Angels making ideas take flight

Angels making ideas take flight

Two North East businessmen are driving entrepreneurship on more than one front, as Peter Jackson reports

Football enthusiasts in County Durham will be able to enjoy first class facilities, thanks to crowd funding.

The Soccer Factory is aiming to raise £500,000 to develop facilities and a first site, to include seven 3G astroturf courts on Aycliffe Business Park, County Durham, which have already secured planning permission.

The Aycliffe facility will also have a health and fitness suite, two multi-purpose studios, a café/bar, sports injury clinic and conferencing facilities.

The Soccer Factory is the brainchild of Dan Lewis who, for 10 years, was deputy director of sport at Durham University.

Growthfunders, the North of England’s first online equity crowdfunding platform, and
also based on Aycliffe Business Park, is helping him and his team raise investment funds, adding to £20,000 of personal funds which have been injected.

The fund is part of Growth Capital Ventures. This was spun out of Carlton & Co, a consultancy business which helped raise venture capital for businesses.
GrowthFunders was launched by North East and Yorkshire-based entrepreneurs, Craig
and Norman Peterson, aged 44 and 58 respectively. Both have supported entrepreneurs, helping to raise capital, acting as mentors and providing strategic advice to
a range of high growth businesses.

It aims to match ambitious entrepreneurs with business ideas to a range of investors. The
site allows entrepreneurs leading businesses with high growth potential to gain support and raise capital online from investors, including angel networks and early stage venture capitalists.

It has only recently been launched but already has a pipeline of about 60 businesses looking to raise capital.

Growthfunders also opens up access to this asset class to a wider audience of suitably-qualified online angels, or ordinary investors – the crowd. It is the latest venture by the Sunderland born Peterson brothers who have worked together since 2000.

It is hoped the introduction of crowdfunding platforms, such as GrowthFunders, will make raising equity finance simpler and more streamlined. Growthfunders’ technology allows all of the necessary information to be gathered in one place. The pitch, business plans, and financial forecasts are all uploaded onto the platform, which potential investors have access to.

Craig Peterson explains: “It’s all about streamlining the process. A major issue for businesses is that when they are chasing money and going to traditional offline pitches they can be travelling round the country spending an awful lot of their time chasing capital and not focusing on growing their company.’’

The brothers are involved in a number of businesses particularly in the area of investor readiness and raising capital. Norman is from a telecoms and civil engineering background and helped raise £60m for a broadband start-up on the continent. Craig worked in construction and regeneration.

“We are experienced problem solvers and project managers and in our roles in the
past we have had to raise money for all types of businesses and development projects,’’
says Peterson.

They will have four platforms under the Growth Capital Ventures umbrella connecting investors with businesses seeking funding, of which Growthfunders is the first as an equity based crowd funding and equity based co-investment platform. The second will be Growthplaces for institutional investors such as pension funds looking for large scale infrastructure projects; a lending platform to connect private investors to property companies looking either to refinance commercial property loans or development finance; and finally, Hedgefund Connector.

“It’s the same back-end engine or software that operates the platforms but it’s a very different marketplace and solution we are dealing with,’’ says Peterson.

The Petersons’ business has three arms to help businesses: Carlton & Co which provides support to companies to grow; Growth Capital Ventures which provides the funds; and the HUB, a managed workspace to provide a physical space in which companies can grow.
Opened in 2011 the HUB is 25,000sq ft of business space on Aycliffe Business Park.

“It’s aimed at businesses that are ambitious and want to grow,’’ says Peterson. “We manage and operate that space and it gives us a holistic approach where we can bring a business in and help it and provide the sort of strategic support that companies need.’’

To enhance the support for growing businesses in the region the HUB Partnerships was formed as a collaboration of GrowthFunders, Thrive, Harlands Accountants and Mantis Media.

The partners ran a competition, ‘Achieve Your Dream in 2014’, offering all of their expertise as the prize with a combined value of £100,000.

Copying the hit BBC TV programme Dragons’ Den, the competition was open to any company of any kind – existing or start-up – with the winner bagging a package of services including office space, marketing and social media strategies, training, PR and mentoring support to develop a strategic growth plan.

Ten entries were shortlisted to just three, which pitched their idea to the judges and faced a grilling in the final part of the competition.

The winner was Lostbox, set up in February 2013 after founder Clare Owen, from Durham, found a piece of jewellery during a Premier League football game.

She made several attempts to reunite the ring with its owner - she still has the ring - but during the process spotted a potential idea to launch a lost and found website.

After just a year, Lostbox has 50,000 followers on Twitter and 5,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook after a host of success stories, including one involving celebrity comedian Rufus Hound, who used Lostbox to try to reunite a baby’s comforter blanket that he found in London.

Now the Petersons ambition for the HUB is to expand it to 30,000sq ft with 40 to 50 companies based there of different sizes and stages of growth.

“We are real fans of entrepreneurship and enterprise,’’ says Peterson. “We get a great deal of satisfaction from working with innovators and entrepreneurs and seeing some of the fantastic people who are out there in the North East. When you see good young companies coming forward and employing people and apprentices, that’s the sort of thing that really excites us.’’