On 14th November, Sussex Innovation hosted Florence Hubert from the Bank of England to deliver the Bank’s regular monetary policy briefing for business owners. Following an off-the-record presentation looking at financial trends in the UK in 2023 and their impact on business, Florence joined a panel of experts for a discussion and Q&A on the challenge of financing growth.

The panel, chaired by Sussex Innovation’s Deputy CEO Claire Pasquill, included Florence alongside Tom Willis (CEO of Shoreham Port), Roderick Beer (MD of the UK Business Angels Association) and Louise Chen (Senior Lecturer in Finance at the University of Sussex Business School).

Although parts of this discussion must be kept confidential, this article includes a few of the top tips that were shared in the room.

Don’t seek investment if you’re not prepared to risk anything yourself. Roderick Beer pointed out that most angel investors are looking for a partner to put as much on the line as they would be by handing over money. Although there is a sliding scale of risk depending on the assets of the business owner, any investor would ask serious questions about the commitment of an entrepreneur who has not put any of their own money into their business.

Grant funding isn’t just ‘free money’. Although grant funding doesn’t directly cost the founder or the business anything, it can often have restrictions and costs associated with it. Projects usually need to fit a specific brief, which may take the business in the wrong strategic direction and take significant time and resources to achieve.

Where will lenders get security against your loan? Debt funding is an agreement to receive an immediate injection of capital and pay back a greater sum of money later. As such, there is significant risk involved if the business fails to meet its growth expectations. Start-up founders may consider offering a personal guarantee (i.e. a promise to repay the debt themselves if the business can’t), or could look into the British Business Bank’s Enterprise Finance Guarantee if they have insufficient funds to offer security against the loan.

Investors can offer more than money in exchange for equity. Equity funding involves giving away part of the business, and usually some element of control over its strategy too. The most beneficial investment deals bring experience, expertise or contacts that are lacking within the business, but there is often an expectation that the business should already have some traction in the market.

Crowdfunding takes time, traction and lots of marketing. Crowdfunding is not as simple as it may appear from the outside. It is hugely important to have plenty of customers lined up and willing to pay before launching a crowdfunding campaign, or it is extremely unlikely to succeed. Most campaigns fail if they don’t raise between 30-50% of funds in the first few days; that means you already need to know where this money is coming from before you launch.

Don’t restrict the number of banks you talk to. Tom Willis shared his experiences of seeking a financial partnership for Shoreham Port, and counselled against the common mistake of arranging meetings with a handful of banks; “a bank manager will always meet with you because that’s their job. It doesn’t mean that they will have any interest in your offer, and that means lots of wasted time and effort on your part.”

Tom suggested that a better approach is to put together a very short presentation deck of 2-3 pages, outlining the financial argument for your business and what you are asking for, then distributing that document as far and wide as possible. That way, banks can make a decision about whether they are interested before arranging a meeting.

No-one knows what the future holds for small business finance. The only certainty for now is that the future remains uncertain. 2024 will see a general election, and potentially a new government. The panel agreed that businesses can expect very little funding to be available in the 2-3 months leading up to election day – as lenders and funding bodies wait for new policies to be unveiled and brought into law, they are unlikely to risk being caught out by something unexpected. As frustrating as it may be, the only viable approach will be to “wait and see”.

If you’re seeking finance for your business, get in touch to find out more about the grant funding available for your sector, or apply to pitch to our angel investment service.