As a nation, we are renowned for our thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. Despite the challenges of recent years, figures show that venture capital investment in the United Kingdom hit a record £26bn in 2021 (with £626.9m of that coming in Scotland) according to the KPMG Venture Pulse Survey, published in January.
This will come as little surprise to those who work closely with start-ups and scale-ups.
At Shepherd and Wedderburn, our corporate team was involved in several of the largest technology transactions in Scotland last year.
This included agri-tech firm Intelligent Growth Solutions raising over £42m in growth funding to expand its sustainable farming practices and the acquisition of adtech TVSquared by US-listed Innovid, in a deal worth around $160m, which will see the TVSquared ad measurement and attribution platform play a central role in Innovid’s global business going forward.
What makes us a nation of entrepreneurs?
We have direct access to essential ingredients required for an attractive and ambitious entrepreneurial ecosystem: talent; mentorship; incubators and accelerators; and early stage funding.
Innovative start-ups have access to – and frequently spin out from – world-renowned universities with a pool of bright, promising graduates and leading researchers, and are well served by incubators and accelerators, which frequently offer mentorship as part of their overall packages.
For instance, ORE Catapult’s Launch Academy, supported by Shepherd and Wedderburn, is a national technology accelerator programme for the offshore wind industry, designed to enhance the UK’s offshore wind supply chain, enable greater content and support cost reduction through innovation.
The challenges of scaling up
That said, our ecosystem does not always adequately support our promising start-ups through the scale-up stage and beyond, so that they progress to become blossoming, well-established small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and even unicorns.
Sustaining continued momentum in the face of economic uncertainty, a backdrop of historically high inflation and the rising cost of living will be no mean feat for the start-up community.
Not to mention the additional challenge faced by every start-up: scaling up. Entrepreneurs and their fledgling businesses must navigate tricky questions and take difficult decisions that will inevitably determine the speed and scale of growth they subsequently enjoy.
Being unprepared and missing a key funding opportunity or entrance to market could prove extremely costly, while overreaching by expanding too rapidly could mean they are left to pick up the pieces if the landscape shifts.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer. The right journey for each business depends on factors ranging from personnel, mentorship, training and capacity to timing, consumer behaviour and market movement, to name a few.
For that reason, it has arguably never been more important for start-ups and scale-ups to seek experienced, reliable advice from experts embedded within the community.
Now is not the time for the ecosystem to rest; instead, it is the time for those active in the community to ask, “what more can we do to support our entrepreneurs?”
Business of the future
Supporting the nation’s start-up and scale-up community means investing in the business titans of the future, stimulating economic growth, encouraging innovation and creating employment opportunities. Together we can achieve even more.
Shepherd and Wedderburn’s corporate team combines industry knowledge and extensive experience with technical expertise, and is on hand to assist businesses at all stages of their growth journey.
The team’s Start to Scale initiative (see panel), comprising written guides, video content and in-person events, addresses some of the specific challenges affecting start-ups and spin-outs throughout their lifecycle to give entrepreneurs the insight they need to scale.
Panel: Start to Scale: Shepherd and Wedderburn’s commitment to support the ecosystem
Our Start to Scale Essentials article series addresses some of the specific challenges affecting start-ups and spin-outs throughout their lifecycle.
As part of the series, we will cover essential legal topics such as:
- what to consider in a founders’ agreement
- why and how to protect intellectual property
- what to expect when heading into an investment round
- how to go about hiring staff to grow your business
- considerations when setting up an employee share scheme
- how to prepare for an exit.
These are essential building blocks for any founder.
Through our support of many entrepreneurs, we appreciate that an understanding of the legals of running a high growth business is important, but access to other experienced entrepreneurs, funders and other key figures in the ecosystem is invaluable.
Tapping into that experience, and insight, can be transformative and it is exactly what we are going to be facilitating in our upcoming Start to Scale Insights video Q+A series.
For the Scottish ecosystem to flourish, we need more market square events, which bring the best of the international community to our shores.
It is for this reason that we will be bringing a number of high profile events to Scotland as part of our Start to Scale Social series.
This will include events with the European Super Angels Club and a Titans of Tech event with GP Bullhound.
These events will bring international investors, scale-ups and the business community together to focus on supporting, and celebrating, the next generation of Scottish scale-ups.
Investment journey: Dr Kate Cameron
Dr Kate Cameron is founder and chief executive at Cytochroma, which manufactures genetically diverse stem cell models to address the lack of females and ethnic minorities in drug development. The company’s vision is to eliminate adverse drug reactions, reduce the need for animal testing and enhance clinical success in a global population. She answers questions about raising investment.
How did you find raising your first investment round in Scotland?
Raising my first investment round was definitely challenging as it was early in lockdown. There was uncertainty and it is more difficult to gauge audience interest when you can’t see them.
Online video conferencing did make it easier to join angel syndicates from Scotland and England. We’re very happy to be supported by three fantastic groups – Angel Academe, Investing Women and Cambridge Capital.
What advice would you pass on to other founders embarking on their first finance round?
Start early, meet with lots of investors and ensure you have good lawyers.
What qualities did you look for in your investors?
A good network of industry connections, sector and investment experience, and the capacity to devote their time to help Cytochroma grow.
Investing Women have been brilliant, they provided online trade missions to Germany and California and a variety of mentoring and workshops throughout lockdown.
Angel Academe are great at promoting founders’ success, have provided lots of quality advice and been really supportive. It’s great to know you have a team of people who believe in you and the company.
How has the investment transformed your business?
Our first round of investment was critical in our success. We’ve leveraged the seed funding to secure a large Innovative UK grant. Bringing our non-dilutive funding to around £1 million.
The most recent grant to manufacture ethnically diverse mini-hearts has effectively doubled our product offering. We’ve also grown the team to six and expanded our facilities at Roslin Innovation Centre.
We’ve transformed operations, capacity and funding has enabled me to focus more on business development which has been a new and enjoyable challenge.
What more could the business ecosystem do to support founders like you?
In-person events are important to early stage companies to support, advise and inspire new entrepreneurs. It’s been great to see others succeed and to support each other again.
I think Scotland needs to do more to support growing life science businesses. We need larger funds if we are to keep business here, it’s disheartening to think we have to move elsewhere to get the support we need. Visiting investors in the US this summer made me realise we are on a different scale from them and we must do more to compete.
Scotland’s business ecosystem is great for supporting businesses early on but must do more to support Scottish talent and retain companies as they grow to ensure we don’t lose them to countries that offer more support.