28 May 2012

"SpeedFunding", Lean Startups and Teaching Children about Invention

On 29 March 2012 I wrote that my friend Amanda Lennon had been appointed to run Angels Den in Yorkshire and the Humber. On 14 May 2012 I was delighted to introduce Amanda to the Sheffield Inventors Group to speak on "Raising Business Growth Investment- alternatives to bank finance".  She attracted a good audience and held their attention for the best part of two hours.

After outlining the types of funding available and how to raise it, Amanda focused on equity funding in general and angel investment in particular.   She told us who angels were and what they did.   She discussed angel networks such as Angels' Den and their relationships with angels and entrepreneurs before introducing us to her company.

Angels Den differs from other angel networks in that it pioneered a process called "SpeedFunding"(TM).   According .to its website the concept is rather like speed dating. Entrepreneurs are given an opportunity to pitch their proposition individually to a number of angels for up to 3 minutes at a time.   The advantages of this process to the entrepreneur is that he or she gets an opportunity to refine his or her pitch and possibly his or her business model as well as meet a wider selection of potential investors than would otherwise be the case in the course of the session.   I imagine that it can also be very entertaining - at least for the angels.

When Amanda spoke about "SpeedFunding" (TM) I was immediately reminded of Eric Ries's concept of "the lean startup", a process that I mentioned in my Inventors Club blog (see "Lean Startup" 6 May 2012).   Could the 3 minute pitch be compared to the "minimal viable product" and the angels to "early adopters"? I asked myself.   If you want to learn more about "lean startup" there is a lean startup group in Manchester which meets regularly at the Manchester Business School and I know there was a meeting at Sheffield University last week to set up a similar group in Yorkshire.   If you contact me I would be glad to pass your name on to the organizer

Anyway, returning to Angels Den, the company appears to offer more conventional ways of raising equity funding, though those appear to be more expensive than "SpeedFunding" (TM) (see "How much do you charge" on the Angels' Den website).   The company charges £799 + VAT for the SpeedFunding (TM) package plus a 5% success fee when funding is raised.   Apparently, entrepreneurs get opportunities to choose the approach at "funding clinics" held from time to time and to develop their pitch at training sessions known as "pitch school" (see "10 steps to getting funded through Angels Den").

While I do not endorse any particular angel network and emphasize that angel funding is not for everyone I hope to arrange a forum where angels can meet some of the bright lads and lasses from the North's inventors' clubs and "FabLabs" in July as well as a Northern innovation academy in September.   I will invite Amanda or one of her colleagues to speak at both events.

Sheffield and the other great cities of Yorkshire indicate that this county once had an entrepreneurial culture which must have been very similar to that of Silicon Valley in the 1980s and perhaps the BRIC and CIVETS countries today.   Can this can do culture be revived?   The success of Silicon Roundabout and Tech City in London shows there is no reason why it cannot.   Many of those responsible for those new businesses in London were either born or educated in Yorkshire.   The well known inventor Trevor Baylis has suggested that pupils should be taught about innovation and enterprise at school.   Visiting the Sheffield Quaker meeting house yesterday I was delighted to see in the children's meeting (equivalent of Sunday school) a popup book on invention for young children.   It was attractive, entertaining and informative.   Leafing through the pages, I learned something new from it even though I am old enough to have been the kids' grandmother and have practised patent law for the last 35 years.   That sort of book could do more good in the long term than the loan scheme announced by the Prime Minister today (see "PM wants start-up loans scheme to help young" 28 May 2012 on the BBC website).

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