When starting your business, you almost always have that one big concern on your mind: money. So your first impulse is logically to go looking for that money. But where do you start? How do you do that? Looking for a business angel or venture capitalist? Or are you still not 100% sure what all that entails?
Recently we had Frank Maene, Managing Partner at Volta Ventures, as a guest at our finance event at the Ghelamco Arena. Volta Ventures is an organization that provides venture capital for internet and software start-ups from the Benelux with international ambitions. He gave us an interesting introduction into the wonderful world of funding and venture capital, which we are happy to share with you:
Number of start-ups grows exponentially
Volta Ventures receives an average of 1500 requests for capital each year. And those are just the internet and software starters! It gives us a good idea of the immense amount of start-ups looking for funding. But that’s not crazy. We are therefore seeing an unprecedented increase in the number of start-ups. How do we explain this increase? Simple: starting a business is just a lot easier than it was years ago. The causes:
- Infrastructure has become cheaper. Everyone has their own laptop and internet connection, with which you can build your own website practically for free.
- We have many role models to look up to. Think of Zuckerberg and Musk who appear in the news almost daily. That’s contagious.
- Failing isn’t so bad anymore. In the past, people often tried to hide the fact that they had failed. You didn’t talk about that failed business plan quickly, and you preferred to keep your start-up that went bankrupt quiet at networking events. But today we realize more than once that mistakes are there to be learned from. And let’s be honest: at least we tried, and that is something to be proud of.
- We also see that doing business is becoming easier because the risks are much smaller. Those risks are mainly financial: we lose less money than we used to. There are so many funding opportunities, which are a great boost for many entrepreneurs, without having to fear losing everything.
When do you start looking for funding?
To start and build your business, tense. But why are you doing it in the first place? In other words, what are you planning to do with your money? And don’t stare blindly: funding is not even the best solution for many starters. First determine for your start-up what you really need before you go knocking around for a large sum of money.
It’s interesting to look for funding…
- If you want to expand your team
- If you need working capital for your employees’ salaries
- If you are looking for reinforcement, for example in your Board of Directors
- If you have ambitions to become very big very fast
- If your start-up has the ambition to go international
- If you have to do your best to stay ahead of the competition
Where will you look for funding for your startup?
Financial support for your startup comes in different shapes and sizes. Please read along if you’re not sure where to start.
The first option many startups consider is bootstrapping: you start your business with as few resources as possible. Some startups choose to keep working, spending all their free time on their business. Others decide to put their day job aside completely, and stay with their parents, for example. You can also agree with your partner that he or she will take care of the financial aspect of the household. That allows you to focus on your business full-time. It’s all in the choices you make: for example, you work from home instead of looking for an office. The money you invest in your business is often your savings. That is also a choice you make yourself of course.
Incubator or accelerator
In addition, many startups go to an incubator. This is ideal for when you need help with your first entrepreneurial steps. At some incubators, the most promising business plans receive a cash award. There are several across Belgium, such as imec.istart in Ghent and the Corda Incubator in Hasselt. However, if you’re already beyond the initial steps, for example if your product is finished or you already have some paying customers, then you’re better off with an accelerator. Like Birdhouse is one.
Also often called in are the FFFs: the Friends, Family and Fools (more often called Fans, because they support you, so fools doesn’t sound so nice). These are people close to you who are willing to advance money. Be aware that several family and friend quarrels have arisen in this way, so make clear agreements.
If you start looking outside your network of friends, then you will work with one or more business angels. A business angel is a person who lends you money, and often wants something in return. Usually these are shares in your organization. Again, the rule is: make sure you have clear agreements to avoid conflict, and make sure you find someone who doesn’t want to take advantage of you. Look for a good click, both professionally and personally.
Venture capital is something similar. But as the word itself says, ‘venture’ is found in the word ‘adventure’. VCs often invest in companies that are growing rapidly in the short term, but therefore do not necessarily have a stable future. The principle is a bit like that of a business angel, but the VC comes from a company or organization that specializes in funding. Often a VC investor will want a spot on your board, or another role as an advisor.
If you prefer not to share in the shares or control, crowdfunding is a possible option. No doubt you’ve heard of GoFundMe, Kickstarter, Indiegogo and the like. You can simply ask for money, but you can also sell your product (which is not yet finished). You get your funding, and your funders get a prototype or first batch of your product soon. Interesting for both sides! Just keep in mind that the crowdfunding platform often takes a percent on your raised money. So make sure your target budget is high enough.
Bank loans are also an option, but these are not always easy to obtain. Often you can look for money in other ways than taking out a bank loan. For example, Madame Bakster from Ghent found several investors through WinWinner – a platform where you can easily find investors – and raised a large amount of money with them. With that sum she went to the bank and they gave her a bigger loan, which enabled her to build up her physical business.
Finally, there are subsidies, as you can find in the database subsidies for companies. You will then receive a sum of money if you meet certain conditions. Please note that applying for a subsidy can take a lot of time, because a lot of things need to be approved. In addition, sometimes there are only a limited number of grants available, and you need to make sure you get there quickly.
The last option, and actually the best, is also the least risky: revenue. Make sure you earn money as soon as possible, even if it’s only small amounts in the beginning. Admittedly, it’s not easy. But if you can do that from the start, you always have a nice reserve to fall back on. For larger investments it is of course interesting to look beyond your own portfolio.