By Jason Ball, Director, Qualcomm Ventures
The UK tech sector recorded the best growth performance for almost a decade in the last quarter of 2013, according to the Tech Monitor UK report by KPMG and Markit. This means it has never been a more exciting time to be part of the UK tech start-up scene. This growth is great news for budding entrepreneurs that are keen to take their own ideas to create a business. However, the beginning of a new company has lots of business challenges from developing a business plan to finding the right employees to embrace your passion for the business and help drive it forward. Even finding the demand for your product or service can be a huge hurdle. However, we do need to take one step back as often none of this is possible without funding. But while the UK is coming out of a financial crisis what are the options for today’s budding technology entrepreneur?
Most start-ups will look for venture capital (VC) or angel investment to get them off the ground. Although this powerful backing often offers a number of rewards it can be extremely difficult to get. The majority of start-ups cannot rely on this as a viable funding option, since there is a finite number of venture and angel investor in the UK, which has led to European entrepreneurs often moving to Silicon Valley for search of investment.
The limited pool of investment sources in the UK has led to a rise in interest with crowdfunding. Although not a traditional method of funding, this enables start-ups to crowdsource equity capital from friends and family. There are also a number of third-party investor online sites that support crowdfunding including Crowdcube.com and Seedrs.com.
Another opportunity for funding new businesses can come from incubators and accelerators. These serve as a launch pad and sustainable growth path for young and small businesses as well as those more established SMEs who aspire to grow further and faster. Currently, there are approximately 300 business incubators in the UK, directly supporting in excess of 12,000 dynamic, creative and innovative businesses. They support all sectors, including ICT, science, technology, creative industries, social enterprises and all manner of entrepreneurs. Two of the better known accelerators are Seedcamp and TechStars. Both provide access to mentors as well as funding.
However, if you don’t think any of the above options are viable then there is still hope in finding funding through the alternative method of competitions. Many private companies are recognising the power of the start-up in the technology world and want to help to continue to drive innovation in the industry. This has led to companies launching private investment competitions including Qualcomm Ventures’ QPrize™ competition and Amazon Web Services’ Global Start-Up Challenge.
The advantage of launching your business through a competition doesn’t end once the funding has been paid if you are fortunate enough to win. These competitions will also support you to get another foot in the door of the VC community as well as an inside track into the tech industry, offering you first-hand contacts in the industry and inside information and extra advice. Winning these competitions alongside the brand recognition of industry leaders also solidifies the development of the business and can enhance the potential success of the company.
Even if you are not fortunate enough to win the competition, the fact that you participated in the competition may be the aspect of it that really counts. The panel of judges usually include heads of business development from other businesses in that target sector and they can take a personal interest in one of the semi-finalists. These competitions also encourage entrepreneurs to develop a clear business model and elevator pitch and then practice it in front of a live audience. All of these skills can be transferred to help hunt for VC investment.
The most important part for any entrepreneur to remember is to find the best fit for you and your business to ensure you get the best head start. Funding is one of the biggest challenges you will face when getting a business off the ground, so it is important to take the time to consider not only the options, but the additional opportunities and benefits that come with each one.