The highs and lows of raising social investment | Big Society Capital

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The highs and lows of raising social investment

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I knew from the start that if Unforgettable was to succeed it would need to transform the dementia market - and that would take money.

A lot of money. Trouble was, I didn’t know how to raise money on such a large scale, so the first thing I had to do was find out.

Partly by luck and party by strategy I managed to get a role with Big Issue Invest. This allowed me to develop great contacts and led to me being offered an entrepreneurial role in the social investment team at Bridges Ventures - probably the world’s leading social investment fund.

I spent the next 18 months developing a business model for Unforgettable. But my role also involved meeting many entrepreneurs with social ideas who were seeking investment from Bridges Ventures. As a result, I gained an invaluable insight into what makes a good investment proposition - and what makes a bad one.

When the time came to raise funds for Unforgettable I knew my priorities needed to be a robust plan and a strong and credible team.

One of the first things I did was to recruit a Chief Executive. Many people thought I was crazy not to take the role myself but I knew we needed e-commerce and brand building experience which I was lacking and which I knew was necessary for investors. We were lucky to find David Lethbridge who had over 20 years’ experience. David and I work very well as a team and we put forward a robust plan that secured an initial £1.5m investment from Bridges Ventures and IVUK in April 2015.

Personal journey

Unforgettable is a social business wrapped up in my own deep personal experience of caring for my mum who had dementia. It was easy to be passionate when making presentations to investment committees, but when you’re addressing very intelligent business people it’s important not to let emotion take over. Getting the balance right was often challenging.

Being emotionally attached to an untested business, and in need of money to finance it, also meant I was in a pretty weak position. Whilst our investors are fantastic - without them Unforgettable wouldn’t have happened – they definitely had the stronger hand. Many entrepreneurs may not have accepted the terms they required (which include me having only a minority shareholding in the business) but I was okay with them because my priority was to get Unforgettable off the ground.

What have I learnt?

Looking back, I might have negotiated much harder with our investors at the beginning if I’d had the confidence in the business that I have now. Nevertheless, I’ve had a unique, and at times emotional, journey which has taught me a huge amount about social investment. As a result, I’m now even more passionate about social investment than I’ve ever been. I’m a firm believer that social business will be a meaningful part of our economy in the medium to long term, and that social investment will become a mainstream asset class within my lifetime.

 

 

Last updated | 
21 September 2016