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Friday, April 24, 2009

Investors are Still Keen to Invest

We may all be mired in economic uncertainty, but if you’re looking for funding, there’s no need to be unduly discouraged by the current slowdown. Getting funded has never been a pushover, but the current economic uncertainties don’t seem to be stopping the right people with the right product.

In recent weeks there have been a plenty of upbeat messages from funding groups - it’s just that the reassuring words tend to be couched with more caveats these days. One venture capitalist told me that business plans were being scrutinised more closely in 2008, especially market forecasts, growth estimates and profit margins. As he succinctly put it: “The dumb money has long gone. The smart money is still there. We back favourites, not the long shots.” Or as David Giampaolo of Pi Capital says: “We are still looking at plenty of deals – but we are in no rush”.

So if funding is still available for the right people with the right ideas – even if they might have to wait longer and it costs them more – how can you make sure you’re first in the queue? One thing to bear in mind is that VCs are looking for more than just a good product, and a compelling business case: it’s also about how you structure your company, how you make it responsive in changing times, and what people you surround yourself with. The latter is often the hardest for entrepreneurs. You know you need someone on your team who’s done it all before – but where do you find them?

For some start-ups, the answer lies with one of the biggest growth areas in the UK in recent years – organisations offering management consultants, business advisors and non executive directors to help young businesses to grow and thrive. It’s not surprising that so many of them are successful – nor that so many are successfully finding funding themselves – since in the main they’re owned by people with a long track record in business advice.

Hiring a non executive director or a business advisor can be a daunting task, but approach it in the same way as you would hire a new employee. Ask them about their experience, to make sure it’s relevant, and establish what they expect to be able to contribute. Start them on a definable task, to see if your ways of working are compatible, and measure their results carefully against their fees. If you feel comfortable with the advisor, and you can see there’s a quantifiable benefit, involve them in more activities. Some advisors will be part of larger networks, offering specialist skills and experience when it’s required. There’s lots of information about what these experts can bring on sites like

Working with a business advisor or a non executive director isn’t just about what they bring to your business – it also sends a clear signal to the investment community that you’re serious about what you’re trying to achieve. It doesn’t guarantee success, of course – but at least you’ll be one of the favourites rather than one of the long shots.

By George Fletcher, Webster Buchanan Research