07/04/11

By Nick Giles, co-founder of Seven Hills

For many UK entrepreneurs the idea of securing investment capital is about as appetising a prospect as a grilling on Dragons' Den. They worry about getting in with the wrong partner, agreeing to a bad deal and living to regret big decisions taken early in their development.

The reality is that many of these entrepreneurs, who dream of building large successful businesses, are baffled by the process, lack the understanding of what it is they are asking for and are often in the dark about the role that venture capital and private equity investment can play in helping them grow. Misinformation and misperception prevail.

So, is that the fault of the entrepreneurs or is it an opportunity for the investment industry to educate its audience and win new friends?

I would argue the latter.

Sir Bob Worcester, founder of the polling business MORI, once said: "familiarity equals favourability".

The UK's investment community could perhaps do itself a favour by opening up, becoming more transparent and educating the broader business community about the role it plays in driving growth.

There's no doubt that investors have had their fair share of negative headlines in recent years but this can be turned into a positive. Enterprise and entrepreneurship are high on the national agenda so there is clear opportunity for the UK's investors to enter that debate, improve understanding of the role that VCs play in backing entrepreneurial businesses, and to show the critical role that investors will play in spearheading the much-heralded 'enterprise-led recovery'.

This could be achieved through a more open dialogue between VCs, private equity investors and the business media to provide balance to what is often negative reporting of the sector.

Donata Huggins, City AM's entrepreneur correspondent, told me: "It's vital that investors engage and start a dialogue with the business press, to encourage journalists to report more on the success stories where VCs have played a major role in backing successful entrepreneurs."

A clear challenge identified is to help educate entrepreneurs in the UK about venture capital and private equity investment, given that for many the distinction is often ill-defined and confusing. In turn, there is an opportunity for the investment industry to educate entrepreneurs about the role that investors play in driving growth and backing the UK's economic fight-back.

It's more than a 'nice to have'. The reality is that reputation is arguably your most important asset and negative perceptions can harm any business, however immune it may seem to the vagaries of public opinion. Investors need to rehabilitate their reputations within a sceptical market if they want the deals to start rolling.

To do that, the industry has to win new friends, and be seen to be taking an active role in educating the market about the positive role it can play.