Growth through funding

START-UP SPOTLIGHT from the Invested Investor, published in partnership with AngelNews

In partnership with AngelNews this month’s Start-up Spotlight focuses on the Head of Access to Funding and Finance at the Knowledge Transfer Network, Ian Tracey.

In this role Ian helps companies to identify the most suitable form of funding; grants, investment, lending etc. to allow them to grow.  

Ian was previously Head of Entrepreneurship at STFC where he focused on helping start-ups and early stage companies take ideas from conception to implementation. As part of his work supporting business creation, Ian identified individuals with high growth start-up backgrounds, who could help drive IP toward new products and companies, and so become independent leaders of business.

He joined STFC from his self-funded public computing IT firm which delivered public use computing to the NHS, local government, prisons and sport facilities.

1)      Why/How did you become a Head of Access to Finance?

I can only explain my career by looking backwards at the path I have taken. Going forwards it makes little sense. I have ended up in a role that I love, and every job along the way has been great fun, I just seem to get tempted away by a job that seems more fun than the previous one.

I was originally sponsored through University, studying Information System Engineering, by BT Research labs, Martlesham Heath. I was working on using Virtual Reality to enhance team working, back in the early 90s. My desktop was, apparently, the same computer that was used for Jurassic Park, which was the big summer hit. I then moved to London, to BT Internet where I was a technology scout, my home was one of the first public broad band homes. I was tasked with answering the question, “what will we do at home on the internet, after we have read our emails”?  

I next joined a telecom start up, at the beginning of the dot com bubble burst. I found a job working with angel investors, running a company for them, before creating my own start-up. After exiting that, I joined the UK Government Physics Research Council (STFC), as Head of Entrepreneurship, looking for another start-up. Instead I ended up running an IP network out of CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research) before being head hunted over to the Knowledge Transfer Network.

2)      What do you do in your current role?

In my current role I help companies and projects secure the finance they need by giving them advice on grants, banks and investment. How to locate them, how to apply and who can offer what. The funding landscape can appear complex and many people are funded to give the advice they give, I am lucky that I am independent of funding streams.

3)      What are the challenges faced by entrepreneurs?

I think knowing who to trust.  When people see something outside their knowledge base, they do one of two things – they either trivialise it, or tell you it is impossible. To grow a company, you will meet many people who give you well-meaning advice, sometimes good and sometimes not, the entrepreneur has no way of knowing which it is. You need to be determined to carry on. This makes it hard to stay open minded, and I understand that.

I think there is plentiful money at the SEIS /EIS stages, but this is not available at similar amounts, as the project progresses. The last set of numbers I saw, suggested that SEIS / EIS was about 4 times the amount of the VC market and that funding rounds get larger as you progress, you can get a feel for the massive drop off in projects that might get funded.

Many companies I work with struggle to tell their story. They seem to feel that the technology can speak for them. I find this is not the case and what is actually needed is the classic trio: Hipster, Hacker & Hustler (Thanks Rei Inamoto)

4)      What are the great stories of ‘rewards or satisfactions’ that you can share from doing your role?

I was invited to a wedding as the couple were entrepreneurs who got their company funded with my help – does that count?

More seriously however, not that getting married isn’t serious. I love hearing how companies have taken on my advice and found it useful. Many times, I have companies come back and tell me that they have secured funding.  It always puts a smile on my face.

Occasionally I advise people that it is time to stop, no one has taken that advice to heart, stopped and thanked me for it. Or if they did, they are not telling me.

5)      How do you view your relationship with the companies that you help?

I am funded by the government to be helpful!  I hope I have a good working relationship with them.  I cannot spend as much time as I would like with each of them, it often feels that I am just advising on how to take the next pass in the game, rather than staying for the whole match. There are too many companies seeking help, for me to spend as much time as I would like with everyone.  I guess a GP could say the same thing about the time they have with their patients.

6)      How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I make conscious decisions to work or not work.  When I am not working, my emails etc. do not get checked. I allow my brain to fully engage with the activity I am doing. It could be photography where I aspire to take more landscapes, but still consider myself to need a lot more practice, sour dough bread making, or walking.  I love walking. It just allows my head to empty as I observe what is around me.

I actually use a work timer, not to stop work when I have worked my hours, but more to allow myself to switch into “not work” mode, as I can see that I have done a good slug of work this day or week. It helps to remove the guilt that can sometimes come with an uncompleted to-do list.

7)      Who inspires you and why?

I love experiencing how different people inspire me, in many small ways.  I do not have a person who I put on a pedestal and whom I aspire to replicate. Instead, I know people who inspire me through their energy, others have knowledge that I may lack and others because of the way they motivate people.  I guess I build up an ensemble of people in that manner.

8)      If you could offer an entrepreneur one piece of business advice, what would it be?

Team. You need a team that can handle the money you are looking to find. Telling investors that you will recruit to fill the gaps, but it makes it much harder than having the right people in place from the beginning.