OXVC recently hosted James Uffindell at the Oxford Foundry to share his insights into the world of capital raising, through the lens of an experienced entrepreneur, CEO and investor.
Imagine a young boy re-selling sweets from his school locker room; those were the early days when James began showing his entrepreneurial zest. Fast forward to 2000, and he had graduated from Mansfield College Oxford with a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. At the age of 19, whilst “in a moment of flow” on a train from Rome to Vienna, he conceived the idea for his first company, Oxford Applications. Meant to demystify the process of applying to Oxford and Cambridge, the educational consultancy went on to be acquired in 2013. But another idea was developed from James’ experience working with students- they came back to him after graduation to seek help in their job search.
Bright Network was founded in 2007 and initial trials were around the time of the economic crisis. Now, it has 45 employees, works with over 250 employers, has a growing membership of 200,000+ and 14,000+ traceable hires. Their competitive advantage lies in the technology applied to personalisation of the job search process. It’s all about finding the best match between graduate talent and employers. Bright Network also champions diversity in the workplace and celebrates youth leadership and initiative by hosting an annual university Society of the Year awards.
So we wanted to learn James’ advice on building a successful business such as Bright Network, particularly about the stage of sourcing capital. What are investors looking for and what types of capital are out there.
Finding the capital for a start-up can seem like a daunting task but James lends an optimistic perspective; the money is out there. And the sum to tap into is not small. According to James, the world has “$4 trillion available for acquisitions”.
For the start-up founder or prospective entrepreneur, the accessibility of that total potential capital is a burning priority. Given his experience with raising capital for Bright Network and as an angel investor himself, James was eager to share his understanding of the key sources of capital and also gave some advice related to equity financing, especially for early stage to small companies.
Types of Capital
Founder, family, friends
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Angels and High Net Worth Individuals are a good source for seed funding. They bring the added benefit of an incredible network from which to garner advice regarding general to specific business questions, as many of them come from corporate backgrounds.
There are HMRC backed venture capital investment schemes that exist for early stage/small/medium sized companies or social enterprises, which attract investors because of tax relief offerings. James highlighted 2 of the 4 scheme designs available:
SEIS - Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme
Up to £150,00 can be raised through SEIS investments for early stage companies that are less than 2 years old. Find out more information about the qualifying criteria for SEIS here.
Venture Capital Trusts
VC-trusts are companies that invest in small companies with shares not listed on the stock exchange (i.e. unquoted). However, VC-Trusts themselves have shares listed on the London Stock Exchange, and investors are attracted by the associated tax advantages and the spread of their investment across multiple businesses. Read more about VC-Trusts here. Bright Network has found a good fit with VC-Trust MAVEN.
The Importance of Growing and Maintaining a Network
Networking is key. This is one of the key messages that James voiced. Going out and about to meet people is a good way to start building a network. The next step is to water those relationships to grow trust. In fact, James found many of his angel investors through his network and recommended budding entrepreneurs to explore the UK Business Angels Network.
But there is another element to networking - spreadsheets. Yes, spreadsheets. James believes that a spreadsheet of individuals in his network is a very useful memory assistant and organisational tool that facilitates the ease of future potential contacts with anyone in the network.