Why I wanted to create Central Arc Angels
Posted on 2nd January 2024 at 21:20
Access to equity funding should be really easy in and around Milton Keynes shouldn't it?
After all we're in a fast growing region with many few existing investors and yet I kept hearing about businesses going to London to get their funding which often often came with the pressure to move their business there.
This felt wrong, we have so many tech groups here and tech businesses yet alone many entrepreneurs setting up product based and food and drink businesses. So why did they have to go to London and who was providing them with the support to ensure their pitch deck would give them the best possible chance? Remembering that the number of businesses who are successful each year in getting equity funding is very small.
And the more people I talked to the more I realised that women founders and people from ethnic backgrounds and disabled entrepreneurs are even less likely to get funding.
Which for our region is potentially worse given we have a high number of people with these characteristics as well as many women led or women founded businesses.
And so I was on a mission...
I'd been introduced to a lawyer in MK and we soon found our thinking and our desire to create a community of angel investors who want to invest in local businesses was aligned and we also wanted to do something more than that. What else could we provide - other services and support over and above the usual pitch event?
And within a few months we held a proof of concept online event and Central Arc Angels was formed.
Typically our timing was that everything had to be done remotely in 2020 but Zoom worked well for what we wanted to do and we were all very used to online events by then.
Whilst we are open to training any business founder who approaches us we will only invite those businesses who are based in or adding to the economy of our region.
Our steering group
We are lucky to have a fabulous and very well experienced group of people who are active on the steering group each bringing a wealth of experience, knowledge and wisdom and giving their time voluntarily.
And we have some great advocates and ambassadors who support us.
Without these people we wouldn't have been able to do what we are doing.
What do we do that's different to other groups?
We support the business founders by providing online training on what business angels will be looking for in a pitch; what to share, what not to (equally as important especially when often time restricted), how to manage and respond to questions, the order, the ask, the numbers, what you want from an angel other than their cash.
We are introducing training on SEIS, EIS, data rooms, due diligence, working with business angels and more.
This training is delivered for us by specialists from the Bettany Centre at Cranfield University.
The founders take part in a practice pitch online event, pitching to a small panel who provide feedback on the pitch and the offer and ask the questions they should expect from angel investors. We send written feedback as we know, in the moment, they won't be able to take all the notes/take on board all the feedback.
The businesses going through to pitch are allocated a mentor to work with them on perfecting their pitch.
With support in other ways for those who don't go through to the pitch event.
We also offer training to those new or interested in angel investing, including tax breaks, due diligence, and working with business founders. The obverse to the additional training given to the business founders.
What have we achieved so far?
Between November 2021 and November 2023:
3 businesses have received angel investment funding
48 businesses have been trained
20 businesses have pitched over 8 pitch events
7 angel investor and founders dinners with an average of 18 stakeholders and investors attending each dinner
Businesses have been referred to MediLink with 2 receiving matched funding
Businesses have been referreed to the Westcott Space Centre
Businesses have been referred to other angels and funds which have an interest in their sector
Angels have introduced businesses to other connections and some businesses have been mentored by angels.
We have been able to achieve this through funding from Milton Keynes City Council, SEMLEP Growth Hub, British Business Bank, and sponsorship from Blaser Mills Law and Hillier Hopkins (MK) plus support from UK Business Angel Association, MK:U and Cranfield University, Silverstone Technology Cluster, YFM Equity Partners, Protospace and Made in MK, MKAI, Alchemetrix, Bucks Business First.
And I'm grateful for the personal support and trust that indviduals in these organisations have shown in CAA and me. It's been one hell of a learning curve and tested my limits sometimes but it's most definitley worth it.
Without their sponsorship and funding we wouldn't have been able to hold in person events nor have achieved the same level of success as we have proved that the combined pitch event and dinner is the most successful format.
We've been asked to speak at round tables and panel events and take part in stakeholder interviews. More and more of these requests are being received as we are establishing a reputation for the training and the quality of the deals we are sharing with the angel investors.
Many of our applicants come from word of mouth/recommendations.
It's time to take us forward, a business plan, a formal structure, expand the training, increase and improve our comms and marketing, find more sponsors, find ways to generate income (funding is great but it's not a sustainable business model, especially in the current climate).
As you can imagine we receive applications on almost a weekly basis so that part's relatively easy. However, finding the angels in the area has been harder. We are attracting a few more each event but we want to expand that network so that we have more opportunities to support businesses.
We've noticed that access to very early stage funding from friends and family is less prevalent as there's less cash around and understandably people are being very careful with their cash. So the knock on effect is that we are losing businesses as they can't get that very early stage cash. Yes, much riskier if the company isn't yet trading etc. but we are in danger of losing great businesses with the potential to generate money, create jobs, contribute to the economy.
And don't get me started on what people refer to as 'lifestyle' businesses. Many a very successful business started off as a lifestyle business and often founded by mums at home taking time out to support their children. Yes, it's a lifestyle that suits them but it has potential to keep someone from needing to claim benefits or take on jobs that work around the kids and so by dint pays very little. Many companies have started off in this way.
Remember the SMEs contribute trillions to the UK economy, they are employers, community supporters, tax payers, make up supply chains, buy from others, train and upskill their staff. Are more likely to take on disabled employees, ex-forces employees, nerodivergent employees.
We are no longer a nation of shop keepers but we are very much a nation of SME and micro businesses and those businesses need the right support, access to funding and the tools to grow to their full potential. And Central Arc Angels are very much part of that eco system.
Get in touch
If you are interested in attending our pitch events and dinners as angel investor please email me on email@example.com.
If you wish to apply to pitch at our next event please complete this form: https://form.jotform.com/213503475147958
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