This month we celebrate the second anniversary of our fund, Access EIS, and a major investment milestone. Why did we invest in so many companies, and more importantly, what did it take to make it happen?
The Access EIS fund was created after our proprietary analysis discovered that the UK startup market sees consistent annual growth of around 28%. Based on this finding, we began running simulations to understand what the ideal conditions were for an investment portfolio to be optimised to capture this annual growth.
You can read the full story in our whitepaper, but to keep this brief, the most important things to consider were: 1- Portfolio size and 2 - Access to the top 20% of the market.
We found that building a portfolio of 50+ companies each year reduced growth variance, minimised the chance of losing capital, and improved the odds of a 3x return, while access to the top 20% of the market had a marked impact on portfolio growth.
The new fund required two key components.
The first was to set up a co-investment model with established angel investors that had a proven track record of backing successful companies, and access to the best deals. This required a robust screening process, to ensure that the angels had the track record they needed, and to establish the types of investments they had expertise in.
The second was to ensure we had sufficient investment and deal flow to invest in 50 companies per year.
With these objectives in place, we set out to make it happen.
Graham Schwikkard, CEO
“You really have to design your systems to handle the deal flow and it requires coordination across the teams. I’m not aware of any other VC investing in this many companies in such a short time period, at least not in the UK, so we had to design everything from scratch. What makes it more complicated is that we handle every aspect of the process - we do legals, we do investor client money, we do EIS, we do nominee holdings, we do reporting - because it’s the only way we can do it as quickly and cheaply as we do.
The venture and investment team has done incredible work in revamping all our systems to process and manage 50 companies a year. Our development team has been hard at work setting up our backend systems so we can track all the companies and change in holdings and show that to our 500+ fund investors. It’s been a massive coordination effort, and although we can definitely improve, I’m proud of the work the team has done to achieve this.”
Miruna Girtu, Venture Partner
“Investing in 100+ startups across sectors in the past two years has been a great privilege. It has also pushed us to streamline our processes and refine the founder experience.
We strive to be transparent about our process early on so that founders know, at all times, where they are and what to expect next. We've also been encouraging founders to share their feedback with us and we kept track of our portfolio net promoter score as well as of reasons why we missed out on some rounds. These feedback loops inform our approach and help us improve. We've already incorporated many founder suggestions and are experimenting with others.
Beyond providing straightforward capital directly, I've been passionate about increasing access to other sources of capital by connecting founders with highly relevant investors for them. There's a certain kind of magic in bringing people together who might not have otherwise met – or would have met but much later on. While we're not in a position to help all the startups we see, we do very much strive to have a meaningful positive impact on the early-stage startup ecosystem.
We start the year with renewed energy and very much look forward to investing in 50+ startups in 2022. Here’s to always be learning and never taking for granted the privilege of working with bright entrepreneurs!”
Fran O’Brien, Partner (Risk)
“I think the successes the fund has achieved so far have largely been the result of listening (really, really listening) to the needs of both founders and investors alike, and then being determined to problem solve and create solutions that work for both sides. Finding a setup that truly makes sense for both is hugely rewarding (even though there will always be more to do to improve). In particular I think it’s generally forgotten that truly impressive startups have a huge range of options to choose from when it comes to raising money (many of which are free and come with lots of added value, e.g. especially angel capital). So you have to really think about that, because if you make taking the capital complicated, expensive, tedious, they won’t go for it.”
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Tom Shepherd, Investment Analyst
“Going into this new way of deploying capital, my initial question was 'how on earth are we supposed to keep track of this many deals?'. There are enough moving parts to keep track of when trying to complete “only” 30 deals per year, as was the case under our previous model, let alone a minimum of 50 per year.
This led to a few initial ideas on how to manage it all:
- Make the processes as replicable for each new round as possible.
- Make communication crystal clear, both internally and with prospective investee companies.
- Define a clear structure on how to manage the pipeline.
Each of these tenets has been tested and improved to varying degrees, with progress still to be made in some areas. For instance, the processes we have in place can and are replicated for every single deal we look at, whether we’re able to commit or not.
As for communication, this has been a work in progress throughout. Whenever we’ve thought we’ve cracked the code for how to communicate effectively with every company, every once in a while, a company will ask something which we don’t have a ready-made response for, or need to discuss internally to decide. It’s these little interactions which have helped us improve our efficiency over time.
Lastly, pipeline management - this again has been iterated on over time, as other requirements (such as reporting, or even keeping better track of the information we have/need for companies we’re taking an initial look at) have become more pronounced with a larger pipeline.
One of the most unexpected things observed during this time has been the response from founders to our model. There have been numerous instances where, after explaining what we need to see and the steps to get from A (pre-commitment, little information) to B (completing an investment), they just go “is that really it? Wow”, or something similar. General praise from founders has been overwhelming, and while it may not be a complete surprise given the pain points the fund has been attempting to solve with the structure it has for founders, it’s still a little unexpected and a nice feeling whenever you hear such things.
Chris Ward, Head of Technology
“Finance is complicated and an evergreen fund with a communal pot is like turning it up to 11. The number of moving parts that need to be balanced can be overwhelming. The difference between equity and ASAs/CLNs is so pronounced that having a system that can deal with both is vital. The failsafes we have that check if things are right before any money is allocated are also essential and have saved the day on occasion. Having early warning systems that can get this data in front of as many people has been the key. That said, more information can't hurt and being able to make all of this data more obvious to everyone in the company would be very helpful.”
Tom Britton, Co-Founder
Some of the key lessons learned during the process have been:
The strength of your network is a direct reflection of the strength of your deal flow. I’m not sure it surprised me but when we mapped out the connection between the super angels and each other and their companies it was eye-opening to see that there are two degrees of separation, or less, between many of them.
How important speed and efficiency are in getting into a round. While there is merit in bringing a big name investor to a round and angels who add value, there is also a lot of merit in being able to move fast and not stir the pot. I’ve been surprised at our ability to get into hot deals that were already full simply because we could move quickly at the end of a round.
For our co-investment model to really work we had to ensure it wasn’t just one way traffic. To ensure the angels get as much out of the relationship as we do, we work hard behind the scenes sharing deal flow between the super angels and working hard to help the companies making introductions in the next rounds.
We hope that this provides a useful and encouraging beginning to your 2022. Click the links ahead to find out more about our fund, Access EIS, and to follow us on Twitter. As always, if you have questions and would like to speak to us, you can call us on 01223 478 558.
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