow through our systems. Check out this Video of them.
Bionat Solutions is a Certified organic solution applied in the waxing process of fruits, with the aim of providing a longer shelf life without using fungicides or artificial products. The novelty is in the circular alternative made from the same agroindustry residues to increase the useful life of fruits.
Biohm is a multi-award-winning research and development led, bio-manufacturing company. The company enables the use of healthy, environmentally friendly, circular materials like food waste and transforms it into building solutions which can apply across the design and construction industries. This eliminates the concept of waste, demonstrating how business can equitably and ethically work in collaboration with the natural world, industry, academia, government and community.
Zero Carbon Farms has developed a data-driven system 70x more productive than traditional farmland. It uses 100% renewable energy, 70% less water and reduces food miles/food waste. Not only is the produce consistent quality, highly nutritious and herbicide-free, it is also hyper-local and year-round, specialising in subterranean farming.
Join Olivia Sibony on Thursday June 3rd in the next AIN ClubHouse ‘Business as a force for good’ session where she will be discussing how startups can pave the way to a zero carbon future for food production.
In this guest blog, James Taylor, Director at Dragon Argent, shares his top tips of how start ups can claim R&D tax credits, a useful relief or rebate from HMRC. Here are the key things that you need to know:
Many new businesses spend the first season of their existence researching and developing a concept or a prototype. They then prove their product market fit, secure their first customers and start generating revenue. What some founders don’t realise however, is that any project which advances the fields of science or technology are eligible for tax relief, through its annual corporation tax return.
This extra relief could be as much as 25% of the cost of the project. For a loss-making company, a cash rebate of up to 33.5% is available in lieu of tax relief, which is often paid within 4 weeks or a successful claim being made.
This relief or rebate could make a huge difference to a bootstrapping startup and as HMRC believe that 75% of business who could be claiming R&D tax relief do not, it is too often a missed opportunity.
Does Your Business Qualify?
You can claim R&D relief up to two years after the end of the accounting period of the expenditure. The following criteria are flags that you could be eligible:
You are innovating, improving, or inventing processes or technologies which are not currently available on the market.
To your knowledge, at the start of the project you have no clear answer of how the project will conclude. This uncertainty proves the first point that the development is producing new knowledge.
You can document evidence of your research and development, and the expenditure relating to these activities
If your company meet the criteria laid out above, you should endeavour to maintain detailed records of every cost associated with the project, including:
Staff costs associated with the project. Some staff may work entirely on the project. In these instances, it is straightforward. Other staff may work a proportion of their time on this project, or on things associated with the project such as recruiting someone to work on the project. Using timesheets or similar, a log should be kept of this proportion as that might be eligible. For example, a staff member who works 30% of their time on the project while on a salary of £30,000 can be deemed a cost of £9,000 on which extra tax relief is available.
Subcontracted staff. On the same basis as above, the costs associated with subcontractors rather than employees is eligible.
Software associated with the project. If software was bought or licensed entirely or in part to service the project, these costs are eligible too.
Consumables. Any utilities or materials used in the project are eligible for tax relief.
Ineligible costs. These include the costs of distributing the goods produced, capital expenditure, rent or rates, and the cost of patents.
R&D Tax Credit Cap
As part of the Finance Bill 2021, introduced in April, HMRC have announced a cap on the amount that a loss-making SME can receive in R&D tax credits to stop abuse of the scheme.
Currently, loss-making companies can reduce the cost of their R&D by up to 33%. However this amount will be capped at a maximum of £20,000 plus 3 times the total PAYE and NI paid by the company in the year.
HMRC have maintained that the aim of this legislation is to target those who are seeking to abuse the system, rather than genuine claimants. However, SMEs with very few staff, or with directors taking low salaries, may also be affected by this.
If an SME is loss-making, normally claims around £25,000 in R&D credit but whose only employees are directors being paid a non-tax attracting director’s salary will now only be able to claim £20,000, a loss of £5,000 on their previous expectation.
This means that it may become tax-efficient for the company to increase their director’s salary so that it attracts National Insurance so that 3 times that amount can then be reclaimed through R&D. There will be other implications of doing this so it should always be considered in conjunction with these other factors.
HMRC have also included an exemption for any entity who meets the following two tests:
The company’s employees are creating ‘relevant intellectual property’.
Expenditure spent on work subcontracted to a related party makes up under 15% of the total R&D expenditure
The tax relief an R&D claim results in can often make a big difference to startups and SMEs at a critical stage in their development. Its sensible to seek professional advice to make the process of claiming as efficient and fruitful as possible and also to ensure the business as a whole is tax efficient in respect to the new R&D Cap.
If there is one positive from the pandemic, it has been the sheer volume of innovation and exciting businesses that are forming and growing as a result, as markets shift and new trends emerge.
Each month we’ll select a few start-ups that we see as particularly exciting and worth a further look. Here are some of the current highlights:
Zero Carbon Farms
Farming needs to evolve. Urbanization, population growth and climate change demand it.
Food supply challenges are well documented – Covid-19 has seen empty supermarket shelves and highlighted the need for secure supply chains, awareness of the damage of pesticides and GMO crops is growing, and extreme weather events are making food production more unreliable.
Enter Zero Carbon Food (ZCF), a cutting edge AgTech company that builds and operates controlled environment farms, providing a future-proof and sustainable solution for growing. This innovative method allows them to use less water, less space and run on 100% renewable energy. Their first farm? It’s 13 storeys below London in a WW2 air raid shelter.
ZCF supplies brands nationwide including M&S, Tesco Whole Foods and is discussing an international licensing agreement.
Anatome is an innovative healthcare brand, founded by an exited entrepreneur. Built on the founder’s passion for apothecaries of old and combining it with cutting edge science. It’s already on track to turnover £1.3 million and is playing in the global wellness market,with a total size of $7.2 trillion.
It’s a digital first platform focused on online sales, but also leveraging real world stores to activate customers in premium locations, including Marylebone, Chelsea and Islington.
On top of this it’s FDA approved, has margins in excess of 70% and has developed partnerships with the Hug group and Space NK.
ClearWaste is the first platform of it’s kind offering a price comparison site for household waste – it’s effectively Money Supermarket for household waste.
Founded by a former EY Entrepreneur of the year, the business has gained traction by helping citizens report where rubbish has been illegally left, and councils link it back to the culprit. Each month ClearWaste submits thousands of reports to local communities.
ClearWaste has over 500 certified waste removal companies on it’s platform, has hit the top 10 on the Apple app store and is projecting £729k revenue this year.
Liv Sibony, CEO of SeedTribe and Head of Impact at Angel Investment, recently spoke on the Coffees on Purpose podcast about how start-ups can marry profit with purpose, what we need to do to support the next generation of start-ups to address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and why female entrepreneurs are still underrepresented in this area.
From sharing with us some of the most exciting start-ups in the space, like Pinpoint, who are using big data and hundreds of thousands of blood samples to help detect early signs of cancer, to deconstructing some of the structural imbalances in the current investment space, Liv gives a comprehensive overview of the impact space, and what’s on the horizon.
“COVID has pulled the transition to digital learning forward by at least 5 years.” These were the words of David Sherwood, CEO and co-founder of EdTech startup BibliU, commenting on the remarkable development of the sector. With a series of lockdowns over the past year, there has been huge demand for technology to solve the challenge of learning shifting from the classroom to the home setting. AIN’s Sam Louis takes a closer look at the EdTech sector and why it is getting top marks from investors.
Size of Ed Tech market: The global education technology market size is anticipated to reach USD 285.2 billion by 2027 (Source: Grand View Research, Inc. Technology)
Number of companies: 3,250 companies globally according to Crunchbase
On the platform: Education and Training is the 17th most popular category for angel investors
Description EdTech (a combination of “education” and “technology”) refers to hardware and software designed to enhance teacher-led learning in classrooms and improve students’ education outcomes. It also incorporates the wider sphere of adult education and learning.
WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR ITS RISE TO PROMINENCE IN THE PAST YEAR?
Necessity There’s been no shortage of great EdTech companies over the years, but lockdowns and social distancing have changed the game. It’s forced the hand of consumers because the usual in-person learning option was no longer available. Necessity is often the mother of change as well as invention.
The reason it’s taken a global pandemic to speed up adoption is that most consumers weren’t prepared to go through the hassle and the teething problems of full implementation. This is especially true of academic institutions and businesses and they aren’t unfounded concerns. It takes real time, energy and capital to bring step changes in how you deliver or receive education, and getting it wrong can have a very real cost. Until the potential benefits significantly outperform the current system (and it does have to be significantly for most consumers), the change is a genuine risk.
A new climate for innovation What this period has done is moved the market five years into the future in a matter of months. In time, EdTech offerings would have improved to the point that they did provide significant improvements for consumers and major adoption would have occurred. Instead the existing system has been hamstrung to the extent that the tipping point was reached early. I think this will be to the benefit of the education system long term. When in-person education returns, the best educators will be able to take the most valuable parts of the old and blend it with the new, and hopefully retain a more open view on future innovations to improve further.
WHAT CHALLENGES HAs EDTECH NEEDED TO HAVE OVERCOME?
For Individual learners The challenge with individual learners is user experience, course completion and efficacy. People either struggle to engage with the tool, they struggle to stay motivated, or they don’t see the results they want. In all cases, they drop off. People are very used to traditional learning so it’s been a big point to overcome.
For B2B products For B2B products there needs to be a strong enough case for change that the business commits to the risk. Beyond that, all of the points about individuals also apply.
For Academic institutions Lastly you have academic institutions. These have all of the hurdles of the other two, and then the added complication of being influenced by broader regulation or controls, such as the school board or government. Many EdTech ventures manage to capture a large number of individual teachers but never get the official adoption at school or national curriculum level. This is where budget allocation and curriculum is dictated and without that it is hard to secure wider market share. Not dissimilarly to the medical space, this is both a blessing and a curse. It makes the education sector a tough one to crack, but for those who do and are given the green light, the growth curve from there is very exciting.
Investors have been aware of all of these issues and that’s led to less investment. You can have the best concept in the world but the influence of top down decision making across the market creates a variable that’s very hard to predict or control for. As a result, despite many EdTech businesses more than holding their own in idea, innovation, team and execution, the investment has been far more restrained than other sectors.
The pandemic has arguably been a Black Swan event in that regard. Institutions have realised the need to adapt and change which has forced educators to engage with these new opportunities. This change in consumer sentiment has been recognised by the investors, which in turn has given them the confidence that startups can find a significant and willing market.
What types of companies are we seeing developing solutions in the EdTech sector?
a) Those digitally enabling existing learning This has probably been where we’ve seen the biggest change to demand – companies providing technology to enable learning that was already taking place. This has understandably been pandemic-driven growth, with the market responding to a particular crisis, but it’s also one of the areas with the least need to stimulate new consumer behaviours. This gives it a strong chance of adoption and investors know that, shown by the capital deployed this year. For example, BibilU, who digitise print text books and provide them seamlessly across all your devices, had to do an extension to their funding round due to the incredible demand for their product. People were already at universities, the courses and textbooks were already set, you are just changing one component. They’re enabling an action people are already doing in an easier, cheaper and more effective way. You can see why the pitch resonates.
b) Adult education
There has also been an on-going rise to prominence in digital solutions for adult learning. The pace of change in the world and evolution of job roles has created a need for lifelong learning. Time pressed adult learners are now able to get the same learning, sometimes even better learning, than available to them in traditional face to face institutions. This ranges from post-graduate degrees to language learning to brain training, with a new generation of smart apps able to offer them a tailored pathway.
People like DuoLingo have shown the heights possible with self motivated learners, while Coursera has done the same in the B2B market. Student motivation is still a concern, with course completion rates often low, but in comparison to younger learners, many adults actively engage with the digital structure and find that it opens up a world of opportunity.
c) Tech to boost efficiency With increased reporting and accountability, many educators are struggling with the added workload that comes on top of teaching time.There is a lot of work being done on technology to enable teachers to streamline their tasks and work more efficiently, giving them back the time to really focus on the important part, the students. Pango for example is a tool for planning lessons, sharing resources and managing curriculum. Whole schools can share and collaborate on lesson plans, keeping consistency while allowing teachers to design and plan lessons in a fraction of the time.
The past year has highlighted the difficulties and stress teachers come under and this area is likely to grow strongly. As institutions and governing bodies welcome more digitisation, we will likely see the strongest supporting tools gain significant market share as the industry encourages consistency across teachers.
d) AI and personalised learning systems: The most exciting and arguably the most controversial is AI and personalised learning. Companies like Atom Learning have developed high-quality, teacher-made content with sophisticated AI driven technology to keep students on individual, optimal learning paths. This can have a transformative impact on pupils’ progression and can arguably help to reduce educational inequalities.
New methods of learning enabled by AI and machine learning have come up against some entrenched thinking in the education system, as it requires teachers to learn new systems. Another challenge in encouraging take up is that some of the gains can be incremental. This has meant it has been difficult to get wholesale buy in, particularly given the initial disruption and new learning required. However attitudes are changing, driven by a new generation of tech native teachers
what are investors saying about this category?
A lot more than they were before, and a lot of it is positive.EdTech has a strong altruistic component for passion-driven angel investors. Investors see it as a worthy place to be investing money. They are improving peoples’ ability to learn and better themselves, which has always held currency but more so now than ever.
A lot of proponents are enjoying that this is a sector being given the opportunity to show what it can do. Many investors hadn’t considered education seriously before but it has come onto their radar due to the increased receptivity from the market. Many institutional investors now have EdTech proudly on their masthead of sectors they invest in, which was previously rare outside of very focused, and often government supported, funds. In this regard EdTech has arguably joined FinTech in capturing its own zeitgeist.
The speed of change in attitudes and investment sentiment shows the extent to which EdTech has been pent up by a challenging growth environment. The innovation has continually evolved as with other sectors but the hurdles in place, and investors’ awareness of them, has held the industry back. Now that the consumer market’s attitudes are changing, there’s no shortage of innovative ventures ready to take on both the investment, and the opportunity.
Hopefully this combination of attention, investment and market willingness will create a positive cycle of attracting the strongest talent to the sector and in turn drive yet more progress.
What are the fundamentals you look for in an ed tech business?
Traction – Unlike nascent markets, EdTech firms can build significant traction and product-market fit at an early stage, even when bootstrapped. We like to see strong uptake and engagement, that they’ve really tested the product or service with consumers and that the feedback has been encouraging. Not just they like the product, but that it delivers real value.
We’ve seen so many fantastic ideas but this shows when someone has really found something that has an impact for educators.
Core or ancillary – An important consideration is are they doing something core or ancillary? Is it enabling the student’s core interaction with either a teacher or the subject material. The demand is still very much ‘core’. As the market evolves though, we expect the supporting technology, efficiency products for example, to really start to gain momentum and attention.
Passion of the founding team – The passion, insight and drive of the founding team are key factors determining success in this industry. Despite new consumer willingness, there are still entrenched hurdles to overcome on the growth path within the sector. In B2B enterprise software, just having the best product might be enough to win a significant share of the market, but in education there is a trickier path to navigate and the leadership team is often the determining factor here.
WHAT IS THE UNICORN POTENTIAL VERSUS OTHER SECTORS?
CB Insights expects 2 of the next 50 unicorns to be in the EdTech sector. To build a unicorn you need a large, willing market that’s growing fast, and this is certainly the environment evolving where education meets technology.
With vast numbers of people in education of one form or another, there’s the potential to become a unicorn while staying within just one country’s market. This isn’t the case for every sector and so when you then consider the global opportunity, things get really exciting. Many of these technologies have both real scalability and the market opportunity for significant size, so we may see EdTech start to make up more than just 4% of the new unicorns as time goes on.
BibliU is a digital education platform that provides students with digital access to their textbooks and libraries across all their devices.
Founded in 2014, the company now has over 100 university customers including Oxford, Imperial, University of Phoenix and Coventry University. The company has digitised content from more than 2,000 publishers including: Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Oxford University Press. The content is licensed directly to universities, who can then provide access to students and include the costs in their existing tuition fees. BibliU raised £600,000 on the AIN platform last year, this was an addition to its £6.5m Series A. The company saw a surge in demand due to COVID 19. Completed in eight weeks, the funds will be used for new technical hires to support demand from Universities. The startup is scaling rapidly with 60+ new pilots across the globe.
CoGrammar is an edtech startup that is dedicated to closing the global tech skills gap. The company achieves this by integrating human mentorship and code review into the world’s leading tech education brands. The company integrates quality and affordable review of developers and aspiring coders using the top 0.6% of African tech talent. It has been backed by Facebook, Google, Python and the University of Cambridge.
PSYT Technologies are specialists in wellbeing and technology. The startup turns the advice of the world’s leading self-development authors into digital, action-based summaries to help individuals create real change. They work with leading academics at the forefront of research, providing innovative technology that allows them to use state-of-the-art research designs to capture data. The team is backed by advisors from Headspace, Masterclass and Audible.
We spoke to aisle 3 co-founder and CEO Thomas J. Vosper about his business revolutionising the online shopping experience. He talks to us about bouncing back from redundancy, what he learnt from pitching to investors and his passion for ensuring we have #nomoretabs.
Tell us about aisle 3? Like most people I find it super easy to find a car insurance provider, book a hotel in seconds or find availability on a flight based on what matters to me. So why is it so hard to find out all of my buying options for a set of wireless headphones? I am not alone in having to open endless tabs across multiple retailers and marketplaces when I shop online.
At aisle 3 we are building a brand and destination site so that shoppers can see all of the relevant product information, price and availability all on one screen. We are obsessed with a #nomoretabs experience that works for both shoppers and retailers.
Right now on aisle-3.co, shoppers can discover colour and size variations on one page for our launch products – trainers. We are actively looking for new commercial and investment partners to increase our offer.
What is your background? I’ve been fascinated by ecommerce and both the shopper experience and the retailer relationship since I started as part of a small team in Amazon’s nascent UK marketplace in 2007. It’s crazy to remember that there was about a dozen of us occupying half of the 5th floor of a Slough office block! I was lucky to launch thousands of merchants across the full range of categories and products over 6 years.
After learning a very different corporate experience at Tesco for a couple of years I joined a price comparison start up and grew its retailers from 6 to 45,000 in three years before it unfortunately went into administration.
I’ve spent the last 14 years trying to understand and support both sides of the purchase journey. I’m obsessed with learning more about how I can support shoppers whilst delivering value and growth to help retailers in the face of ever increasing commercial challenges.
How did the idea for the business come about? My ecommerce baptism at Amazon fanned the flames of my shopper obsession but having worked with thousands of retailers and brands I’ve become increasingly aware that there is a struggle on the other side of the purchase journey.
Showing shoppers all of their buying options needs to work in parallel with supporting retailers and brands.
Finding myself unexpectedly redundant a couple of weeks before lockdown was the forceful kick that (thankfully with some amazing co-founders support) was needed to look at how we could tackle a fragmented online shopping experience.
We looked at the current price comparison incumbents as well as Amazon and Google and were staggered that no-one was able to aggregate information that means we would see all of our buying options on one tab. Given the resource and scale of some of these businesses we wanted to stretch ourselves to see if we could take on the technical challenge of #nomoretabs that no-one else has solved.*
*12 days after our pre-seed round we deployed our own three algorithms that means you can now see all the sizes and colours of a particular trainer.
How have you overcome challenges during COVID? Our entire business has been built throughout lockdown which has meant we have had to work hard to hire and adopt a new company culture without ever meeting each other.
The shift to remote working has made it much easier for us to find talent to join the team from across the world, however this has impacted us in other ways that we didn’t consider in the midst of our own personal bubble of a global pandemic.
Outside of the disruption of Covid our team has been affected by Floods (India), Government disruption (Belarus), political tension (Armenia), Black Lives Matter riots (USA) which highlights the challenges of a diverse international team.
We’ve tackled a lot of this by working very transparently, putting trust in each other to hit clearly defined goals whilst making sure that we have a growth mindset that encourages constant feedback loops and support. We shot through the free tier of Slack in just a few weeks!
What would you say to others who have faced redundancy during this difficult time? We’re all in this together. It is very easy to reach out to friends, family, professional networks across calls, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, etc. and my experience is that people are actively looking to support anyone in a difficult position financially or emotionally.
I’m also personally very wary of perceived success on social media. I’ve been very proud of the grit the team and I have shown and our achievements this year but I’m not satisfied that I’ve made anything yet. Personally and with aisle 3, we are still at the very start of a journey that started in challenging times amongst an incredibly specific set of circumstances.
For every story of someone building a business on a credit card there are 99 that fail. What really motivated me was the outreach of support when I was openly discussing my personal challenge (no job) and the ambition I had to create a company that could impact every Shopper on the planet (aisle 3).
I’d encourage anyone who has been made redundant to reach out to their network and ask for support. It might just be that someone suggests something that you hadn’t considered and from difficult circumstances comes your next big personal development.
Why did you decide to raise investment? In March I was made redundant and wondered how I was going to settle the credit card bill for my hotel in a month that I wasn’t going to be paid!
My personal financial circumstances were not prepared for a new business, even if I knew that my career and personal development had been leading up to this moment.
I took out a £25k Virgin Start Up loan to get aisle 3 started but we knew that bringing in smart investors from a diverse background would elevate the business and we could relentlessly focus on growing a world-class consumer offering in a massive market.
I’m a big believer that we are better working together and knew, however capable the team was, that we couldn’t take on such a technical growth challenge alone. Our investors help us make the right commercial decisions whilst providing the financial support to build a shopper obsessed product that no-one else has mastered.
What are your top tips for anyone raising investment for the first time? Even if you feel very clear on your mission and execution I’d recommend drawing up a list of ideal investors and then flip the order so you are saving the most relevant till later. You have to practice your pitch so that it evolves naturally. I remember the pride we felt with the version of our deck but cringe now at some of those early conversations as we found our feet.
Make sure that you can explain enough of your business to friends and family so they can get a general snapshot of your business and what you need the cash for. If you can’t do that you might find you struggle with the elevator pitch to potential investors.
The questions that caught me out, certainly at the start of my journey, were the simple ones that I expected an investor to know and made me doubt my own answer. I sometimes found that the savvy investors would often ask quite a direct and/or simple question to see how you react and answer rather than to hear the details.
If you don’t know the answer don’t try and talk around it. One of my proudest achievements in our business is that we have been able to surround ourselves with colleagues, advisors and investors that complete our knowledge gaps. Investing is a two-way partnership and perhaps the answer to a question from an investor is ‘what would you do and how can you support?’.
What attracted investors to your company? Investors understood the problems aisle 3 is trying to solve and they related to their own shopper journey – especially when I was able to walk them through the competitive landscape and how we had already exceeded the current incumbents. I think, as shoppers, we are too accepting of the status quo and the need to open multiple tabs on your browser even though hotels, car insurance or flights are easy to compare.
Whatever the type of product and size of purchases the investors I spoke with all shared their personal stories of difficult online shopping experiences – from struggling to find the best deals on Google, to an uninspiring functional Amazon experience or broken comparison-shopping sites that they’d stumbled across.
It increased our conviction knowing just how much our mission can change the landscape of online shopping both for shoppers and for the retailers that struggle to convert to sales on the other side of this broken experience.
I already knew we were fixing a big problem but when investors tell me that we could be creating a unicorn business here in the UK, during a global pandemic, I feel incredibly inspired to push the business even harder and solve problems.
My biggest fundraising mistake was… I’ve made lots of mistakes! The hardest questions are often the simplest and I cringe a little thinking about an early conversation with a VC that asked quite directly what my role in the business was. That was probably one of the easiest questions to answer and I could have picked any five of the spinning plates that I manage and have delivered results in but I turned into a waffling mess! I’d spent so long prepping the intricate details of the technical challenge that I was ready to answer any question other than then ones I had assumed the investor would know.
The lesson for me, was that you can prepare all of the details, but don’t forget your value, what motivates you and how you drive the business forward. It’s not about trying to learn everything to fill the gaps in your expertise or responsibility – that’s what I have an expert team for and the sum is greater than the individual parts.
I have also learnt to better read the signs after spending far too long entertaining conversations that I see now were never going to bring investment. I found it very difficult to push hard for a ‘no’ and walk away at the right time when all the signs were there that we weren’t a good fit for each other. Thankfully, we have ended up with a cohort of smart investors who care about our mission and have been incredibly helpful in assisting the team and I.
Why did you choose to use Angel Investment Network? Whilst we had a great pool of industry experts from over the years, we knew that reaching out to external investors would help validate our business ambition and the capability of the team without the personal validation.
We’d looked at a number of different options and thought that AIN was a platform that would help us clearly demonstrate our ambitious, unlock conversations to new, smart investors and would also provide a good central location for investors to point to when sharing our details.
We decided to launch with the homepage feature on Tuesday, by Sunday had issued docs to the interested investors and closed the round the following Friday on target.
This is the first of our new series focusing on sectors gaining interest and investment from angel investors. This month we take a look at the rapidly growing medtech market. This is a sector that has been thrust into the spotlight this year due to COVID and a worldwide focus on healthcare. More startups than ever are winning investment and developing solutions to mankind’s most serious problems. In fact it has seen the fastest growth in keyword searches from our investor database. AIN’s Ed Stephens takes a deeper look.
Size of MedTech market The total global medical technology industry is estimated to be £457bn (Statista)
Number of companies 32,000 medical technology companies in Europe – 95% of which are SMEs. Description Medical technologies are products, services or solutions used to save and improve people’s lives. Startups in the sector have products and services to help with prevention, diagnosis and cure.
The three main categories of medical technologies are: Medical devices (MDs) Products, services or solutions that prevent, diagnose, monitor, treat and care for human beings by physical means. In vitro diagnostics (IVDs) Non-invasive tests to determine the status of one’s health and diagnose illnesses. Digital health The new suite of tools as well as services, using information and communication technologies (ICTs) to improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and management of health, both physical and mental and lifestyle.
On the platform In the past year, searches for biotech on the AIN platform have increased by 97%. Meanwhile searches for Healthcare/ health have rocketed by 86%.
What are the reasons for its huge success in the past year?
There are three key factors worth examining:
The impact of the pandemic Firstly and most obviously, the worldwide pandemic has meant health has been pushed front and centre of people’s minds. When we think of our own well being, we now think of it in a broader sense. The pandemic has also been particularly problematic for those with underlying health conditions, raising a universal awareness of our own personal resilience, immunity and wellness. The pandemic has made us question medical regulation and legislature in a race to develop a vaccine and drugs to treat it. However, it has also made us think more about our general health with a renewed focus on the mental health fallout from months under lockdown. This topic is now a key part of the national conversation too and thus a ‘holistic’ look at health, it’s maintenance and/or deterioration.
The explosion of big data This has also been coupled with a rapid and continuous explosion of big data and patient datasets which has of course been a game changer for healthcare/medtech, particularly in the field of preventative medicine. We now know if we are theoretically able to get our hands on a big enough and robust enough data set for a given illness, we can make significant steps towards diagnosing it more effectively (with the caveat that our understanding of the causes isn’t too siloed). By looking at the data of millions of people worldwide with a similar risk profile we can predict someone’s likely susceptibility to that particular disease and develop treatments and solutions that may even be personalised to their demographic or patient profile. Which is another step towards the holy grail of personalised preventative medicine.
Agile startups Agile startups are of course helping to drive this market forward, pushing innovation and continually getting the bureaucracies in healthcare to ask if there are new ways of doing things. It has been heartening to see the increased level of interest shown by the NHS in innovation. Their clinical entrepreneurship programme goes from strength to strength and there is talk of a £5m fund to support seedstage medtech companies. In the past routes to market were cumbersome and often controlled by large medtech/pharma companies.
A draw for these startup founders and their investors is the ‘mission’. Clearly there are few greater missions than solving complex healthcare issues. Also embedded within medtech is the idea of global scalability due to the universal nature of human fragility, meaning the rewards for success are considerable. Naturally a continued dialogue needs to be maintained to ensure progress doesn’t come at the expense of ethics but the future’s looking bright in this country for healthcare. We face a unique set of pressures through socialised healthcare that create an environment ripe for technology export.
What types of companies are we seeing developing solutions in this sector?
Key players in the sector focus on either ‘longevity’ solutions, technologies that improve health, nutrition and ‘healthspan’ or solutions to medical diagnosis and downstream disease prevention or cure. Diagnostics companies are being well received on the AIN platform and Onsite health and mental health platforms are also in demand, businesses that typically have a B2B component. With models like this it seems the discussion around physical and mental health is inching ever closer. I haven’t seen anything that has a clear grasp on this yet but there are some interesting recombinations of datasets to explore this. The issue you have in a capitalist environment is companies can often compete in siloes e.g. one company to collect DNA data, one to collect blood samples, another to collect stool samples and the final one to collect patient mental health records. Unless the patient has access to all of these services and has a willingness to allow all the organisations to freely integrate and share data then building up a cohesive picture will remain evasive. One might say we are still in ‘investigatory mode’.
What are investors saying about this as a category?
It excites them but they are naturally wary as it is that much more involved and really does require a degree of specialism that other market sectors don’t. In a winner takes all market you have to be more aware of the competition and the market forces and regulation at play. It has gone from lab based discoveries, pharmaceutical and surgical instruments into the realm of technology, data and AI. As a sector it is enmeshed with the future. This really is the most exciting element for anyone to be involved with – curing mankind’s most fundamental weaknesses. 2020 has brought home our susceptibility and weakness to disease despite our unparalleled technological ascendency. Medical companies battling to come up with vaccines or provide drugs for treatment have become household names.
What are the fundamentals you look for in a med tech business?
The team seems to remain one of the most crucial elements. Investors will look to back the best in a field. Experts ultimately form an essential part of the social proofing of a business and their knowledge is and remains a huge component of the diligence that needs to be undertaken. You need to be able to trust in their domain expertise and real world experience of the problems they are solving. You also ideally want the business to be close to commercialisation – and to have gone through regulatory approval, which is a big barrier to realising potential. Typically early stage medtech investments will carry higher valuations due to the team strength, IP developed and often the value of non-dilutive R&D grants taken on.
Disease screening and diagnostics startup Occuity recently raised £1m and generated huge interest from investors. Occuity’s meters work by shining light into the eye and analysing the return signal. This enables chronic health conditions such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease to be monitored. With hundreds of millions worldwide suffering from diabetes this has huge potential. Crucially in today’s world it can also be delivered at a social distance.
Another hugely exciting company who raised on the platform in the past year is PinPoint. PinPoint has developed a Test that uses AI/Machine Learning to rapidly ‘rule out’ cancer from a simple blood sample, and may be used for all cancer types. The potential for the business is simply enormous. Founder Giles Tully pointed out at the time that PinPoint had already achieved nearly 25% rule out, which in 2019 would have given over 500,000 patients peace of mind in a few days instead of worrying for a few weeks and saved the NHS over £150m.
Another company aiming to support the NHS with a different model is Hexarad. This doctor founded company helps support the severely under resourced radiology sector with access to a mobile team of fully accredited UK NHS consultants.
This month we delve deeper into the world of agile fundraising and share some practical advice that can help you raise money for your business before the end of the year.
Making the most of the Christmas rush…
The run up to Christmas is always one of the busiest times of the year in terms of fundraising activity and investment. This can be a great time to look for investment, as many investors are looking to move quickly and close investments before heading off on their well earned break (even if this year that will be at home…).
With less than four weeks until Christmas, there’s not long left if you’re looking to raise investment this year. But all is not lost – agile fundraising enables you to raise investment quickly and flexibly in situations just like this.
What is agile fundraising?
Over the last couple of years at SeedLegals, we’ve observed that many early stage companies are moving away from go-big-or-go-bust funding rounds every 12 to 18 months in favour of agile fundraising where they raise small amounts frequently, taking investment opportunistically (e.g. when you meet someone who wants to invest) and as needed.
We now see the savviest founders use agile fundraising to grow their businesses faster, spend less time holding up the business while they look for investment, and give away less equity than founders relying solely on the traditional go-big-or-go-bust funding rounds.
The two main agile fundraising methods are SeedFAST (Advanced Subscription Agreement) and Instant Investment.
Advanced Subscription Agreement (ASA)
An Advanced Subscription Agreement is the UK equivalent of the SAFE (commonly used in the US) and is SEIS/EIS compatible – great news for you and investors.
An ASA allows investors to give you money now, in exchange for shares in your next funding round. Your ASA investors will receive their shares, generally at a discount compared to other investors in the round, because they invested early, when you close your next funding round.
Instant Investment allows founders to close an initial funding round like normal, and then top that up anytime, within limits agreed in the initial funding round.
This enables you to raise only what you need or are able to raise right now, and get back to growing your business. Then, as you find additional investors, you can quickly and easily add them, effectively topping up your last round. At SeedLegals, we regularly see founders close a funding round and continue raising using Instant Investment for 12-18 months before doing their next round.
You can read our comprehensive agile fundraising guide here
Is agile fundraising right for me?
There are a number of scenarios where you can use agile fundraising to your advantage, whether you are going out to investors for the first time or have raised multiple rounds of funding already.
Here are a few of the most common use cases we see at SeedLegals:
You’ve found your first investor…
First investor on board – now to find the rest, right? Yes and no…
While one option is to keep your round open as you search for other investors, a better way could be to use ASA to get that money in ASAP, rather than keeping those investors (and their investments!) on hold while you line up all the other investors for your round.
With an ASA you get investment there and then, which can be used to invest in growth or extend your runway, and the investor generally receives a discount on the upcoming round in return.
The fact that one investor has already committed and transferred funds will also typically be viewed positively by other investors you’re speaking to.
You can’t agree on / don’t want to commit to a valuation…
Is my valuation £500k? £1m? £3m? £5m? Agreeing a valuation for an early stage business can be a minefield. Luckily, we’ve written this article about how to think about valuing your startup…
Great! So you’re good to go… But there are still lots of cases where investors and founders simply can’t agree on a valuation or may strategically not want to agree a valuation at that time.
An ASA can help both parties here, giving you up to 6 months to finalise the valuation. As a founder, this not only gives you much needed cash, but also time to grow the valuation to a point where you and your investors are both happy.
You’ve got your key investor(s) on board…
When fundraising, founders will often have certain investors they really want to get on board. Perhaps they’re writing the biggest cheque, have a great network, or are able to provide unique advice and insights.
You’ve landed your dream investor(s) and have a decent chunk of your target raise committed – now what?
This is a great time to consider closing your round and continuing to raise using Instant Investment. Negotiations around valuation and key terms are likely to be finalised or close to finalised by now, meaning that other investors are likely to be signing up to the same terms.
This approach means you receive funds and can put them to work immediately, whilst continuing to fill and complete your round.
You’re just waiting on the last investor(s) to sign…
Everybody has signed, except one or two investors… One is going on holiday for two weeks and the other is dragging their feet. What do you do?
You could wait until they get back, but this just means more time thinking about fundraising vs. growing your business. Instead, you can let these investors know that you’re going to close the round without them, but (and very importantly) they will be able to invest at the same terms once they’re back, or ready to commit.
This approach can sometimes lead to investors suddenly being available to sign and transfer funds, meaning the round closes as initially planned. Either way the round closes sooner, without losing investors, a win/win.
If fundraising is dragging on, or you just want to move faster, agile fundraising could be just what you have been waiting for…
Questions about agile fundraising, or fundraising in general? You can book a call with one of the SeedLegals experts, who will be happy to help.
The Silicon Roundabout team are developers themselves and have attracted some of the UK’s best technologists to build their community. They have already helped the likes of Monzo and Treatwell find new employees.
Shreet discusses Silicon Roundabout’s journey over the past ten years. What started as a tech community meet up for developers to discuss opportunities, has grown to now have a community of 15,000 people. As well as matching startups with the right talent to help them survive and thrive, they host hackathons, Tech Talks and a variety of different events.
Shreet says: “Silicon Roundabout is a community. It’s not just connecting startups with people, it’s about connecting them with the community.”
Shreet discusses the fact a lot of startups have traditionally had bad experience with traditional recruiters and so are turned off by the whole process. He says: “Many developers have negative feelings toward recruiters. Most recruiters don’t have the specialist knowledge.”
Shreet lays out a lot of the things that are going wrong. He says: “The challenge for startups is how to translate on paper what you are doing and ensure it appeals to developers. And decide who to approach.”
Angel Investment Network is partnering with Silicon Roundabout to help connect our community of startups find the talent you need. You can find out more at the interim landing page.
Startup Microdose is one of the country’s leading startup business podcasts. It is hosted by Ed Stephens and Electric car subscription company Elmo co-founder Oliver Jones. It features conversations with people startups can learn from with guests are at the forefront of their fields with practical wisdom to impart on entrepreneurship and beyond. Check out the interview below.
Angel Investment Network (AIN), has announced impressive annual growth, with annual revenues up 5% year on year and the last quarter seeing revenues increasing by 14%.
We now have more than 1.4 million users in total on the platform. In the past twelve months we’ve overseen a record 192,000 new registrations from entrepreneurs. The figure has almost tripled in the past five years with new entrepreneurial hotspots developing across the globe. Encouragingly for the businesses on the platform there is also more investor activity than ever with a record number of connections made despite the unfortunate circumstances this year.
Despite the pandemic, there has been impressive growth across Europe, with Germany seeing a 40% increase in revenue, the Netherlands up 130% and France up 27%. The USA has also seen a rise of 27%. Our performance has received plaudits from several media outlets, being covered by Techround, Growth Business UK, Bdaily, Business Mondays and Angel News.
Alongside the online platform, AIN also runs a successful broking division. Despite the challenging conditions it has seen impressive revenues year on year, despite longer funding rounds in today’s climate. AIN has been involved in several significant high profile raises in the past 12 months for a variety of businesses, including edtech startup BibliU, digital addressing startup OKHi and YouTube karaoke channel Sing King.
Despite the backdrop of the global recession and pandemic, AIN’s results reveal the embedded startup culture both in the UK and internationally. They also highlight the enduring popularity of passion-driven angel investors as a source of early stage funding.
According to AIN co-founder Mike Lebus: “2020 has been a time of unprecedented turbulence for the startup world, as it has for general society. Despite the challenges, we continue to see record numbers of startups look for funding on our platform and angels willing to invest. The solutions to so many of the problems we face are in the minds of startup founders and we are proud of the work we are able to do to help them fund their ambitions.”
He continues: “We continue to see strong international growth with startup communities developing throughout the world. We now have 40 networks extending to 90 different countries. We are also building new partnerships with accelerators and continue to offer tailored offerings in the property sector with BrickTribe and impact investment with SeedTribe.”