Automotive visualisation specialist Zerolight is one innovative North East company that’s received investment from venture capital firm Northstar Ventures. Darren Jobling, Zerolight's CEO, talks about how they have benefited from much more than just the financial investment.
At what stage was your company when you approached Northstar?
We were already a well-established business when we approached Northstar. After witnessing a shift in our traditional market, we had a potentially revolutionary idea which could reposition us to disrupt a new market. We secured proof of concept funding for this project which, in no uncertain terms, was the difference between it happening or not happening. After seeing our prototype, Northstar went on to introduce us to Prime Ventures – Europe’s leading tech VC – who agreed to jointly invest in the company back in 2010.
How was the application process?
One simple application form is what started everything off and Northstar was very supportive throughout. It’s obviously been more demanding in subsequent rounds, but Northstar always takes a commercial viewpoint and maintained a ‘get the deal done’ attitude, which is very refreshing.
What have been the main benefits of working with Northstar?
A key focus for us was to ensure we had access to the right talent with the skills required to move into this new market. We had over 20 years’ experience in our previous sector, but realigning our focus was a pivotal factor in our successful transition. We found Northstar to be exceptionally helpful in this effort.
Looking back, it’s clear to see we got far more from Northstar than simply funding; we gained access to considerable expertise and an established network. Alasdair Greig in particular has become a key mentor to ZeroLight and has helped guide us through a number of funding rounds. He has been remarkable in his ability to get to grips with the key features of the business and introduce us to the right companies and investors to help expand our horizons.
I think what’s critically important is that we’ve been through both good times and bad times with Northstar, but they’ve always been supportive throughout; what we have received is effectively a very valuable partnership – one which still exists to this day.
Do you have any advice for any entrepreneurs thinking about approaching investors?
Initially, what’s most important is that you get your own thinking in order – if you don’t know exactly what your venture’s go-to-market proposition is, how can you ever hope to explain it to a third party? Ideally, boil your business plan down to a list of actions on one side of A4.
The other thing is to be realistic on time frames and the amount of finance required. In discussions with VCs, lots of entrepreneurs reduce the amount of money required and are optimistic about the time it’s going to take in order to attract investment – that’s the wrong thing to do. To actually get something to work, it normally takes 3x as much money and time as originally pitched. Ask for what you need to do a great job– if the VC likes the team and the business, they will understand the opportunity and give the investment and time required to make it a success - you just have to be transparent from the outset.
Aside from that, remember to think international and large-scale. Take your forecasts and multiply them by a factor of 10. You might not necessarily reach that number, but you’re more likely to get to something decent if you’ve got that high target in mind. Never forget that the reason most entrepreneurs fail is not because of aiming too high and missing; it’s because of aiming too low and hitting!
Northstar Ventures is currently looking for more innovative founders with strong teams and scalable businesses based across the North East. They offer early stage investment and the ongoing support of the team and network of experts.
If you’re looking for funding and want to chat get in touch with Northstar Ventures, on 0191 229 2770 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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