What will new sources of finance offer SMEs?

It was encouraging to discover at a recent Birmingham-based event that the much touted British Business Bank (BBB) is going to be a different financial vehicle to others with the same title. It was made clear that the BBB is not going to be a Bank as such.

It will support other organisations to scale up their activities in different ways, aiming to support the wider policy vision of business creation and growth linked to jobs.

Those involved in the Business Growth Fund (BGF), also presenting at the event, were equally at pains to point out that it is not a Fund.  It will invest capital in the form of equity into the potentially high growth companies of today and tomorrow.

The all too obvious difference in approach between the two was in the amounts to be invested in individual businesses.  The BGF has a £2.5 billion pot, with funds provided by five major UK banks.  The minimum investment is £2 million and turnover of businesses in all cases is likely to be well over £5 million.  Not many of those around across the country - as already evidenced by the small number of actual and targeted investments!

The BBB on the other hand, which states that it will eventually have nearly £4 billion to use, is looking to cover a wide range of support from micro-finance, including start up loans, to debt and equity interventions below in many cases £1 million.  It will not lend directly, but use a range of organisations to support businesses.  These will include the banks themselves and alternative funding sources.  BBB will do this, hopefully, without too much bureaucracy, either by investing in the intermediaries, guarantee provision or lending and investing alongside as a partner.

Where then will this support emerge?  How do small businesses find out about it?  It is probably best at this stage to follow two national websites: www.betterbusinessfinance.co.uk and www.alternativebusinessfunding.co.uk.  They will at least start to point the way in the ever changing scene and I expect that they will, for at least the next few months, be the main source of information for businesses and their advisors.