TechKnow: Spark EV founder on how he raised half a million

Spark EV's technology in action.Picture: Anna Karbownik

Spark EV's technology in action.Picture: Anna Karbownik - Credit: Archant

Getting some money in the bank to launch a business is a notoriously difficult task. So we talked to a tech founder about how they got some investment, and their funder about why they put their hand in their pocket.

Launching a successful funding campaign for a tech business is a full time job - so it's no wonder that 50% of start-ups fail within the first four years of launch.

Here we sit down with people on both sides of the table, hearing from a tech funder and the tech founder, on how to get some cash in the bank.

The founder:

Justin Ott is the founder of Spark EV Technology, which has developed personalised journey prediction software for electric vehicles.

Mr Ott's products overlay live tracking technology with journey data to establish how a car can be driven more efficiently, as well as predictions on when a charge will be needed and the closest charging point.

Spark EV is now undergoing a second funding round, after raising £500,000 a few years ago.

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"Raising funds is a full time job," Mr Ott said. "It took me six months of preparation before I felt like I was ready to launch my investment campaign, at which point we needed to because the team wanted to go full-time and that meant salaries."

Mr Ott's priorities for being ready for the seed funding round were building up a credible team and getting the product into the market for testing.

"We wanted to validate what we were saying and be market-ready so we could answer those questions from investors when we got them," he said.

"I also went to a lot of business advisors that weren't friendly. Don't go to your friends and family, they'll just tell you what you've done is wonderful. And practise, practise, practise."

Mr Ott chose to fund through angel investment, working with the likes of the Anglia Capital Group instead of jumping on the crowdfunding bandwagon.

"I'm not a big fan of crowdfunding, there's still a lack of regulation and if I'm going to ask someone to invest I want to know that person," he said.

"To me getting the right angel investor and that support is more important than the money itself. You can go and get start-up loans, you can do crowdfunding, but that can't replace experience."

And where there are warning signs for investors when looking at pitches, there are equally red flags for founders.

"I had one in my first round which was a big red flag. It's people who offer you the money very quickly and without asking many questions," he said.

Mr Ott said that he was offered investment within the first few meetings, which was given with a list of demands.

"If you're not doing due diligence on your investors then you're allowing people into your business who you might not want to be there in the future," he finished.

The funder:

Marcus Armes has invested hundreds of thousands into start ups, and was a founder of angel investment community the Anglia Capital Group.

Mr Armes currently has seven start-up businesses in his portfolio, predominantly in the health or healthtech sector.

He said: "When deciding if I'm going to invest I look at a number of different factors. Is there a market? Have they done their research and prepared? What's the USP of this company? Are there a lot of similar companies out there doing similar things?"

He added that having credible individuals running the business was also key - but the most important factor is to accurately state the value of the proposition.

"I would say to entrepreneurs please look seriously at your value proposition. Try and put yourself in the investor's shoes as much as you can," he said.

"Very often we get a 15 minute presentation and 14 minutes of it is about the technology. Only one minute is about the business and the value proposition. What we need to see is how they're going to make money for you, the investor, why the investor should invest in you and where the return is going to be," he said.

Mr Armes said that tech firms are particularly prone to doing this, as they get "so wrapped up in the technology" that they don't focus enough on the business proposition itself.

He added that although he has invested in a clothing brand before, he does tend to choose to work with companies which are closer to his own areas of expertise.

"You don't want to run the risk of being a Jack of all trades," he said. "However that's not to say investors won't look at projects which they don't know about - it's why being part of an investment group is so good because any areas I'm less confident on I can lean on their expertise."

He added that the companies entering industries where he does have contacts, he likes to help where appropriate: "I enjoy working with the companies invest in, but from a bit of a distance," he said. "

I'm a bit of a networker and I think about the investments I've made every week. If I come across someone who I think can help and be a lead, I'll push them in that direction."