1. Venture Capital
Venture capitalists are a potential source of financing for an SME. Venture capital is equity capital provided to small and growing businesses. Typically $1 million minimum is involved for any one investment.
The providers of venture capital include:
specialist venture capital providers (e.g. the 3i Group);
banks, insurance companies and pension funds; and
local authorities and development agencies.
Before investing, the providers look for:
a product or products with strong potential (e.g. a new innovation);
solid management; and
potential for high returns.
In order to invest, providers of funds would normally expect:
a business plan with medium-term cash flow and profit projections;
a dividend policy which promotes growth (i.e. high reinvestment of earnings);
an "exit route" (e.g. proposed time-scale for seeking a market quotation);* and
the provision of regular management accounting information.
Venture capital trusts (VCTs) also serve as a potential financing source.
VCTs are listed investment trust companies which invest at least 70% of their funds in a spread of small unquoted trading companies.
The UK government gives tax incentives to individual investors in VCTs.
2 Private Equity Funds
A private equity fund attempts to gain control over a company in order to put it through a restructuring programme before either selling to another fund or listing the company on the stock market.*
The difference between private equity and venture capital is that private equity funds usually seek total control of the target company, whereas venture capitalists provide growth finance in return for partial control.
3 Business Angels
Business angels are private individuals (or small groups of individuals) who are prepared to invest equity (or perhaps debt) into small businesses with big potential.
Angels are often entrepreneurs who made their own fortunes in the high-tech sector, were wise enough to sell before the "dot.com" bubble burst, and now invest in small business as a hobby (although they do expect to make gains).
Angels not only provide finance, they also provide advice, experience and business contacts. A typical business angel will hold a portfolio of investments and may, for example, add an investment in a firm that makes health drinks if they already have an investment in fitness clubs.
Angels receive many applications for finance, and will only be prepared to invest in a business with an innovative product and talented management.