This was an opportunity for a number of organisations to share how they were involved in supporting entrepreneurship in business and also their insights into the current funding environment. The speakers were:
This session started with each panellist ‘pitching’ some of the offers of support to business in the West Midlands that they were involved with. Whilst not a comprehensive listing, these are some starting points for support for innovative entrepreneurs:
- The NatWest Accelerator
- University of Birmingham SME support
- Innovation Birmingham/ Birmingham Sci-Tech support programmes
- The Help to Grow programme available at Aston and other regional universities
- Innovate UK Loans and other wide-ranging support
After each had introduced themselves and their organisations, the focus turned to funding. Henry explained that the investment landscape is strong, and that funding is available at almost every stage of the business lifecycle, apart from the very earliest stage. This was attributed to investors looking to protect their existing portfolio. Following on from this Susanne shared that there were record amounts of funding being made available as industry struggles to mitigate against the massive disruption to the supply chains. The emphasis was on innovating our way out of the crisis and there was also some practical advice shared on accessing funding. Pam and John both highlighted the need to network to find out what was available but there was also caution that it is difficult to navigate the offerings. Make the most of the signposting available through organisations such as Growth Hubs. (I should also mention at this point that if you come along to any of the Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands Working Groups that are relevant to your business you will find help connecting into organisation that will support you.) Michael also explained that working with the university can be a way to develop a relationship over time and find out other routes to funding that supports knowledge transfer.
One group of investors that was specifically discussed was the Angels. In this case wealthy individuals looking to invest their own money, often found through word of mouth. As such another reason for building your network. You need to be prepared to ask people to invest in your company or to introduce you to someone else that might be interested. The past couple of years has caused many people to revaluate their careers and lifestyles with the result that more Angels investors have appeared, however, some have less cash to invest as living costs increase. In all cases when looking for investment make sure that the type of arrangement suits the business, it’s not just a case of equity, and make sure you take time to develop a solid value proposition. Again, there is support to help you develop your pitch.
The session finished up by considering what the panel would like to see done to help improve the region and its innovation support. There were votes for developing clusters with peer support networks, especially in Life Sciences and Food sectors. There was also a call for the region to make more of the successes we have as they can get lost in the noise. We need to celebrate our innovations. (If you want to share your successes get in touch about adding it to the Innovation Tracker.) We were also asked to play a part by providing help in terms of feedback to the support organisations, to enable them to be more approachable and to increase inclusion. Finally, we were reminded that when building a business case there is an opportunity to bring in social benefits rather than purely focusing on financial returns.
Author, Liz McArdle
Virtual Innovation Team Lead, Manufacturing and Innovation Manager; WMG, University of Warwick