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Finance in the Spotlight – Early-stage equity funding key to boosting innovation

Philip Hargreaves, GC Business Growth Hub’s Access to Finance Lead explores the synergies between finance and corporate innovation and their role in the UK’s COVID-19 recovery.

Innovation paving the way to COVID-19 recovery

During the coronavirus crisis, we have seen many businesses diversify and adapt their offering to continue operating. Innovation has enabled businesses to sustain their livelihood during the lockdown and will continue to be an essential ingredient for their growth as the UK moves into the recovery phase.

With new health, social, economic, cultural and environmental needs having emerged during the pandemic, businesses are being called to develop products and solutions to address these challenges in the post-lockdown period. This type of innovation is often driven by start-ups and early stage businesses, with funding traditionally being a blend of founder capital, public sector (e.g. Innovate UK), business angels and seed stage venture capital.

Bridging the gap in the early-stage funding marketplace

To support UK start-ups and businesses driving research and development in some of the most dynamic sectors of the UK economy, the Government announced in April a £1.25bn funding package. This included the launch of the Future Fund scheme as well as additional Innovate UK funding.

The Future Fund was designed to provide businesses with loans from £125,000 to £5 million, subject to at least equal match funding from private investors. Whilst the scheme was necessary, it was restrictive in nature, with eligibility criteria requiring businesses to have already raised at least £250k in equity funding in the past five years. It heavily focused on supporting private investors and venture capitalists reserve funds for existing portfolio investments and re-appraises the investment focus in light of the emergence of new business models.

This presented some challenges. Historically, 70% of equity funding is raised in the South-East which means that SMEs in the North West region may struggle to raise the necessary capital and financial support for new Innovate UK funding applicants may be limited due to the high volume of applications and their competitive nature.

A significant ‘gap’ or ‘funding challenge’ seems to be emerging in the early-stage funding marketplace. As the landscape will change rapidly, SMEs will need to be well informed and agile to respond, to secure the finance required to develop and commercialise new products and services.

Specifically, businesses seeking equity investment should aim to:

  • Crystallise their value proposition
  • Develop a fundraising strategy
  • Enhance investment readiness levels
  • Seek support to navigate the complex funding
    landscape and gain introductions to appropriate

Schnap Ltd, a local start-up with global ambitions

A prime example of this approach is Schnap, a North West digital start-up which had developed an innovative Social Media application (Schnap app) and approached GC Business Growth Hub for support.

The business which launched the app on 17 March was introduced to Mark Renshaw, specialist Access to Finance Advisor, when seeking £100k seed equity funding. The Schnap directors had already spent more than £60,000 of their own funds on the design and creation of the Local Social Interaction platform prototype, to get from Innovation Readiness Level IRL 1 to IRL 7 and were looking for support and experience in finding the investment needed to scale the business.


A collaborative approach

Mark initially reviewed the business’ short-term strategy and invited them to an Equity Investment Readiness event, helping them prepare their pitch. In addition, Mark referred Schnap to Samuel Bafunso, Innovation Advisor within the Hub to further develop their value propositions. Samuel worked with the client to develop and map out a comprehensive business model and strategy which would be sustainable and scalable. Furthermore, Samuel helped the business explore intellectual property, facilitating initial discussions with Dehns Patent and Trademark Attorneys.

Samuel made some key introductions for the business. Firstly with Marketing Manchester, the agency that promotes Greater Manchester (GM) to local and international audiences - to explore partnership opportunities and promote the Schnap app to the GM hospitality sector. One of the app’s features enables bars and restaurants to sell their services from their premises, giving customers the ability to order via the app directly to their table instead of queuing at the bar or waiting for table service helping to minimise contact and serve as an added protection solution for the hospitality sector when it is allowed to reopen.

Secondly, he introduced them to one of the Hub’s partners, Sci-Tech Daresbury to explore further product and service development. Mark is also simultaneously working with Schnap to explore investment via the Chinese Investor Scheme and through GC Angels.

Powering business-led innovation

Innovation will be critical for the UK economy and its recovery from the coronavirus lockdown. In order to grow, businesses will need to be able to cultivate and promote an innovative culture, whilst identifying appropriate sources of funding to support this.

The Hub’s Innovation team can help SMEs overcome the barriers to research and innovation, strengthen their value proposition and create long-term, impactful collaborations with leading research organisations as well as access Innovation Vouchers.

If your based in Greater Manchester and seeking innovation support, product or service development then please contact the team directly.

In addition, you can access fully-funded, tailored support through the Access to Finance team which has significant knowledge of the funding landscape and extensive relationships with:

  • Business Angel networks   
  • Venture Capital
  • Public Sector Funds
  • Alternative emerging sources such as International Investors (via UK Home Office Innovator Visa’s)


If you are based in Greater Manchester or Lancashire, our COVID-19 specific finance workshop can help you navigate the funding maze and help your business innovate, adapt and prepare for a new trading environment.

Philip Hargreaves

Philip Hargreaves, Access to Finance Lead

Philip has worked in commercial and corporate banking for the past 40 years. He is now responsible for the Hub’s Access to Finance Team.

Working closely with partners in the business and professional communities, Philip and his team are passionate about supporting local SMEs who are looking to grow.

“Fundraising in the current marketplace is often complex, requiring time and specialist understanding of all the available options. Putting the right finance in place, at the right time, can mean the difference between success and failure.”


More information is available on the UK Government’s Coronavirus Business Support website. For more personalised advice call us on: 0161 237 4128 or email us at:



The information provided is meant as a general guide only rather than advice or assurance. GC Business Growth Hub does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information and professional guidance should be sought on all aspects of business planning and responses to the coronavirus. Use of this guide and toolkit are entirely at the risk of the user. Any hyperlinks from this document are to external resources not connected to the GC Business Growth Hub and The Growth Company is not responsible for the content within any hyperlinked site.

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