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Where will we find the next Uber?

The investment case

Many sectors are therefore in flux, which presents investors with opportunities.

During the global financial crisis of 2008, we saw that it decimated the large, static, immobile blue chip companies whose focus was on maintaining their status quo rather than innovating and getting ahead of the curve. Correspondingly, it helped smaller, more nimble operators focused on disruption and technology to flourish.

One simple example is Uber – granddad of the ‘order by app’ concept and which has totally transformed an industry. But back in 2008, it was a struggling start-up being turned down by every VC in America. Its early investors weren’t institutions but private investors like Mike Walsh. Walsh was on his way to buy a Tesla when he got a call from Uber founder, Ryan Graves, who told him about his new project. Walsh liked the idea, cancelled his Tesla order and instead invested $10,000 in Uber. That $10,000 investment went on to be worth $24,827,400. More amazingly, Walsh wasn’t a seasoned investor, this was only his second angel investment.

With sectors in flux and companies beginning to identify and capitalise on fast moving trends, it feels like now is another great investment opportunity. Clearly, the Uber example above is an exception rather than norm. For every Uber, there are 100 Betamaxes but it goes to show what is possible when investing at the earliest stages of a company’s growth journey. And it’s the job of a good VC fund not just to second guess these trends but to work with companies when things go against them and to help turn them around.

State of play

The Government plays its part by facilitating the landscape and has indeed committed to making the UK the tech and entrepreneur centre of the world. Actions speak louder than words and we wait to see whether the Government delivers but it has made a good start with initiatives such as the £20M Tech fund and the £134M Sustainable Innovation Fund. But it is private investors and fund managers who can play a significant part and drive sectors and companies forward even quicker. This is where EIS and SEIS come into play.

In the past few years, the schemes have been focused on delivering funding to companies prioritising growth, innovation and tech. During the pandemic, EIS and SEIS funded companies and the funds which invest in them, have proved the value of this strategy. They have proved to be not only nimble and adaptive but also genuinely inventive, profitable and increasingly important job creators.

Nurturing the winners

It’s been genuinely thrilling to see so many EIS or SEIS funded companies be first responders to the pandemic, each in a different but rapid and effective way. It’s now the job of those companies and the VCs that support them to ensure they continue to grow and are ready to take advantage of further opportunities when they present themselves either at a macro or micro level.

There will always be winners and losers in early stage businesses. Both receive funding but only VC backed businesses get the mentorship, support and advice required to navigate through all types of economic conditions to create consistent winners. And it is consistent winners which the economy needs to put the economic catastrophe of 2020/21 behind us, get us back on track and start delivering years of sustained growth. Those winners sit within EIS and SEIS portfolios. It’s my absolute conviction that within a UK VC portfolio right now lies the next Uber or Airbnb. It will be exciting to see exactly where it comes from!

About Mark Brownridge

Mark has over twenty years’ experience in financial services and prior to becoming Director General of the EIS Association, he was Head of Research and Development at Mazars, a leading UK financial planning firm. Mark is highly qualified being a Certified Financial Planner, Chartered Financial Planner, Chartered Wealth Manager and Fellow of the PFS and also sits on the CISI’s Accredited firms committee and TISA’s Distribution Policy Council. Mark’s involvement with EIS began 8 years ago and he has since championed EIS investing within a financial planning context and is extremely passionate about promoting the industry, increasing its effectiveness and ensuring the private sector continues to drive much needed funding to small companies.

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