The global start-up economy creates almost £2.3 trillion in value each year. Investments are vital to the success and growth of many start-ups. In 2019 there was over £225 billion invested through venture investments in over 30,000 deals across the world, a large proportion of this was invested in the start-up and early stages of businesses, and this is just one example of funding.
There are many successful start-ups and family businesses across the globe, all of which are essential to the economies of their respective countries. In the UK, you only need to think of big brands such as Dyson, Warburtons and Specsavers to see how building a business from scratch can be very financially rewarding. In more recent years, perhaps on a smaller scale, there are many great success stories such as Igloo, Mindful Chef and Elder.
However, having an excellent idea for a product or service is just the starting point. One of the critical things in your business journey, from start-up to success, will be raising the initial finance to get your concept off the ground.
Self-financing is the most popular way to get a business start-up off the ground. It's often the case that when you approach other funding sources, that they will want to see how much of your own money you are willing to risk on the venture before they consider financially backing you.
Pros: You retain 100% ownership of your business and make all the decisions.
Cons: Depending on the finances you have available, you could slow the growth of your business.
The most risk-averse way to raise the initial money needed for your business may be from your personal savings. It may be that you have been planning for your business venture for some time and have managed to save enough money to get your start-up off the ground. By using the money you have already saved, there are no interest payments to think about and no other parties to consider when you are making business decisions. It also means 100% of the company profits remain yours.
Pros: You retain complete control and ownership of your business.
Cons: You could lose all your savings. You could hinder the growth of your business.
Personal bank loans
In our personal lives, if we need extra money for a project or life luxury, personal bank loans are often our first port of call. The interest rates tend to be favourable, and we often have an ongoing and historical relationship with a lender.
However, the majority of banks do not offer personal loans for business purposes.
Pros: Low interest rates. Loans can be secured or unsecured.
Cons: If you opt for a personal loan over a business loan, your name will be the one on the paperwork, meaning you are liable for the repayments, not your business. It is also likely to be a secured loan, so you may risk losing a personal asset if you cannot repay the money.
You may have an overdraft facility on both your personal and business accounts. Any overdraft facility should be arranged with your bank from the outset. If you use an unarranged overdraft or miss payments, this may damage your credit score.
On your business account, an overdraft sounds like a simple and easy option; once your account funds get below zero, you can still draw money by using your overdraft. This can be a convenient safety net for short term cash flow issues, like paying immediate invoices. Your bank account will have an overdraft limit, this is the maximum amount you can borrow, and it set at an individual level.
However, an overdraft, like a loan is not free, you still have to pay the bank back, and there will be interest to add on top. Once your balance is back over zero, you stop paying fees.
There are both secured and unsecured overdrafts. The same as with a loan, if you have a secured overdraft, you will need to secure the loan to a business asset, this is usually a property or something of significant value.
If you have an unsecured overdraft, you do not need to risk any of your business assets. However, it is worth noting that the interest rates on these tend to be significantly higher.
Pros: An overdraft facility is often already built into your bank account. You don't have to convince the bank to lend you the money for a particular project. You can ask for the overdraft limit to be increased.
Cons: The interest rates can vary drastically. If you need a large overdraft limit, this often becomes 'secured' so you have to risk your assets to borrow the money.
Family and friends
In the excitement of launching or growing a new business, it may be tempting to ask for the financial assistance of friends and family. If your start-up is going well and showing promise, you may even find that friends and family will want to invest in helping you grow the business and reap some of the financial rewards with you.
In many instances, family members going into business together can be a positive thing; for example, Go Ape, Specsavers and Jo Malone are all family-run businesses. In a survey from YouGov in 2013, 44% of respondents said they'd be more than happy to go into business with a family member, the main reason stated was trust.
If this is a route you are looking to consider, there are a few things to bear in mind. It needs to be made clear and be documented, precisely, what the conditions of the loan are; is the family member buying a share of the business, or is it a loan with a fixed term and interest rate? Will the repayments start immediately or when your company has a set turnover or profit?
It would be unwise from a business and personal point of view to rely on a chat over the dinner table to iron out the terms of the arrangement; it needs to be agreed and written down in detail with all parties signing. You don't need a lawyer to do this for you; there are templates you can use to outline the specifics.
Pros: Likely to be the most cost-effective way of borrowing money. You won't need the same level of detail and financial forecasting to secure the loan.
Cons: It's hard to walk away if the business fails, as you feel morally obliged to repay all the money you borrowed. It can cause substantial family rifts if it's not clear what the terms of the arrangement are.
Business or corporate credit cards are pretty much the same as personal credit cards but issued to your business rather than you as an individual. The credit limit issued on the card will relate to the credit history and rating of your business, rather than you as an individual.
Business credit cards are a type of unsecured lending, so the interest rates can be considerably higher than other forms of lending.
Credit cards can help with managing cash flow for your start-up, but they are unlikely to be the best source of funding for scaling the business due to the higher interest rates.
To apply for a business credit card, you will already need to be a customer of the bank and be able to show a proven track record in terms of revenue for your business. As a fresh start-up, it is also difficult to apply for a business credit card as you have no credit history.
Pros: Helpful for business cashflow rather than business growth.
Cons: Higher interest rates than other forms of lending.
Start-up loans are usually offered to new start-ups or businesses that have been trading for less than two years. To qualify for these loans, you must have a robust business plan, lenders like detail so include your research, details of exactly what you will be spending the money on and include a financial forecast of when and how you will make the repayments.
Pros: Designed specifically for start-ups. Start-up loans tend to be unsecured, so you don't have to risk any personal assets (like your home) as security. However, please check as this is not always the case.
Cons: This is a personal loan that is used for business. This means you are personally liable for the repayments.
A guaranteed loan is a loan that is guaranteed by a third party, which essentially means if you as the start-up cannot repay the loan, the third party guarantees they will for you. The third-party effectively takes the risk on behalf of the start-up. These loans tend to be used by early stage businesses with a poor or no credit history
Third parties or guarantors fall into several categories:
- a personal guarantor is an individual, usually a friend or family member who guarantees to repay the loan
- a bank guarantee
- a financial guarantee, which is like a bank guarantee, but offered by a specialised insurance business
For example, the UK government offer a range of Government-backed business loans. The range of loans backed by the Government varies depending on the economic climate; currently, due to coronavirus, small businesses can borrow between £2,000 and £50,000 on an interest-free basis for the first 12 months.
Pros: Reduced interest rates compared to other lending options.
Cons: Be careful who you use as your guarantor, if you can’t repay the loan, think of the impact on your relationship.
Short term loans
Short term loans, better known as payday loans may seem like an attractive way to secure the finance you need to get your start-up off the ground, especially if your credit rating means more traditional methods of raising finance are not accessible to you.
These loans, as the name suggests, are short term, initially designed to keep you going until payday. The money you borrow is paid directly into your bank account, at the end of the month, or on 'payday' you repay the loan plus the interest. There are now other payday loan options and you can borrow money over a slightly more extended period, in the region of three months.
However, the one thing that all these short-term loans have in common is extremely high interest rates. The average annual percentage rate (APR) of these types of loans is 1,500% compared to a credit card with an average annual percentage interest rate of 22.8%.
The FCA regulates payday loans; under the law, the cost is capped, so you will never have to pay back more than twice what you borrowed. If you decide to go down this route, check the FCA regulates your lender.
Use this approach with extreme caution, if you can't afford something this month, will you be able to find the extra money the following month, plus the interest that will have been added? You will need to be expecting extra income or to reduce your costs considerably to make this work.
Pros: Easy to access. They have fewer requirements than other lenders.
Cons: Extremely high interest rates. You can quickly get into debt.
Peer to peer investment loans
We will cover peer to peer (P2P) in the context of crowdfunding later, but many people talk about peer to peer lending in its own right.
Peer to peer loans tend to be unsecured and offer an alternative to borrowing money from a bank or building society. Peer to peer loans all happen through a peer to peer network or marketplace, where the platform matches people or businesses who need to borrow money to those willing to lend it. Unlike with a traditional loan, rather than borrowing from one source, peer to peer lending means you borrow from a group of people, and the peer to peer platform facilitates this – hence why it is sometimes referred to as a crowdfunding model.
To access these funds for your start-up, you would need to register with one of the platforms. You will be asked to provide your businesses financial details, turnover, profit, history and statements as evidence; you'll also be asked what the loan will be used for. If you pass stage one of the process, your details will be released for potential investors to see on the platform, each of these investors could offer smaller amounts, which collectively add up to make the full loan amount requested.
Peer to peer loans can be used by almost any business or start-up needing help to raise finance. As with any loan, monthly repayments are put in place, the interest rates vary significantly with P2P lending, but it tends to be more favourable than more traditional means.
Please be aware, not all peer to peer business loans are unsecured. If you default on a peer to peer loan, the lender could pass the loan on to a debt collection agency which could affect your credit rating and limit your business if you require further investment.
Peer to peer platforms are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). There is also the peer2peer Finance Association (P2PFA) which is the industry body for peer to peer investments.
Pros: Quick to set up. The interest rates can be considerably lower.
Cons: To access the best deals, you need an excellent credit history.
A business incubator is an organisation that helps start-ups by providing the resources they need to get their business off the ground or to help it grow. This includes practical resources like shared office spaces and mentors, but many are also able to offer introductions to investors and/or seed funding.
Incubators can be commercial organisations, venture capitalists, universities or not-for-profit organisations. For each, you have to ensure you fit the criteria and apply to join their incubator programme.
It's worth noting that business incubators do not accept every business that applies to join their programme, like any organisation or individual who invests in your business, they will consider the financial risks to them and the likely return on their investment. In return for the assistance, mentoring and access to their network, business incubators will often take an equity percentage or stake in your business.
Pros: You do get access to a lot of helpful resources, networks and information that you wouldn't necessarily get with some other lending routes.
Cons: You will likely have to give up a percentage of your business to secure the funding.
Still, start-ups must understand the different crowdfunding options and the impact each may have on their business finances. Crowdfunding, as the name suggests, involves a 'crowd' or group of people who all invest in your business or idea.
There are three types of crowdfunding arrangement:
Reward-based crowdfunding is the type of crowdfunding most people are familiar with. It's the approach used by Kickstarter, Indigogo and many other crowdfunding platforms. The platforms each offer a slightly different approach, but as a rule, you 'pitch' your idea or business via the platform to mini investors, they in turn pledge money to your idea or project, the pledges start from around £5 or $5.
The more people pledge, the higher the reward they receive in return, for example, a £5 pledge, may get a thank you mention on social media, but a £100 pledge might get a 10% discount on the product or service when it launches.
This approach tends to attract mini investors rather than serious investors. Still, it is great for getting ideas and inventions off the ground and for giving you a customer base before your product even launches.
As part of your pitch, you have to specify the amount you are looking to raise to get your project started. On Kickstarter, you only get to access the pledges if your project reaches its financial goal. However, this is not the same across the board, so research the platform that best suits your requirements before you get started. It is also worth noting that each of the platforms takes a fee either on your project as a whole, or a transaction fee on the pledges.
Please be aware, reward-based crowdfunding is not regulated in the UK, EU or USA.
Another, lesser-known form of crowdfunding follows the same principles as reward-based crowdfunding, but instead of being rewarded with discounts or early access, each of the investors takes some equity in the business. This, of course, means they will be financially rewarded if this business does well, but equally, if the company fails, they would lose their investment.
For example, if you are willing to give away 20% equity in your business for £100,000, then you may get one investor who gives you the full amount, or you may find many investors offer smaller amounts for a share of the 20% equity in the business. You could have ten investors all investing £10,000 each and each owning 2% of your business.
There are equity share crowdfunding platforms to facilitate this approach, for example, Crowdfunder and Seedrs.
In the UK, equity-based crowdfunding is a regulated activity under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. In the US, like the UK, reward-based crowdfunding is unregulated, but equity-based crowdlending or crowd-investing must comply with the registration and prospectus requirements of the Securities Act of 1933.
Peer to peer
Peer to peer crowdfunding is also known as loan-based crowdfunding or debt-based funding. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulates it.
Peer to peer crowdfunding is more like a loan, but rather than a traditional loan from one lender, usually a bank, you borrow or crowd-borrow from a group of people. In the same way, other crowdfunding platforms work, these investors get to pick who they want to work with and invest in, and they agree on an interest rate that works for both parties. If the business cannot repay the loan, the investor loses out, but if the loan is repaid, the investor makes a return on their investment through the interest paid.
The peer to peer approach works best for start-ups that are already generating some income so they can afford the monthly repayments. It also helps to have a reliable financial forecast and revenue model to attract investors.
Funding Circle and Growth Street are a couple of the best-known platforms for this approach.
Pros: Favourable interest rates and shorter decision times compared to other forms of lending.
Cons: You often need a trading history or some kind of security.
Venture capital funds tend to be invested in businesses with a strong potential for growth because of the product and/or the people driving the business. This type of investment is not just about the product; the entrepreneur driving the business is also key to securing this type of funding.
Many global brands utilised venture capital funding early on in their business, possibly the most well-known being Google and Facebook.
Venture capital investment gives you not only the financial assistance you need to help grow your business but also access to business advisers and mentors who have the experience and knowledge to open doors for you using their contacts and distribution networks. A venture capital fund is pooled money from many investors. The fund is invested and managed on their behalf.
If you choose the venture capital funding route, it is worth noting that in most cases, the venture capitalist will require a percentage of the business in return for their investment, which will dilute the ownership of your business. In many cases, this can be a minority share, but the percentage varies greatly depending on the current value of the company, the projected value of the company and the investment required for further growth.
To gain VC investment, you will have to pitch your business to a panel of business advisers. Before you get ready to pitch, think, research and understand exactly what the investors will be looking for from you as an entrepreneur and your business or idea. You need to understand your business model inside out; you need to be ready to answer questions around the type of business you are looking to grow, is it a lifestyle business or is the vision to grow it to become a public company? What is the short-term vision, and what are the steps you'll take to get there? What are your personal values, and how will those be reflected in the business? And what do you know about the marketplace and the competition?
There are hundreds of investors to choose from. It's important to ensure you are pitching to the right ones, research their reputation and their current investment portfolio, it is unlikely they will invest if they have a direct competitor to your business already. However, they may already invest in companies that could complement or help your business grow; this would be a good indication that they understand the landscape you're trying to sell into.
While researching the investment company, don't forget to look at and research the individuals you'd potentially be working with, these people are smart, intelligent business people, and you need to build a rapport with them from the outset.
However, don't go for information overload in your first pitch meeting. At this stage, you're looking to impress enough that you are invited back for a second meeting, but don't forget, this is a two-way approach, you need to feel comfortable with the people and the terms. If you don't or have any doubt, walk away and find investment elsewhere.
Venture capital investment is regulated, however, since Brexit, the rules have been updated, so it is worth checking the latest legislation on "The Venture Capital Funds (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019" directly on the Government’s website.
Pros: Access to funding and experienced business entrepreneurs who have a vested interest in helping the business succeed.
Cons: You will dilute the ownership of your business.
The terms offered by angel investors tend to be more palatable than other forms of investment. An angel investor's stake in the business might be no more than 30%.
As with venture capital investment, angel investors are looking to invest in not only the product or service but also the entrepreneur. It is up to the individual investor how much money they are willing to invest, but in most angel investment deals, the investment is between £10,000 and £500,000. Larger deals are becoming more common using angel investment syndicates (a group of angels).
Angel investors tend to be successful business people, who, as part of their investment, offer guidance and support to start-ups to help the business grow. They are very hands-on in helping your business succeed. So, as with other types of investment, it is essential to research the person you'd be working with, not just chase the cash injection.
Angel investment is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 requires that angels self-certify as a sophisticated investor or high net worth individual.
Pros: Access to valuable business advice from someone with a vested interest in helping the business to grow.
Cons: You dilute ownership of your business.
Seed funding is the very first stage of raising equity finance. It many cases this funding is spent on research and product development. Seed funding isn't an investment model in its own right; many seed funders are those we have already discussed - incubators, angel and venture capital investors.
The most well-known of these is hire purchase with business vehicles, where you spread the cost of paying for a vehicle and at the end of the payment term you own the vehicle if all repayments have been made. It is possible to do this with all sorts of assets for your business, including commercial premises, machinery, fleets of vehicles and catering equipment. For lots of equipment, you have the option to rent the machinery for a set period and at the end of that period, you can upgrade, give it back or pay to own the equipment. Depending on the terms of your contract, this has benefits, as you are often not responsible for the equipment in terms of maintenance and servicing or fixing any issues that arise.
Another alternative way to raise finance is to use any assets you already have. This is known as asset refinancing. It is where you use the assets you have as a guarantee you will repay a loan. Lenders will lend around 80 percent of the value of your asset.
Pros: You can spread the cost of your initial business outlay.
Cons: You won’t own the equipment you rely on for your business.
There isn't much written about the pros and cons of using debt funding as a source of finance for your start-up, perhaps because most lending falls under this term. The majority of blogs concentrate on equity financing, including venture capital and angel investors, both of which mean you have to give up a percentage of your business to have access to the finance.
Debt funding or debt financing is a loan. It is a loan where you make repayments and therefore, do not dilute the equity of your business. The most common form of debt funding is a bank loan. However, many of the options we have already discussed come under this umbrella term including equipment loans, unsecured business loans and start-up loans.
Bonds are another form of debt financing, where a business or start-up sells fixed interest bonds to an investor to raise the finance needed to accelerate the business growth. The bond market can be a confusing one to navigate but think of a bond as an IOU. If you are considering this option, we'd recommend you seek professional advice to ensure you know what you are signing up to.
Pros: You don’t dilute the ownership of your business.
Cons: Loans available can be secured, so you can negatively affect your credit rating.
In 2018 responsible finance providers lent a total of £254 million to start-ups and social enterprises across the UK and perhaps more importantly, 14,430 jobs were created or saved with the support of responsible finance.
In the same way, like many other lenders, community development finance institutes offer more than just financial resources; they can also provide business mentoring and advice specific to your region.
The funding for community development finance institutions is raised through a variety of means including corporate social responsibility schemes, local authorities, European Development Funds and charitable foundations.
As a start-up, you can apply for funding via a community development finance institute or responsible finance lender. You are likely to be more successful in securing finance if your start-up benefits the local community, this could be in terms of creating local job opportunities or enhancing the local economy. It is important to ensure your project or business has a positive social impact in your region before applying for these schemes.
The industry body for these institutes is Responsible Finance. However, this is an industry body rather than a regulator. Many community development finance institutes are FCA accredited and authorised. However, it is worth noting that some CDFI's activities do not fall under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 so are not regulated.
Pros: Access to business advisers who understand your region.
Cons: Not a viable option if your start-up has no social impact on your local region.
There are over 150 grants available to start-ups businesses in the UK these range from Government grants to regional grants and grants for specific sectors or activities. There are even more in the USA, with federal grants, state grants, local grants, grants for veterans, the list goes on.
The number of grants available to start-ups and small businesses fluctuates depending on the economic climate. For example, the pandemic means there is more financial support than ever to help enterprises survive and thrive. Many grants are only available to businesses in a particular region or sector or for specific activities, like eco-changes or creating jobs in the local area. Please be aware; there is a crucial difference between a grant and a loan. A loan you have to repay, with a grant, you are not expected to return the money.
The Prince’s Trust
To date, the Prince's Trust has helped over 86,000 young entrepreneurs get their business idea off the ground. As well as funding loans of up to £5,000, they also offer training and mentoring for 18-30-year-olds based in the UK through their enterprise programme.
In response to the COVID-19 situation, the Prince's Trust, working with Natwest have set up an enterprise relief fund which offers grants to both self-employed individuals and small businesses owned by those aged 18-30.
Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS)
The Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme is one of four Government backed venture capital schemes for businesses and social enterprises aimed squarely at seed stage business. It is a popular choice for small businesses because many equity-based funding options like angel investors or venture capital providers can consider start-ups too high risk. Through the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) there are many tax benefits to investors which can make your business a more viable and attractive opportunity for them.
The key benefit of SEIS for start-ups is the accessibility to raise funds of to £150,000 from sources that would perhaps be unavailable or hard to secure. Your business can apply to the share scheme if you are UK based, have been trading for less than two years, have fewer than 25 employees, you are not trading on any stock exchanges, and you do not control any other businesses. You must agree that the SEIS shares will be used for developing or growing your business, not be used to acquire another company and the money raised by the shares will be spent within three years of them being issued.
Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS)
Another option available to growing start-up businesses is an Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) which is another venture capital scheme backed by the Government. The same as for Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) the scheme offers potential investors tax reliefs if they buy shares in your business.
The key difference for EIS over SEIS is you can raise up to £5m each year and a maximum of £12m across the lifetime of the business – which includes any other funds raised through other venture capital schemes. There is also a different criteria for businesses to apply to the EIS scheme, for example, companies cannot have been trading for more than seven years, and they must have fewer than 250 employees to qualify.
In the growth of a start-up, many businesses choose to raise funds through a Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) first, before moving on to an Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS). It is possible to raise funds under both schemes at the same time.
Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR)
The third type of venture capital scheme backed by the Government is the Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR). The key difference with this scheme is that the funding raised must be used for a community interest company, community benefit society or a charity.
As with the other schemes under this venture capital umbrella, there are attractive tax breaks of up to 30% for investors.
Social Investment Tax Relief gives charities and social enterprises the chance to raise finance that is unsecured, and very flexible with up to 3 years before repayments start.
The Community Investment Tax Relief (CITR)
Community Investment Tax Relief is designed to offer funding and finance options to SMEs and social enterprises that are operating in communities in disadvantaged areas.
Like the other Government initiatives, the scheme offers tax breaks of up to 25% to investors for investing in accredited Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs).
Innovate UK is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. Innovate UK offers grants and funding across a range of innovation areas including agriculture, biosciences, digital health and space technology.
If your start-up falls into an appropriate category, you can search for funding competitions on the Innovate UK website. Each competition allows businesses to apply for a share of a funding amount. The criteria to apply differs depending on the competition you are applying to; please check you are eligible before you apply. There are set closing dates for each competition. For example, a current live competition allows businesses to apply for a share of up to £1 billion investment in R&D projects.
R&D Tax Relief
The research and development tax relief is a government scheme which rewards companies that invest in innovations.
Suppose your start-up or seed business is pursuing innovation. In that case, it is a beneficial source of financial support toward costs associated with your R&D and consequently, the continued growth and success of your company.
Your business may be eligible for R&D tax relief if you have fewer than 500 employees and a turnover of less than 100 million euros.
There are 38 LEPs across England, all of which are partnerships between the local authority and local businesses. Each Local Enterprise Partner can offer advice to help you launch or grow your business, give you access to other business opportunities and facilitate peer to peer networks to help you connect with potential colleagues, suppliers and clients.
To see what grants and support is available to your start-up, you will need to go to your local LEP or Growth Hub's website, which can all be found here.
As you can see, there are literally hundreds of options for funding your start-up business. Please use caution and research each funding option carefully before making any decisions, and if you are unsure, always seek professional advice.
If you need any guidance or legal expertise on setting up your business, please speak to our corporate lawyers, who will be able to guide you through all the legal elements of structuring your business and raising finance.