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Calls to break down investment barriers to attract backing for Norfolk's start-ups

PUBLISHED: 09:21 26 May 2015 | UPDATED: 09:21 26 May 2015

Henry Catchpole of Inform Direct

Henry Catchpole of Inform Direct

Archant

There are still obstacles to getting more investors and business angels to back Norfolk start-ups, leaders in the field have said.

From right to left: Lucy Marks, managing director of Norfolk Network; Goncalo de Vasconcelos, CEO of Syndicate Room; Dr Kenny Lang, business development director at Norwich Research Park (NRP); Victoria Thompson, head of marketing at NRP and Alexia Mlynarska, communications assistant at NRP. Picture: Joe Lenton.From right to left: Lucy Marks, managing director of Norfolk Network; Goncalo de Vasconcelos, CEO of Syndicate Room; Dr Kenny Lang, business development director at Norwich Research Park (NRP); Victoria Thompson, head of marketing at NRP and Alexia Mlynarska, communications assistant at NRP. Picture: Joe Lenton.

The geographic location of businesses still matters in getting financial investment for a good idea – with the number of wealthy investors and partnerships between business organisations and research bodies particularly important.

Anglia Capital Group, a collection of business angel investors for Norfolk and Suffolk, was set up nine months ago at Norwich Research Park by businessmen Marcus Armes and Struan McDougall to bring more capital flow to the region.

Mr Armes said fewer rich investors, a cautious financial sector and little awareness about start-up funding were all restraining factors on the region.

He added: “Cambridge has some of the wealthiest investors, so it’s not really a fair comparison in a way.

“But investment is still an issue for Norfolk and Suffolk.

“The banks are more cautious about lending – the government could increase learning among businesses about how to raise money and what’s out there.”

Since beginning, Anglia Capital Group has helped start three companies through its 16 business angels, who unlike traditional investors may offer not only capital, but also mentoring advice as a member of the company’s board. The business was aiming to have 25 angels on board and another six to eight companies signed up by the end of the year.

It has a pool of 25 applicants quarterly – significantly fewer than the 100 applications to their Cambridge sister group.

Mr Armes said setting up a solid connection between academia and enterprise in Norfolk was key.

“We’d love to see an awful lot
more spin-outs come out of
Norwich Research Park and the University of East Anglia especially,” he said.

“The business ideas just don’t see the light of day in many cases. Cambridge has cracked it, the Americans have cracked it, but it’s not something that’s fully established in the culture of the UEA. We need to integrate.”

The UEA was keen to get its best business thinkers up in front of Anglia Capital’s board, said one of the Norwich Research Park’s senior management staff.

Dr Kenny Lang, recently appointed business development director at NRP, said the right idea should be able to get funding regardless of geographic location.

“We’re really keen to get our people in the life sciences, food technology and so on to Anglia Capital Group’s pitching events,” said Dr Lang. “Money is around for the right types of investment – they’re not region-centric, they’re sector-focused.”

It is likely that Anglia Capital and the UEA will meet in the coming weeks to discuss closer ties, according to Mr Armes.

One East Anglian company which has made use of innovative funding techniques is Ipswich-based firm Inform Direct, set up by director Henry Catchpole as a business-to-business software service taking care of a company’s records.

He gained crowdfunding support from Cambridge-based firm Syndicate Room, set up by entrepreneur Goncalo de Vasconcelos, who gave a talk to business leaders on Thursday at a Norfolk Network event held at the Centrum building on Norwich Research Park.

The Syndicate Room operates on the premise that investors should have exactly the same price per share as the experienced business angels who lead the deals. Inform Direct was one of the most successful crowdfunded businesses on the platform, with Mr Catchpole saying it was a particularly special investment model which worked for everyone.

“I am a great supporter of Goncalos and what Syndicate Room offer to both investors and companies looking to raise capital,” said Mr Catchpole.

“His premise, which is refreshingly simple, is that new investors should get exactly the same terms, in terms of price paid and the rights attached to their shares, as everyone else. There is no sweetheart deal for a chosen few.”

Have you started a company with a business angel or crowdfunding? Call business writer Jess Staufenberg on 01603 772531 or email jessica.staufenberg@archant.co.uk

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