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Insights

Venture building with the small-cap network

Axial Capital recently attended the London Small-Cap virtual conference looking at the benefits enjoyed by scaleups and VC-backed startups when accessing liquidity in the capital markets. With our investment model having a focus on companies in the £1m-10m space across the UK and EU, we were pleased to hear other conference participants across both private finance and equity capital markets tell us they see the same clear horizon for placing further liquidity into growth companies – both public and private.

Equally positive is the conversations we have had in recent weeks on UK/Italy investment in particular, for placing capital into Italian growth-companies, and capturing investment from that market at the same time. This also extends to the public markets, and as we continue to lead on the dual listing of a cross-border resources technology company with a US HQ, engagement with the London-Italy investment base has played a unique part in how we complete this round of financing.

This positive experience is in part due to the flow of impressive startups out of Italy, which we continue to engage with for investment and access to equity capital markets. From CyberSecurity to FoodTech the innovation and energy emanating from across the region is brilliant, with a number of these companies set to be rising stars of 2022.

Going public with VCs

Going public through a special purpose acquisition company is nothing new, but in the US it’s certainly made a big splash in the mainstream in the recent couple of years. And now it’s in vogue on this side of the pond, too.


Special purpose acquisition companies, still viewed as a less respectable way to go public by the more traditional banking society, have been forming and going public at an unprecedented pace this year. As of this month more than 270 SPACs hit the public markets since the beginning of the year, all of these in the US, and at least 20 of these have been used by VCs to channel growth companies such as SoFi and Payoneer onto the public markets.


Clearly, the companies going public are no longer the under-the-radar types. Well-capitalized companies with brand name recognition are among those to go public or to announce their intent to go public through a SPAC.


With SPACs forming and going public every day, we decided to keep track of the companies that had announced they’ll embark on their next funding round via a SPAC takeover, as it’s a valuable bellwether for UK entrepreneurs when looking toward future funding rounds. Traditionally, the pillars of VC investment involve driving rapid growth in a young company and achieving an exit at a many-times multiple of the initial investment. And the pillars of PE investment were to strip out costs of an established company to drive up bottom-line returns and to achieve the same exit – a many-times multiple of the original investment. The public markets offer an alternative.


Whilst an increasing number of scale-up companies are choosing to remain private for longer, by recycling cashflows and handling investment rounds through more private channels, a good number of high growth companies are enjoying the benefits of a public listing – and in the UK that’s increasingly going to include the power of SPACs.


When a scale-up company rolls into a publicly listed shell (the SPAC), there is often already a level of cash in that shell and a further funding round is brokered for the merger – effectively an IPO in a different guise. Whilst the company is expected to perform and to ultimately deliver dividends and incremental value in its share price (translating into an increased market capitalisation), the sometimes high-pressure existence of hitting a VCs exit horizon of 3-5 years doesn’t exist. Ideally the company will flourish and will remain trading publicly with strong growth and increasing market capitalisation, giving the founders flexibility in when and how they may want to realise their personal value in the company – and ultimately to exit at a time that suits them.


Axial Capital advises on small-cap public listings, typically up to £100m of value, and is actively considering investment for proven scale-up companies across a range of sectors. Contact us to discuss your objectives if a suitable funding round is planned for your company.

Cross border investment

Robotics in AgriTech, a MedTech app to support doctors through live procedures, and satellite-based software for real-time monitoring. That’s a snapshot of Q2 funding rounds at Axial Capital. Those three examples are growth companies we agreed to invest into through the second quarter of the year, and in particular with a cross-border angle to the transaction in order to provide greater exposure – and greater market access – to truly enhance the value of the funding round.


One thing the closed borders of the pandemic-world hasn’t been able to stifle is the free flow of information and capital. With our investment focus spanning beyond just the UK/EU, to include North America and the ASEAN regions, the ability for us to invest and to provide access to strategic partnerships in cross-border jurisdictions has in fact become better than ever due to the pandemic. This has become super effective in accelerating the expansion of high-growth companies.


The markets differ in dynamics and investment appetite of course. Where London has a high proportion of scaleup companies trying hard to get in front of VCs, Canada has an active and diverse investment base to support a proportionately higher number of those early stage companies. Where Western EU states have a mature base of investment funds, Eastern EU states continue to produce a pool of world class, scalable startups. This again is where a cross-border focus makes more sense to us when getting behind founders of high-growth companies.


The year ahead might (and hopefully will!) result in greater freedoms to travel and to meet in more personal settings than a video call, which we expect will enhance those cross-border relationships ever further. A positive outlook as the UK Autumn sets in.


Recycling private equity with the public markets

In a season of IPOs, Deliveroo’s market debut made the headlines (for the wrong reasons of course). Following this, the director of AO Appliances offered an appraisal of the broader circumstances around the flotation, noting his view that capital markets are not supportive of entrepreneurship – hence the stock price cliff edge once shares were in public hands.

We see the public markets in a brighter light, noting the number of growth companies that have had much more positive experiences through the public listing process.

On the other side of the transaction is the money that supports growth companies to the point that they are ready for the public markets. Often this is private equity and VC money. This capital is the life-blood of early stage and scale-up companies. To keep that money working in the private markets we see the progression of these growth companies into the public markets as a natural and effective mechanism for recycling capital back into the VC/PE ecosystem.

There is a general view that individual investors are ring-fenced out of the VC space (plenty of crowdfunding platforms are attempting to rectify this – though whether they can provide access to genuinely high quality businesses is another matter of course). There has also been commentary that retail investors don’t get enough access to IPO subscriptions, though this too is being addressed on increasing numbers of public listings. Keeping this dovetail active between private and public markets maintains liquidity in the VC/PE funding pool, and enhances opportunities in the public markets.

We’re fortunate to operate in that dovetail, engaging with private equity markets in funding promising scale-ups, and then taking those companies to an IPO once their market relevance is proven. The equities market remains buoyant this year, and we look forward to seeing the virtuous (re)cycle of capital continue, to support the next wave of entrepreneurs!

Buyout Capital for UK Growth Companies

It was only a couple of months ago that businesses watched beyond belief as revenues dived and forward-looking sales forecasts became merely hopeful suggestions. It certainly remains a turbulent time but activity on both the investment side and the client side is now back at pre-crisis levels. The steep discounts that were being applied to forecasts and enterprise value through March/April when agreeing investment terms are now improving, and funds are again being committed for leveraged buyouts and growth-by-acquisition deals (telling us that deals can indeed be executed over Zoom!).
 
So where is buyout capital generally flowing in the current market? We’re placing capital predominantly into established businesses with positive cashflows, either to fund growth by acquisition, or for management to buy the company they’ve been running, and sector wise it remains quite broad as long as the revenue model involves regular cashflows (eg. contracted B2B service providers, where forecasts are less dominated by direct-to-consumer sales or large infrequent sales). It’s about backing opportunities with stable income, for a degree of de-risking against a still unclear horizon.

Aligned with this is VC funding that is selectively completing on deals now that the position of existing investments is more stable, with funds going to companies that have proven their business model and their market, and can demonstrate rapidly growing revenues.

World-class in access to private equity & venture capital

Policy, infrastructure, education, and general ‘attractiveness’ to private equity and VC investors – that’s a description recently applied to the UK in an international evaluation of funding & investment activity.
 
That doesn’t come as a surprise to me in light of the current levels of both equity and debt funding we have access to for commercial and residential property developers. Notably, the value range has remained as strong as ever, with appetite holding at the £5m+ level for the most part, and a draw toward equity stakes and levered returns giving developers as much choice as ever.

Furthermore, medium-term horizons are being maintained, with capital for the development of operating assets (care-homes and the like) still looking at 3yr+ tie-ins.

Corporates continue to hedge their bets on the forward-looking operating environment inside/outside the EU, with apparent proclivity toward maintaining some degree of presence in the great city of London whatever the outcome. We continue, positively

Investment Round-up

This is a week to cherry-pick, as the number of investment rounds that have completed is significant – which means we can focus those that really piqued our interest. Here are the deals that caught our eye:

  • Equity investment into smaller UK businesses grew by 9 per cent last year. That equates to £8.8bn of new money into our small-business economy
  • Axial Capital joined (and successfully closed) and the pre-IPO round for the September public listing of RXLive
  • A government taskforce has urged Boris Johnson to shed a range of UK regulations on investment to unlock more than £100bn of capital to flow into smaller UK businesses by allowing pension funds to invest in earlier stage (and therefore riskier) growth companies
  • French fintech startup Pennylane has secured €15 million in funding to grow its array of bookeeping and financial management tools
  • Upflow, a Paris-based startup that helps B2B companies get paid, has raised $15 million in a Series A funding round
  • MyYogaTeacher closed on $3 million in seed funding to tap into the in-home fitness industry that gained traction in the past year. MyYogaTeacher’s app streams interactive lessons directly to students in the U.S. from more than 120 experienced teachers in India

Cobots. Your new day-job.

We’re big supporters of the efficiencies of automation, but the human side of me likes to see a future for people in the workplace. In a world of nearly 8bn people we don’t need so many idle hands. Cue the cobots, for augmented collaboration that might make an appearance in your workplace sooner than you think.


Current trends in automation are accelerating the adoption of robotic technologies, down to even the most mundane roles in the workplace (for many that might be something to be pleased about).  The global robotics sector is rapidly shifting its focus toward more accessible robots-as-a-service (RaaS) solutions which can solve the ‘last mile of automation’ problem for medium and even smaller enterprises. Because robots have been unable to usurp humans from that last mile (also something we humans might be pleased about), the focus has now turned to human-robot cooperation.


Unlike the super-human robots of a typical feature film, displacing us from our our jobs (and possibly more than that, if we let Hollywood tell the story) cobots are designed to operate in close proximity to humans, in a direct symbiotic partnership to perform tasks. They are intentionally built to physically interact with humans within a shared workspace. They are designed to augment and enhance human capabilities with increased strength, precision, and data capabilities so that together we can can do more.  In practical terms that allows us humans not only to keep our jobs, but to do them better and with reduced physical and mental stress wherever possible.


Wherever you stand on the subject, the reality is that robots, and cobots, will be with us for the long term and will be the increasingly the beneficiary of investment capital – including ours, as we appraise candidates for investment through the remainder of the year.


July 23rd Investment Round-up

Investment roundup – a few that caught our attention this week in sectors we really like:


– Collectiv Food, the London based direct-to-producer platform that connects food producers directly with customers like restaurants and hotels has raised £12 million in its Series A growth round


– Sales Impact Academy is a go-to-market learning platform providing a continuous live learning solution for management, leadership and revenue operations for high-growth technology companies. This week they took in $4m in funding


– ClexBio, an Oslo based startup developing bio-engineered human blood vessels for transplant secured US$2.2m in seed funding


– Clim8 Invest, an app that helps Brits invest in publicly listed companies and funds focused on tackling the climate crisis, Greentech and Cleantech, has raised £1.26m in growth capital

Capital for your venture, without the VC.

When your business has traction, and perhaps growth is outstripping the capacity of your working capital, that’s when business owners might turn to investment funding to provide enough financial support to push growth even harder, whilst giving profits time to catch up. So often when a business in this scenario approaches us for advice and investment, the question is asked ‘how much equity do I give away’?


Across the globe this is a common theme for anyone scaling up their business, and in western countries at least there has been a recent shift that has allowed for augmentation of the typical investment model – by way of government underwritten loans and grants on a scale not seen before.


In many cases businesses found themselves with sudden and easy access to bank loans that had previously been out of reach for all but the most mature businesses. Added into the mix was various match-funding initiatives (such as the Future Fund in the UK), and that meant a fairly conservative investment raise could result a substantial wind fall in real terms once the government added their contribution to the kitty – the resulting risk mitigation put all parties in a position to agree (or at least negotiate) that less equity needed to be carved out in the process. This is an investment model we have long advocated, well before the free flowing government money, so it’s a welcome shift in dynamics.


An example of how far a well planned piece of structured funding can go is the extended reality data start-up, BadVR. When they learned that one of their core corporate partners, Magic Leap, was about to shed 1,000 jobs BadVR was unfazed. Despite the fundamental ties that saw BadVR positioned as an enterprise application on the Magic Leap platform, the startup saw it as an opportunity to pivot away from reliance upon consumer-focused apps. Still, this required funding to ride out the transition.


The first step was to access money from one of the government’s business support schemes, to bolster working capital and maintain headcount. Eventually, the company managed to land additional financing in the form of a grant from the National Science Foundation.


What the Magic Leap story shows is that companies don’t necessarily need to take on fully loaded venture capital to make it. Indeed, as costs come down through remote working, and with the gig economy offering democratised access to all the necessary engineering talent, thrifty startups have been able to source much of the capital they need from government sources and corporate innovation grants, giving away much less equity in the process. That’s how BadVR ultimately got hold of roughly three million in funding.


Many entrepreneurs consider fundraising to be the first and most crucial step to starting a business. And a quick online search will give credence to this overcooked viewpoint – there’s no shortage of articles out there about how to raise large amounts of money for your startup (though I add a caveat that it’s typically rapidly growing startups with proven market traction that attract much of that investment, highlighting the point that it indeed shouldn’t be the very first thing you devote time to).


But the notion that you need to fundraise at all can be misleading.


In many ways, fundraising is actually antithetical to the entrepreneurial ethos as it can limit your freedoms to build the kind of company you want – if you’re faced with giving away a substantial amount of your company in return for funding. And there are other ways to get your company off the ground, where the equity you give away can be greatly reduced. Often when we place funding into companies we can take comfort in the fast growing revenues that the company is generating, and the market penetration they’ve achieved, meaning we can offer hybrid funding models that leave founders with a greater equity share – which they can retain for future value, or hold in the cap table for follow-on funding rounds at a higher valuation.


Here’s a point for consideration: entrepreneurship is fundamentally about freedom.


I’ve heard it said that “if I borrow money from a friend, I have to pay him back eventually. And I’ll be thinking about it until I do, because I know he’s counting on it. The same thing happens when you borrow investor money”.


Most entrepreneurs found themselves in business because they felt constrained by being tied to their boss or their boss’s company. They had an original idea they wanted to pursue without being tied down by someone else’s rules. When you take in money from a VC you might find this is similar to being governed by your former CEO, and you might lose some of that freedom. On the flipside, you pick up the support of additional minds and experience that might open doors to really propel your business to new heights – so weighing up the pros and cons in relation to your objectives sits at the heart of the fund raising process.


When you’re dependent on investors, eventually, your company might stop looking like the company you started, and there’s not much you can do about it. This may be because investors opened doors for you that you hadn’t considered possible, but it may also be because the investment board had influence and ambition that’s not entirely aligned with your original plans.


Also consider that if you’re too focused on fundraising, you might be overlooking what’s most important. Entrepreneurs often find that by focusing on what really matters – that is, what you’re selling and the customers you’re serving – the money comes to you. As an entrepreneur, you have to be self-sufficient.


As a final thought, it could be said that the goal of entrepreneurship is to become a business owner by building a product or service that lasts for years, even decades and beyond. This is what separates the true entrepreneurs from those who simply own a business. Keeping your ambition aligned more closely to this notion, and less to the single goal of raising as much money as you can, does much to separate you from the rest of the crowd.

Coffee with a fund manager

At recent catch-up-over-coffee mornings with a couple of the fund managers we work with, the topic of conversation pivoted around corporate private equity at our advisory arm, and real estate developments of varying types. The travel across town to take my seat at the table affords time to read the business pages in the day’s paper – and to gauge whether news from the coffee table runs either in parallel or in contrast with the editorials of the day. After all, every paper will report its quota of economic and financial malaise!

Positively, the drive of those funds to deploy into new investments is still as strong ever, which aligns with the interest we continue to enjoy from investors taking part in the current opportunities at Axial Capital. Granted the positivity will be more lacklustre in some sectors as compared with others (if you’d co-invested with Mike Ashley in Debenhams your stock ticker may not inspire too much confidence at this point..). The point being that, whilst negative headlines continue to hold their share of newspaper square inches, coffee with an active fund manager now and then continues puts a positive light on the general economic undercurrent.

My view is partly driven by the current political position of the UK (and to some degree the EU and US), which here at home is as much in the doldrums as its ever been, but still GDP is forecast to grow marginally in the coming years and unemployment remains at record lows – and with new projects continuing to launch with positive interest from joint venture partners and investors alike, it suggests to me that we’re a robust society that will ultimately keep the UK on track in the long term. And that’s something to be upbeat about!
 

On the property front, recent figures show that remortgaging is running well above average, suggesting people are staying invested in their assets, and first time buyers are taking out mortgages at a level that outweighs movers and downsizers. With the Winter lull at an end there was an uptick last month in general SE property sales, and exceptional spurts continued to appear in some of the regional cities. The bottom line is that everyone fundamentally wants to carry on with their lives, their businesses, and their investments, and when I read tomorrow’s downbeat headlines I’ll take comfort that there are just as many good headlines!

Funding the bridging lenders, wholesale

A day at the Finance Professionals conference recently reconnected me with a bridging lender we’d previously discussed providing wholesale funding for. For most bridge lenders in the market, their loan book is built by their own funds or with funds from their immediate investor network – and this often has limits on the availability of funds for the continual growth of the loan book. Ideally, a lender can access the wholesale funding market for an institutional credit line, just as we’re advising on for this current bridge lender.

Our institutional funding network has remained in strong support of bridging and development lenders – as well as B2B lenders – as long as we can demonstrate a well managed and sensibly leveraged loan book. Ultimately no institution wants to be over-exposed, so we work with bridge lenders to help shape their loan book for the most attractive terms for wholesale funding.

Implicit in procuring an institutional funding line for any lender – whether that’s for a bridge lending, corporate lending, or another provider in the general lending space – is allowing for future growth beyond the initial credit line and considering how to address risk if the preferred facility is capped or rescinded in the future. Where we advise on these scenarios we look at options for a suitable restructuring of the loan book to make it possible to access more than a type of credit line. Ultimately it’s about future-proofing sustainable growth of the loan book.

For institutional and corporate advisory inquiries call or email us and we will arrange to meet and discuss your business further

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