Leading Scottish law firm Harper Macleod says it has witnessed a surge in investment in early-stage businesses in Scotland, with its corporate team completing 10 such deals in the space of six weeks this summer – worth a total of £3.25 million to the companies involved.
The two most recent deals saw Flexiworkforce, the first recruitment website focused on the UK's flexible working market receive £150,000, while dental start-up Bedi OralCare receive £100,000 in a second round of funding following a £140,000 investment in August 2013.
Paula Skinner, a partner at the firm who specialises in advising young, high-growth companies, believes the activity is evidence of a continuing renaissance in the country's entrepreneurial marketplace – crediting organisations such as Entrepreneurial Spark and Business Angel syndicates including Kelvin Capital with a key role in developing new companies.
Four of the 10 deals involved alumni of the ESpark business accelerators - to which Harper Macleod is Legal Ambassadors – evidence of the impact that organisation has had less than three years since it was launched.
Skinner said: "Already this year we've seen a 30% rise in our deal activity related to investment in early stage companies. It's no coincidence that the support network for such businesses, and the entrepreneurs behind them, is becoming bigger and better.
"In just six weeks, these 10 deals spanned a wide range of industry sectors with funding from a variety of sources - from traditional capital investment to alternative forms including crowdfunding. ESpark has played a crucial role in educating young businesses about their funding options and taking them through from ideas to successful investment rounds.
"We have a substantial pipeline of deals and have been inundated with enquiries from all sorts of businesses for all types of funding - from crowdfunding campaigns to venture capital investment. There is a wealth of talent in Scotland and we've made a point of focusing on this section of the market and developing our expertise to become the go-to firm for young businesses looking for investment, as the potential is enormous."
Dental product start-up Bedi OralCare, which targets the special care dental market with products for people with disabilities, dementia or for young children, has received £100.000 from leading Glasgow-based Business Angel syndicate Kelvin Capital through the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS), and the Scottish Investment Bank, the investment arm of Scottish Enterprise.
Since its initial funding round the Edinburgh-based company has taken its founding product, the Bedi Shield – which makes it simple for health professionals or carers to prop open the mouth of a patient, with dignity - to market.
Flexiworkforce, one of the E-Spark Nest businesses, attracted £150,000 from leading Business Angel syndicate Kelvin Capital. Flexiworkforce, set up by CEO Tracey Eker, is the first UK wide recruitment job site focused on modern flexible working schedules, bringing together employers facing skills shortages with the UK's estimated seven million jobseekers looking for flexible working.
Eker said: "It's an exciting time to be a start-up business but all employers need to be able to find skilled and motivated staff. Flexible working is the UK's fastest growing type of employment and skills shortages are emerging across the country. As the UK economy continues to improve, flexiworkforce.com will help forward-thinking employers to find brilliant people".
The high level of interest in Flexiworkforce saw the funding round oversubscribed by would-be investors. Jim Hall, co-founder of Kelvin Capital which specialises in early stage investment into innovative Scottish companies, said: "We were overwhelmed by the response to opportunity to invest in Flexiworkforce – which was both a huge vote of confidence in this company and an indication of the appetite to invest at present.
"We are delighted to be able to support young companies such as Bedi Oralcare and Flexiworkforce in their ambitious growth plans. These are Scottish-based businesses with the potential to become international players in their respective markets – the kind of companies that are held up as the crucial to the future of our economy in the global marketplace.
"The absence of traditional funding channels in the wake of the financial crisis was particularly hard on start-ups and SMEs, who had to look to other avenues. Good ideas allied to solid business models will always find support, and this led to innovative thinking to attract funding from other sources. These hard times have made Scotland's entrepreneurs fitter than ever, and as the wider economy shows signs of sustained recovery, they are set to take advantage – we're just happy to play our part."
Paula Skinner, added: "This swathe of deals show that there is funding available for innovative companies, with active investors such as Kelvin Capital leading the way along with support from the public sector. The EIS is an invaluable tool for dealing with some of the funding difficulties early-stage companies face by offering a range of attractive tax reliefs to investors."
Scotland's early stage companies received another boost last week with news that the Scottish Edge fund – a Dragon's Den style pitching competition which offers grants of up to £50,000 – has received £3.2 million funding from RBS and Sir Tom Hunter – who was also involved in the creation of ESpark.
The funding will see the project run by a new charity with an independent board of trustees, and guarantee £5.55 million of funding until 2017.