“Crowdfunding is not a quick and easy solution, but it can be incredibly rewarding” says Paul Hughes, Head of Venture Development at Allia’s Future Business Centre. On 23 January 2017, he will deliver his insights into crowdfunding, at Agri-Tech East’s ‘Show Me The Money! Focus on Funding’ event in Cambridge.
Crowdfunding uses smaller individual amounts of capital from the general public to finance a new business venture. We spoke with Paul about his top tips for crowdfunding, Allia’s support service and what advances he hopes to see from the agri-tech sector…
Allia Ltd is a not-for-profit organisation, supporting businesses dedicated to making a positive social impact. One of the organisation’s areas of activities includes the Future Business Centre – a purpose-built workspace and hub for impact enterprises. Workspace and enterprise support services are provided for ventures at any stage and across various industries, including agri-tech, healthcare and IoT.
Business beyond profit
“My role is to lead the Serious Impact programme, supporting aspiring entrepreneurs, current entrepreneurs or scaling SMEs,” says Paul.
Allia has an inherent set of values, directing its services at those who set up ‘a business beyond profit’: “Fundamentally, we work with entrepreneurs who set up businesses not solely for profit, but to achieve a positive impact as well.”
The Future Business Centre (the venue for the Agri-Tech East event) also has a facility in Peterborough, where innovators are provided with prototyping and product design support, as well as business advice. For example, the Innovation Lab has a drone system that entrepreneurs can loan for trials, without the expense of purchasing a £10,000 drone.
“Ultimately for us, if businesses grow and create more employment, that creates a positive impact on society,” says Paul. “Our impact is creating employment and new businesses, which will then benefit society moving forwards.”
The positive impact of Agri-Tech
Having previously worked in the agri-tech sector (US agri-business investment banking and at a global tissue culturing business) Paul feels an affinity for the field.
He says: “The agri-tech sector embodies the positive impacts we can make, whether locally or globally – it’s what Agri-Tech East is all about. If we can get more efficient food production, lower chemicals and lower use of water, we will improve society. I want cleaner products, less chemicals and a better planet.”
Paul is also a mentor for Agri-Tech East’s GROW business planning competition which aims to find the next level of entrepreneurs, whether dealing with hardware, software or translational research.
Crowdfunding – not for amateurs
Paul’s presentation at Agri-Tech East’s ‘Funding’ Pollinator will focus on ‘Crowdfunding,’ and assist delegates on putting theory into practice.
He says: “Crowdfunding is not a single solution for fundraising. It is one of many strategies and it is not right for everybody.”
Crowdfunding uses smaller individual amounts of capital from the general public to finance a new business venture. By using social media and websites, campaigns no longer have to rely on traditional sources of finance such as venture capitalists.
“It’s not just a case of throwing something on a website,” warns Paul. “You have to work incredibly hard for people to give you their hard-earned money and there is no guarantee you will be successful.
“However, it does allow you to have direct relationships with investors, whether they are large or small – and they will probably have a real interest in your success. For example, they may be farmers themselves and would love the opportunity to help test your product and use it in the future.”
While many are familiar with the concept of crowdfunding, it can be difficult to take those first steps. At Allia Future Business Centre clients receive support to help them decide which platforms might be appropriate, how to prepare and execute a crowdfunding campaign, and plan for the future if they are successful. It is rarely used in early stage development; the strategy is more relevant to a late stage pre-market product, when people are able to recognise the market opportunity being presented.
“Before deciding to take this route, you should attend crowdfunding events or talk to crowdfunding platforms – they will all try to help signpost” advises Paul. “Allia can also help you. If you want to get on a crowdfunding platform, many have specialisations. I can pick up the phone and connect you to with an appropriate platform such as SyndicateRoom, for example.”
“So while investing in crowdfunding is not for amateurs, it does mean that your friends and family can put in £50 and feel an affinity to your product.”
To hear Paul’s top tips for crowdfunding and more, please click here to register.