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Is Now A Good Time To Raise

Overall, Crunchbase is showing 521 recorded raises in Q2 for UK-based startups at preseed to Series A, with total investment of over £1B. Compared to the same period in 2019 (which was a record-breaking one), that’s a volume drop of 69%, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t money out there - many startups will have voluntarily decided to delay starting a round due to the pandemic, which will contribute to the lower numbers. Across Europe, the first half of 2020 still beat the same period in 2018 by more than a billion dollars and investments into the UK market were still more than double that of Germany, the next highest European market.

There’s also been a focus on follow-on investing, with investors supporting existing startups to weather the storm, rather than quite as many new rounds as we’d normally see.
Angels – When it comes to Angel investment, there is definitely still money out there – our clients are certainly still bringing money in via this means – and interestingly, the Angel Investment Network are reporting increased focus from Angels on sustainable investment since COVID struck.

Venture Capital – VCs have money now that has been committed to funds and they are required to invest it; longer term we might see less money coming into VCs as institutions tighten their belts, which means you’re better off raising sooner rather than later, while the money is available (providing, of course, that your startup is actually ‘investor ready’ and at the right point in its trajectory to raise).
In the crowdfunding world, Crowdcube are reporting really positive results for Q2, with 59 businesses funded (9% up on Q1, and importantly, a 16% increase on the same period in 2019). They also saw the amount invested increase by 25% versus Q1 2020. These results were across a mix of raises from startup to later stage, with 7 companies raising over £1million. Raises also covered everything from financial service products to new TV channels and sporting goods.

With a pretty bullish investment market (considering the circumstances), using the summer to prep for an autumn raise makes a lot of sense – if you get your preparation right, you can run a smooth raise and ensure you have required funds in the bank before conversations turn to Christmas dinner.

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UK Startup Investor Temperature Check Survey

Spark! is delighted to announce the new UK Startup Investor Temperature Check Survey and Report

Targeted at the world of startup investment and developed in response to the high speed of change in our markets and the world in general, the Investor Temperature Check Survey and Report is different to many other startup reports in three ways:

1) Biannual Survey and Report: Due to the rapidly changing nature of our markets, technology and the extraordinary chain of events in 2020 so far, we feel that Annual Reports on the startup ecosystem are no longer sufficient. The Spark! Investor Temperature Check Survey will be issued to Investors every six months, at the end of H1 and H2. The Report will be compiled from the data received and will also be issued on a biannual basis, providing startups and other stakeholders across the ecosystem with transparency investment thinking.

2) Cross-Investor Survey: Many surveys and reports focus on single types of investors – Angels or CVCs or VCs. At Spark! we feel the value is in understanding how different types of investors respond to the same questions, providing comparators that allow Startups and Scaleups to understand where best to focus their attention. To that end, the Survey has been issued to Angel Investors, Family Offices, VCs and CVCs across the UK

3) Tied directly to current world trends and events: Each time the Survey is issued, it will contain some new questions relating to key world events and trends that have happened in the previous 6 months. By gathering data on how these events have impacted investment strategies, we hope to bring further clarity and understanding to startups and scaleups across the UK.

 

To encourage participation, Spark! has committed to donate £1 for every completed survey to SafeSteps, a charity which supports women and children as they flee domestic abuse and build new lives.

The Survey can be completed here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/6CJQ5TB

All information provided in the survey is secured, and information will only be used as part of grouped statistical data, unless further permission is sought from the submitter.

Download this Press Release

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Spark! is delighted to announce that ‘Investor Ready’ Book is Out Now

Spark! is delighted to announce the new UK Startup Investor Temperature Check Survey and Report

London, 09 June 2020 – Spark! is delighted to announce that ‘Investor Ready’ the new book authored by our CEO, Julie Barber will be published by ReThink Press on 8th July this year.

Julie Barber is CEO at Spark! Consulting and has over 20 years’ experience in business innovation, transformation and winning funding from corporate boards.  She now brings her corporate experience to early stage companies through Spark!, working with startups and scaleups from pre-Seed to Series A to get them ‘Investor Ready’.

To be notified on launch day and get the opportunity to buy the Kindle edition for 99p, visit www.areyouinvestorready.co.uk and sign up to the pre-launch list.  You can also complete a free scorecard on the site, which will test how ‘Investor Ready’ you are and provides you with a full report of your answers at the end

Blank bookcover with clipping path

Investor Ready – The Guide for Startups on getting investors to say Yes

Getting investment is tough.  Competition is fierce.  There are new start-ups around every corner fighting for their slice of the pie.

For interviews and further press information, please email contact@spark-consulting.co.uk

Download this Press Release

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Spark CEO Launches Investor Ready Book

Spark! is delighted to announce the new UK Startup Investor Temperature Check Survey and Report

Spark! is delighted to announce that ‘Investor Ready’ the new book authored by our CEO, Julie Barber will be published by ReThink Press on 8th July this year.

Julie Barber is CEO at Spark! Consulting and has over 20 years’ experience in business innovation, transformation and winning funding from corporate boards. She now brings her corporate experience to early stage companies through Spark!, working with startups and scaleups from pre-Seed to Series A to get them ‘Investor Ready’.

To be notified on launch day and get the opportunity to buy the Kindle edition for 99p, visit www.areyouinvestorready.co.uk and sign up to the pre-launch list. You can also complete a free scorecard on the site, which will test how ‘Investor Ready’ you are and provides you with a full report of your answers at the end.

Investor Ready – The Guide for Startups on getting investors to say Yes

Getting investment is tough. Competition is fierce. There are new start-ups around every corner fighting for their slice of the pie.

In this book, Julie Barber shares her proven six-step process to showcase your company at its best and wow your potential investors.
The six steps of the Investor Ready Roadmap outlined in this book will enable you to:

  • Communicate your company Vision to investors
  • Ensure the Structure and Scalability of your start-up supports your Vision
  • Prove your Market fit and impact • Provide business Numbers that give investors confidence
  • Build your ideal Investor Profile and find investors who match it
  • Create a Pitch and Business Plan that will wow potential investors

The book is also crammed full of insights from top investors, including Angels, VCs, Corporate VCs and Crowdfunding Platforms.

For interviews and further press information, please email contact@spark-consulting.co.uk

Download this press release

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Black Lives Matter

When I saw the news of George Floyd’s killing, it was clear this would be a trigger for change – the groundswell of voices had already begun to rise. I’ve taken time this week to read, listen and think hard about both my own personal privilege and about what we do at Spark!. It has felt incredibly important to approach this subject with deep care and hasn’t been a response I wanted to rush into.

At Spark!, we sit at the joining point, the intersection, of Innovation and Finance, working between Startup Founders and Investors, both individual and institutional. From the Founder perspective, just 0.9% of European Tech Founders self-identify as Black/African/Caribbean (Atomico: 2019 State of European Tech Report) and those Founders make up only 0.5% of all founders who have raised external capital. On the other side of the table, the story is not much better: Diversity VC compiled a report in 2019 which showed that only 3% of the venture capital workforce identifies as Black, with 76% identifying as white. Angel investment tells a similar story – a joint report compiled by the British Business Bank and the UK Business Angels Association in 2018 revealed the typical profile of a Business Angel as male and white – with only 7% of Angels surveyed identifying as non-white.

While we definitely don’t have all the answers, and there is always more to do, I am proud of the measures we already have in place at Spark!. A year ago, I took the decision to formally align the business with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with the intention of focusing our contribution around Innovation and Inequality. What does that look like in reality?

  • I’m honoured to have recently joined the Board of Generation Success, a non-profit organisation that focuses on promoting diversity of talent in employment and enterprise, through mentoring, internships and graduate placements. I also mentor candidates directly and speak at their events to encourage young people from across the BAME community to see the opportunities in Entrepreneurship.
  • We donate 2% of all our revenue to a charity called SafeSteps, that helps women and children flee domestic abuse and build new lives. BAME and refugee women in particular experience higher rates of domestic homicide and are 3 times more likely to commit suicide than other women in the UK. 50% of BAME female victims of violence also experience abuse from multiple perpetrators (“Unequal Regard, Unequal protection” Report, Sisters for Change, 2017). Womens Aid is clear that “women from Black, Asian or minority ethnic communities are likely to face additional barriers to receiving the help that they need”.
  • I’m a Startup Mentor for the Royal Academy of Engineering, supporting startup entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds across the world to achieve success in their business.
  • It’s not just about what we do in-house, but what we do with our startup clients. As part of our work with each client, we audit their staff diversity and make recommendations for change. It is clear to us, and increasingly to investors, that the best businesses have workforce demographics that reflect their customer base. This is key in avoiding bias in tech builds and in customer support and we specifically work with our clients to drive business policies and controls which will ensure that they treat all their staff and customers fairly and without prejudice and that they hire from diverse talent pools. Startups have a unique opportunity to get this right from the beginning, and we feel this is one of the areas where we can make the biggest impact in ensuring the BAME community is properly represented.
  • We hire specifically with the aim of ‘lifting people up’ and providing opportunity that may not otherwise have been available. As yet, there is only one full-time employee plus me, but our plans for future FTE expansion over the next two years include continuing to hire from diverse talent pools and within that, particularly targeting people who might not be offered opportunity elsewhere, such as women who have been unemployed for long periods through childcare responsibilities and/or domestic abuse.

 

What can we do going forward? There are two initial areas of focus for us:

  • First, I’m committing to offering an internship to a Black future Entrepreneur who would like to learn from the inside out what it takes to successfully raise money for their business. We will release the details of this over the coming weeks.
  • Second, we are just about to launch the Spark! Investor Temperature Check Survey, which will be issued across individual and institutional investors alike, to get their read on the startup investment market in 2020. We are specifically including in that survey questions about investment in BAME Founders and changes investors might make to their selection processes as a result of #Blacklivesmatter. We hope to use this information to give startups and would-be entrepreneurs high quality information on how and where they can get the best support, whilst also encouraging investors across the spectrum to think about how they can do things differently.

As I said, it’s a start. Over the coming days and months, I’m sure there will be more things we can contribute to. If you have ideas on what else we might be able to achieve, either on our own as a small organisation or in partnership with others, please get in contact on julie.barber@sparkconulting.co.uk. I really want Spark! to be a beacon for helping entrepreneurs realise their dreams, no matter what their ethnicity, gender or background.

Julie Barber CEO, Spark! Consulting

You can also read this article in this PDF

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CEO appointed as Entrepreneur Coach

CEO Julie Barber has been appointed to be one of 10 Entrepreneur Coaches in the EMEA region

Spark! is delighted to announce that as part of the digital transformation of Dent Global, our CEO Julie Barber has been appointed to be one of 10 Entrepreneur Coaches in the EMEA region.

Julie joins 9 incredible people who run amazing national and international businesses, and who have all achieved great things since taking part in the Dent Key Person of Influence Accelerator.  The list of achievements in the coaching team include Olympic world records, the chairperson of Stanford University Angel Investors, best-selling books, PLC board level experience, PHDs, and award-winning technology projects.

Julie’s work as CEO and Founder of Spark! continues as usual.  This new role reflects the value she brings to Spark!, our clients and the wider business community.

Please join us in congratulating Julie and the other 9 incredible individuals who make up this elite group of Dent Coaches!

 

Spark! Consulting Ltd
Contact: Julie Barber
Phone: 07973 801682
Email: contact@spark-consulting.co.uk

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Returning to ‘Normal’ After Lockdown

Returning to ‘Normal’ After Lockdown

While we’re definitely not out of lockdown yet here in the UK, it’s important to turn your attention to how you return your company to ‘normal’ after this unprecedented period of change.  Just as every good company should have a Crisis Management Plan to govern how they behave during crisis, they should also have a ‘return to normal’ plan.

The simple truth in this instance is that you won’t be able to return to your old ‘normal’.  The impact of COVID-19 will be felt for years, if not forever, in the way businesses run.  The 6-9 months post-lockdown will see as much, if not more, change than we saw as we entered lockdown.  This change will manifest across two key themes: People and Money.

People

People management will be one of the highest priorities and time drains for businesses over the 6-9 months post-lockdown.  It isn’t as simple as opening the offices again and getting everyone back at their desks.

Furlough

Some staff will have been furloughed, and complex thought will be required about how to bring them out of furlough in a positive way; their employee rights to things like holiday need to be considered, as well as their mental health – furlough can feel much the same as redundancy.  For some staff, furlough may indeed turn into redundancy, if the company they work for cannot immediately regain its previous revenue.  If redundancy isn’t an issue, rebuilding your team might be – the daily rhythm has been lost and you may find the new rhythm that establishes is not the same as the old one.

Flexible Working

More people than ever before have been working from home during lockdown – and many people are finding that they really enjoy it.  Companies who previously said working from home was ‘not possible’ have proved it is and every company should expect to see a higher number of requests to work from home some or indeed all of the week.

Family

Those people who were in lockdown with their families may have treasured the extra time with their loved ones and find readjusting to office life hard – how can you support them?  Likewise, how you behaved as company leaders during lockdown will dictate your employees actions on their return – did you take account of their need to homeschool or look after elderly/sheltering relatives by finding and delivering food, or did you expect them to perform exactly as they do normally?

Retention

Just as the Christmas holidays and New Year always trigger a higher number of resignations and new job applications, so will the return from Lockdown – either because the period out of the office has allowed reflection, or because your company’s actions during lockdown have driven staff to want to leave.  This means extra cost for your business in new recruitment, plus the performance drop while new people are found, brought on board and trained.

Holidays

Many staff will have missed holidays and will be keen to take them as soon as travel bans are lifted – managing holiday requests fairly may seem like a minor thing but done poorly could foster resentment in your workforce.

Customers

How did you interact with and support your customers during lockdown?  Will they want to come back to you afterwards?  Did your customers learn to buy from you in a different way during lockdown and will they want to continue doing that?

Money

People Requirement

How did your business function with some of your people furloughed, or with people not working at full capacity?  Did it reveal you don’t need as many people as you thought?  As a business, the lockdown will lead many businesses to evaluate their staff needs, especially as it will be key to keep costs low in the months ahead.

Cost Management

What other costs did you cut during lockdown – do you need to reinstate those costs straight away or indeed at all? Revenue will not return to ‘normal’ straight away for many businesses, so keeping costs as low as possible for the next 6-9 months makes sense.  You may also have taken on a CBILS loan, so that cost will now need to be factored in.

Pivot products

You may have pivoted quickly to offer alternative services during lockdown – as lockdown ends, you’ll need to decide whether you continue these alternative services: will there still be a market for them and is that market big enough to warrant continuing the product?  A ‘pivot product’ could even become your new major product, displacing your previous core products – a decision that could require wholesale transformation of your business.

Buffer

The shocking thing to me is how many businesses - big or small - were operating with little to no cash buffer to support them through a crisis.  If you did have one, that may well be heavily depleted, so the next 6-9 months will be a key time for every company to build up a good cash buffer and find a way to invest it so the money can work for the business – some companies such as Prudential offer up to 5% interest for long-term ‘cash in business’ scenarios.

Revenue

Just as we’ve found there has been massive ‘noise’ and ‘hustle’ from companies trying to generate revenue during lockdown, the same will be true afterwards.  Returning to your planned revenue path will be hard – you’ll need to find a way to stand out from the noise.

Summary

 

There are many things to consider for your business on the way out of lockdown.  You could look at them as a series of problems to be overcome or, you could see this as a golden opportunity to reinvent your company into its best form yet – best for you, for your staff and for your customers.  What path will you choose?

 

 

 

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Why the UN Sustainable Development Goals are vital for your startup

A basic requirement, from an Investor’s perspective, is that a startup can articulate the problem they solve.  That problem can be quite small, or it could be a global issue.  Whichever it is, increasingly investors are looking for investments whose problem-solving delivers social impact and/or makes positive contributions to sustainability – and this is where the UN Sustainable Development Goals come in.

The UN describes them as “17 Goals to transform our world”, and they range from eradicating poverty to protecting sea life and reducing inequality.  By committing your company to a UN Sustainable Development Goal, it helps to communicate the impact of the problem you solve on a larger scale, and it shows that you provide positive impact in the world as part of running your company.

What does ‘committing’ to a goal mean?

This very definitely isn’t about just putting something on your website (although you definitely should, there is a full logo pack on the UN website for you to choose your goal icons).  By committing to a goal, you are committing to take action, to do good through your company.  If your actual product or service doesn’t do this directly, you can use websites like www.b1g1.com to easily support existing programmes or do something on your own in your local area.  The goals break down into specific targets, so you can choose one target within a specific goal to focus on.

Here at Spark! we support three Goals:

What are we doing?

Helping women who have been stay-at-home mums back into the workplace by offering employment and work experience to build up their CVs

What are we doing?

We donate 2% of all our revenue from working with startups to a charity called SafeSteps, which helps survivors of domestic abuse and their children to build new lives in safety.

What are we doing?

We support and mentor people from minority backgrounds to achieve success as Entrepreneurs or in employed careers, through working with Generation Success

What could you commit to today, which would do good for the world and improve your message to investors?

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CEO selected as a Startup Mentor for The Leaders in Innovation Fellowships programme

CEO selected as a Startup Mentor for The Leaders in Innovation Fellowships programme

Spark! is delighted to announce that our CEO, Julie Barber, has been selected as a Startup Mentor for The Leaders in Innovation Fellowships programme, an initiative of the Royal Academy of Engineering and the UK Government’s Newton Fund which aims to develop international science and innovation partnerships.

LIF6 is funding a select cohort of international technology engineers who have produced innovations that have the potential to make significant social impact in their countries of origin, back in the UK and around the world.

LIF Fellows will receive a rigorous commercialisation training programme in London in February followed by in country and remote training and mentoring over a 14-month period, through to March 2021. Mowgli Mentoring, The University of West of England, and ChangeSchool – together, the SHINE consortium – are implementing LIF6 for the cohort of LIF Fellows from Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Spark! Consulting Ltd
Contact: Julie Barber
Phone: 07973 801682
Email: contact@spark-consulting.co.uk

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