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INVESTMENT AND A YEAR OF COVID-19

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Oliver Woolley is CEO and Co-Founder of Envestors

 

The number and value of fundraisings have dropped since 2019, a decline that started in March 2020. There are few sectors that have escaped unscathed by the global pandemic. However, some have fared much, much worse than others, the obvious being leisure, hospitality, transport operators and retail.

 

Tracking the impact of COVID-19

Research firm Beauhurst has tracked Covid-19 impact in high growth businesses, and they place eHealth and EdTech as those sectors to have benefitted most.

The low number of businesses which have been able to turn the fallout of the pandemic into an opportunity is unsurprising given the pattern of uncertainty we have experienced over the last 12 months. Uncertainty has ebbed and flowed, presenting an inconstant and difficult-to-predict environment for all businesses. While things looked dire in March, by June the mood began to change with promises of normality by September. This was short-lived with the country returning to uncertainty by mid-October as case numbers rose. While the vaccine has brightened the outlook, the challenges of a national rollout and the lingering uncertainty over the impact of Brexit will likely continue to fuel feelings of uncertainty for the near future.

 

Losing sectors

As uncertainty hit the market, investors began favouring later stage deals. A lot of investment activity was focused on follow-on funding for existing portfolio companies, in order to help see them through the impact of COVID-19. On top of that trend, weary of risk, investors shied away from earlier stage deals and backed more mature business.

This left seed-stage businesses out in the cold. Whilst the number of seed investments was steady between Q4 2019 and Q2 2020, they fell by 20% between Q2 and Q3 2020.

The number of newly registered businesses remained fairly stable up to and including Q2 2020. In Q3 2020, however, the number fell 32%.

This spells trouble for the next generation of growth businesses. Without the capital they need to move from the concept state, many great ideas will never get off the ground – and that is a shame for the UK who holds a strong international reputation for innovation.

 

Winning sectors

COVID-19 has inevitably had an impact on where investors are choosing to channel their funds. As The Times emphasises, there has been a shift towards investment in healthcare, in part due to the disastrous impact COVID-19 has had on even the most developed nations, highlighting the importance of innovation in healthcare.

Beauhurst has identified four areas which, for private companies, have seen rising investment as a result of the pandemic, the first being video conferencing. Whilst newer services, such as Hopin (an online platform which allows hosting of live events at a large scale), have seen some investment – Hopin has recently received a $2.1 billion valuation, just 8 months since its founding – established companies such as Zoom have remained dominant in the market. eHealth and EdTech have, unsurprisingly, seen increased investment. This rise has been stronger in eHealth, which has seen 11 and 15 deals monitored by Beauhurst in Q2 and Q3 respectively.

EdTech on the other hand has not seen as large an increase as expected – possibly due to reopening of schools, resulting in less home learning – with 12 deals at a combined value of £14.4 million in Q2 and 8 at a combined value of £7.2 million in Q3, compared to 10 in Q3 2019.

Finally, companies that facilitate ‘community sharing’ have seen increased investment – Farmdrop, a business allowing consumers to buy food directly from its source, received £6 million in equity fundraising in June. This trend, according to Beauhurst, likely came as a result of stockpiling at the start of the pandemic, resulting in “calls for people to become more community-minded”.

 

There has been help

The government has rolled out several programmes to help early stage businesses. Designed for growth business, the Future Fund received a lot of attention and applications when it was launched.

While the scheme allows eligible companies to apply for a convertible loan from £125,000 to £5 million, the eligibility criteria ruled it out for many businesses – particularly those seed stage businesses which were already facing hardship in raising investment.

Three requirements were problematic. First, funding had to be matched by private investment. Second, since investment needed to be structured as a Convertible Loan Note (CLN) it was not compatible with the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) which made it less attractive to UK private investors.  Thirdly, the business had to have raised £250,000 within the past five years. This requirement left a large number of entrepreneurs out of the equation.

In addition to this high-profile programme, the government made available a number of grants and loan schemes for businesses, including its Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, The Small Business Grant Fund and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough), which have no doubt prolonged the life of many high-potential businesses.

Obviously, a successful vaccine rollout is good news for everyone, and with the approach of the end of the tax year, investors will have been looking to take advantage of tax savings through the EIS and SEIS schemes, which is likely to result in an uptick in investment. However, expect to see continued caution by investors and continued hardship for scaling businesses.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Oliver Woolley is CEO and co-founder of Envestors. Envestors’ digital investment platform brings together entrepreneurs and investors across geographies, communities and sectors – creating the single marketplace for early stage investment in the UK.

Envestors partners with accelerators, incubators and angel networks to provide a white-label platform empowering them to promote deals, engage investors and connect to other networks.

Founded in 2004, Envestors has helped more than 200 high growth businesses raise more than £100m through its own private investment club.

Envestors is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

 

Top 10

DOGECOIN MADNESS

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by Nathalie Janson, Associate Professor at NEOMA Business School

 

After the unstoppable increase of Bitcoin (BTC) since January – it added 10 000$ to its price every month since January reaching 60 000$ in April 2021  – it is now the turn of the Dogecoin to be the next cryptofrenzy.

This crypto created in three hours by Billy Markus as a joke to make fun of the Bitcoin community back in 2013 had no specific use except federating crypto geeks sharing the same sense of humor. Its capitalization quickly reached 60 million USD back then. This is why until Tuesday, April 13th 2021, its price was closed to 0 since cryptos value derives from their usefulness.

The Dogecoin belongs to the family of Altcoins using proof of stake to validate transactions – more flexible and fast compare to Bitcoin and Ether based on proof of work – but essentially not as decentralized and secured.  So far Dogecoin has mainly been used for  tipping creators of content or more interestingly to noble causes. These include raising funds for the bobsleigh Jamaïcan team to send them to the Winter Olympic Games in 2014, paying back victims of Dogecoin hack in the early days after its creation,  and raising funds to provide access to drinkable water in Africa.

 

Dogecoin… a billionaire maker joke

How comes the DogeCoin price surged in such irrational manner? Is this move another proof of market madness? A sign that we might be close to the next burst of the crypto bubble? Who knows? … Why is it so difficult to understand the pricing dynamic of cryptocurrencies?  You might think that what we experienced is the paroxysm of futility. In a week, some Dogecoin holders become billionaires, the price of the Dodge coin increasing from almost 0 to 43 cents at its highest. How mad that sounds? Similar to what happened to Gamestop, we are dealing with a community with a strong identity – the Dogecoin joined by new members like Snickers – the sweet bar and more importantly by Elon Musk – who wants to set a record and claiming April 20th being DogeDay with the clear goal to push Dogecoin up to $1. They are encouraging each other to buy more of the coins. Given the limited size of the market dominated by “whales” – five “whales” are said to control 40% of the market – the increase in purchases of Dogecoin leads to significant rise in price given the low liquidity.

The Dogecoin case is an emblematic case showing how subjective value is in economics. Indeed, like Bitcoin, the price of Dogecoin only depends on its acceptance that in itself depends on the size of its network that suddenly increased.

Why now? First, Elon Musk started to show his interest in the Dogecoins by tweeting about it. Why does Elon Musk opinion matter? Because he symbolizes the success story of a man who is a visionary. After all, if Elon Musk invests in Bitcoin and supports Dogecoin it must be for a reason, and he may be right like he has been right about the industrialization of electric cars as the success of the Tesla demonstrates. He performs a role similar to leading investors in traditional financial markets like Warren Buffet.

Secondly, the Coinbase initial public offering contributed to a rally in the cryptocurrencies market, with no exception for the Dogecoin. Over the week-end, the major cryptocurrencies – BTC and Ethereum dropped for technical reasons due to a sharp decrease in the hash rate after an electricity shortage in the Xinjang province in China. When that happens, it usually benefits altcoins.

More broadly speaking, the crypto market is frenetic since the beginning of the year. This frenzy is a symptom of a global economy that is still suffering from severe restrictions in some activities but at the same time is also experimenting acceleration in others. Combined with overgenerous monetary policy feeding liquidity in search of profitability away from traditional markets because of low interest rates and over rated stock markets, this is a perfect combination for investors to try anything new to boost their portfolio return if you add on the top of that, growing concerns about the return of inflation in the US.

In this context how long will the Dogecoin rally last? This essentially relies on the determination of its fans to support it but after a while, it will need to be more than a symbol!

 

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Business

TOP TIPS FOR BOOSTING YOUR CASH FLOW AND BUSINESS IN 2021

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Ian Gass, CEO at Agitate

 

Many small businesses are still dealing with the disruption caused by the pandemic. Improving financial performance is most likely to be at the top of agenda, and a good place to start is reviewing cash flow. No matter what the product or services a company provides or the size of the business, cash flow still remains king.

Research has shown that 38% of small business owners who have suffered cash flow problems have been left unable to pay debts. With 1 in 7 small business owners having been left unable to pay employees because of cash flow issues, this equates to a huge 2.2 million people in the UK not being paid on time.

 

The importance of positive cash flow

Profit has traditionally been seen as the most important measure of an organisation’s financial performance. However, the focus is increasingly shifting from the income statement to the balance of cash inflows and outflows. Prioritising profit levels reflect long term fiscal health, but it does not necessarily mean that a business can pay its bills on time and survive in the short term.

Ian Gass

Sudden drops in demand prove how keeping an efficient cash flow balance is essential, and can expose shortcomings of currently used solutions. When reviewing your cash flow, you need to look at ways to get more money coming in and better manage the money that is going out. Here are a few ways to improve cash flow management and see positive changes in a short period of time.

 

  1. Efficient forecast

It is important to be able to compare actual income and expenses with those that are in the pipeline, as it helps to determine which area of business is under performing or generating unnecessary costs. Start by looking at your projected income and expenses for the next three months, don’t wait until you receive a bill to realise there are not enough funds to cover it. An easy way to overcome this issue is a free cash flow template available online.

 

  1. Terms and Conditions review

Making sure that T&Cs are clear and comprehensive not only provides your business with a protective layer, but also makes customers understand when and how the payment is expected, and the process and penalties for late payments. That’s why regular checks and reviews of existing agreements prevents businesses from potential loses. It is also good to use reward tactics to encourage customers for prompt or early payment such as discounts or free shipping.

 

  1. Payment terms

Payment terms that are understandable and realistic is clear T&Cs in place. As it creates a contract with suppliers and obliges the organisation to pay on time, it is important to match these terms wider operation processes. For instance, if you have 14 days to pay your suppliers, but your customers get 30 days to pay you, a problem of late payments will be inevitable. To avoid damaging relationships with suppliers, you should consider an extension of the terms or reducing the credit period for your clients. It is worth taking deposits, asking for payment in advance or on receipt.

 

  1. Invoice management

Another method that can quicky improve cash flow is sending invoices promptly and ensuring they are accurate. Any mistakes will simply require queries to be resolved and it will take longer to receive payment. In addition, it is important to remain persistent at following up late payments and moving the money to the bank as soon as possible. Some clients will always need chasing and, without a follow up, they will hold on to the cash as long as possible.

 

  1. Payment options

Making it easy for clients to pay gives businesses the best chances of being paid quicker. While accepting card payments might be common place, there is a high risk of fraud. For example, in 2019 £620.6m was lost in card fraud in the UK. Also, it can be expensive to process and often leaves an organisation to wait days to receive the funds. Using a free bank-to-bank payment app means businesses can send payment requests from mobile phone straight to customers via email or messaging app (such as WhatsApp).

In that case, the consumer will receive a message with all the information they need to make the payment instantly. They click the secure ‘Paylink’, which directs them to their online banking app and all the relevant information is displayed such as your name, the amount to be paid and a reference. The transaction needs then authorising with their bank and the money moves instantly from their account to yours.

 

  1. Cost reduction

If there is too much money going out that a company can’t afford, business owners need to think of ways to reduce those expenses. There are a few questions to help understand where money can easily be dislocated:

Is there software or equipment that you are paying for that you don’t use? Can overhead costs such as utilities and administrative expenses be reduced? Are card transaction fees putting an unnecessary pressure on cash balance? If so, it can be eliminated with a bank-to-bank payment app.

Although profit might be seen as the ultimate goal for companies of all shapes and sizes, sustaining positive cash flow provides vital foundations on which a company can grow. By using the right tools, business owners can not only get paid faster and more securely, but also improve customer experience, reducing the transaction to a quick QR scan. Making a few smart changes to the existing balance sheet can have a big impact and future-proof an organisation in no time.

 

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