David Barrie, a social entrepreneur who transforms urban economies, has started an organisation which links local start-up businesses with local Angel investors. Called Wild Blue Cohort, the group invests in businesses which offer growth and high returns but also benefit local life. Barrie’s deputy Deepali Nangia has looked at around 200 local businesses so far and promising fledgling companies, usually around 24, are presented to local investors at regular ‘Pitch Evenings.’ It all sounds very Dragon’s Den, only that you could be the Dragon … or the one sweating it out presenting your great idea.
“I am looking for businesses with a local link. I evaluate the skill and experience of the management team, their growth and return potential,” says Nangia. She has looked at over 200 businesses in the last twelve months ranging from food to fashion to financial technology. Some are consumer focused and others are trying to sell data and solutions to other businesses. “I look for markets that are crying out for a solution and try and meet as many businesses as possible in that space. That helps me understand the competitive landscape and find businesses that have the highest chance of success”, she says. The carefully selected businesses put forward to local investors all operate in West London, the entrepreneur must live in the area, have an office or clients in the area or in some cases, is interested in moving to the area. Deepali also spends a fair amount of time providing mentoring to the start-ups as well as introducing them to contacts that might assist with their development. Barrie describes the start-ups as “Local high-risk businesses with a wobbly but high return. Academic research shows that one in eight investments strike lucky.”
By and large members of the investment group live in Notting Hill and would like to aid and benefit local business and local investment. “It is more fun and interesting to invest close to home,” says Barrie. Wild Blue Cohort are looking for businesses which offer growth, which have already got revenue coming in and who have got an outstanding and committed entrepreneur at the helm. The businesses which seem to have all the criteria in the area at the moment are online and digital media businesses. “They can fly quite quickly and die quite quickly and tend to be more cash hungry,” says Barrie.
“Investors are looking for a unique proposition, they are putting their own money on the line,” says Barrie, “Some of the investors have cashed in their own businesses and are looking to invest in fledgeling businesses in an age when very hard to get business lending.” Barrie grew up in Notting Hill and says: “The area has come on over the years since Cath Kidston started off with her Portobello stall, but amazingly has lost little of its vitality despite higher property costs. It has lost a bit of its entrepreneurial energy and become a bit tasteful but it is still full of clever and talented business people. We want to try to find a way to get them involved in local business.”
People who are already members of Wild Blue Cohort include a lot of entrepreneurs, a second group are financiers interested in business and the guts of industry, who enjoy considering businesses and business plans. A third group are new people on the investment block like lawyers, solicitors, creatives – not high rollers but with some spare cash they would like to invest and who are not interested in crowdfunding. The fourth group are mostly Indian, Western European and American who have come to work here for a few years and find joining this is an interesting way to access civic life. It is a bit cooler, bit sharper, bit more energetic.
Barrie had early experience of a social business start up. He started The People’s Supermarket which is owned and managed by members, now in its forth year of trading. The venture has been acclaimed for the social innovation of its business model. Barrie says of its beginning: “A bit of private money made all the difference. Giving us finance, getting things to happen. It was a socially leaning private investment.”
It’s early days for Wild Blue Cohort which was launched in March last year with a three year RBKC grant from the Social Innovation Fund. So far there been four pitch events and four investments. If you fancy yourself as a bit of a Theo Paphitis or Deborah Meaden moment or have an amazing start up company, read more at ukbusinessangelsassociation