20/05/2011

Not all the roots of digital Britain are in London

By Modwenna Rees-Mogg, Founder & CEO of AngelNews

Recently I sat on a train heading from Sheffield to Edinburgh between two events in our National Tour of our Pitching for Management series. Just after the train pulled out of Darlington I glanced right out of the window and acknowledge to myself that soon, very soon, I will be adding a new city to our northern tour — Middlesbrough.

I have not yet been to Middlesbrough, but since coming across DCB Ventures, I am now busting to pay the City a visit. Any town that can give birth to a smart team like the DCB gang deserves some attention!

So you can see what I mean, the images below feature some of the hi- tech buildings in the city; I am sure any misapprehensions you may have had will be as quickly dispelled as they were for me, on sight of them. In fact, if I had shown you these images blind, I would be prepared to bet that, if I had asked you to name the location of any of them, you would have been more likely to say Silicon Roundabout in London, Silicon Fen in Cambridge or, perhaps Birmingham or Manchester, than a city in the North East of England with a population of just under 145,000.

One of the healthiest things about British entrepreneurship is that, at the end of the day, location matters not one iota. Inventiveness and innovation thrive where the individuals behind them are not bounded by their own environment, but see place as a location from which to head, rather than somewhere to stay.

When I caught up with Paul Callaghan, one of the three co-founders of DCB Ventures, the other day, we discussed the issue. “My roots are in the North East and I think it has given me a special perspective on Britain in a global context. If you are in Middlesbrough, you look out on the North Sea and the promise of exciting lands in the East, not just your domestic market.”

DCB Ventures is a new corporate advisory boutique founded by Paul and his colleagues Paul Weavers and David Maxwell. Paul C is the team member with the international credentials. His address book is packed to the brim with contacts in Asia Pacific — China, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong to name a few.

David is the strategist and analyst. He has worked with Paul for years, on fundraisings for tech businesses. Paul W is the digital media corporate finance guru (he has 25 years at PriceWaterhouseCoopers under his belt), with a respected track record of advising now famous digital start-ups such as Navmii. He has brought his clients with him to the firm.

Together the team are perfectly placed to give some of the more well known London-based advisory boutiques a run for their money. Meanwhile, a fourth team member, Mark Brett, based in Shangahi, leads the firm’s investor network in the Far East. This brings a useful source of intelligent funding to the assets in the business.

The firm has a clear two-fold strategy aimed at both entrepreneurial tech businesses and angel and other early stage investors.

One: Work hard, pay attention to detail and service clients to the highest standards.

Two: Combine fundraising with business development skills, especially in an international context; leveraging the team’s skills set and its global address book for its clients, whether investors or entrepreneurs.

In fact, DCB Ventures’ strap line could be “helping technology companies and their investors grow in a global context.”

Paul and his colleagues are people whom serious tech entrepreneurs should have on direct dial - not least because of their ability to access funding from international sources and to introduce their clients to commercial opportunities in the Far East.

Angel and other early stage investors who understand where the venture market is heading (internationally!), may also like to connect with them, not just because of their access to deal flow, but also because their strategic and analytical skills will definitely come in useful when it comes to due diligence for their next tech deal. They may also like to get the chance to connect with DCB’s Chinese angel network; I know I want to.

How is the competition going to view the firm? I suspect they will start building their own international credentials rapidly. Why? Well, without prompting, Paul chatted to me about his relationships with the Chinese angel community, having a healthy relationship with the European Tech Tour in Geneva, of meetings with a London based US family office actively investing in enterprise, and of the fact that 40% of his clients are not UK businesses, but Swiss, French and German. Catch my drift? I like this innovative approach to business development — going to meet the clients rather than waiting for them to turn up on the doorstep. It reminds me of the great days of the East India Company et al.

Paul sees digital and clean technology as the route to UK economic recovery. “Simply put”, he told me, “the West needs to sell exciting, innovative stuff abroad into the nations which are booming. For the British, this means Asia. For us it means getting ourselves and our clients out there, and vice versa, so we can all trade with each other

And, getting this right, Modwenna, will give this country the money it needs to buy itself out of the recession.”

Why the digital and cleantech sectors, not manufacturing?” I enquired.

Web and particularly mobile applications can be created, turned around and shipped quicker. They are also in high demand from tech hungry markets such as China which are quickly developing a base of digital tech entrepreneurship and innovation built on common standards to ours, so relatively little product modification is required to achieve sales. These emerging markets are also hungry for clean tech solutions for powering industry as well as society, especially solutions for providing clean water, which in many instances is a greater need than 'clean electricity.'”

What are the challenges facing the British in this context?

The British need to get out and sell like mad. My background is in sales. When I was in my mid twenties I worked in the promotional advertising industry and was turning over £700,000 a year on my own. The internal company mission was three words 'Sales, Sales, Sales', but too many people in Britain don’t ‘get’ the importance of sales vs creating wonderful products, sometimes it's almost as if the salesman is a badge of shame; this is not the case in the US or Asia. Salesmen really benefit companies, not only in terms of selling. They also provide the intelligence that shapes a great product into something that the market buys again and again and makes the business money.

Paul is a big fan of private sector investment, especially angel money. In his view, it forces discipline on a business, as well as acting as an enabler to make, do and employ. In his view there is a wall of such money in the Far East looking for a home; hence the appointment of Mark Brett and the strategy to link it with investment opportunities in the West. And he has strong views on how taxpayers’ money should be spent. “The public purse is for long term investment in society like children’s education, addressing deprivation or healthcare, especially when times are tough like now. It is the duty of the public sector to free up private enterprise, which can do the job of generating wealth more quickly, efficiently and cheaply, and on a global scale, by itself.”

What is the big news at DCB Ventures this week?” I asked

I don’t think I have mentioned yet, that we also do work in the MedTech space. We’re pretty pleased that we have just been appointed to do a private placing for Viroblock an exciting anti-virals business based in Geneva. And there’s some interesting tech transfer work we are doing for clients in the UK.”

Meanwhile we are on the hunt for a second office in London to compliment the one we already have at the Boho Zone in Middlesbrough. We are feeling the pleasure and pain of being a fast growing start-up, just like so many of our clients.”

Perhaps DCB Ventures’ London office may end up in an edgy urban building in or near London’s current home of digital enterprise at Silicon Roundabout. But I can’t help feeling that, as the business opens more and more offices across the globe, it will continue to be shaped by its roots in the North East, influencing its outward looking culture and its knowledge that looking elsewhere rather than here for enterprise opportunities and investment, is the obvious solution to bringing success to UK plc in the 21st century.

If you’d like to meet some of the AngelNews team and find out more about what we do, why don’t you come along to one of our next event? We run a popular series of events nationwide called Pitching for Management™ where exciting growth companies pitch to a room of senior executive talent to join their teams. Upcoming locations in May and June include Bristol, Middlesbrough, Cambridge, Oxford, Camberley and London. Book your tickets online at our AngelNews Eventbrite page.

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