Before I was an entrepreneur I was a professional drummer. I played with headline acts on an international circuit, but a rare strain of pneumonia took me away from the stage. While I recovered I had a great idea that turned into a great success, and if I knew then that I’d be where I am now I’d be very happy indeed.
Today, corporations, private investors and government departments are lining up to get some time with us. My business is now in a very strong position. It was valued at £220 million in May, and that figure continues to rise. I’ve maintained an 80 per cent share so I can still lead the company, and I’ve adjusted our business model a few times to best fit what we’re offering, but things weren’t always looking so good.
Shouldn’t grants be granted?
When we first registered the business, we knew we had an outstanding piece of technology. We set about proving the concept, securing patents and getting everything registered so we could protect our brand. In those early days, we were keen to take advantage of grant funding from the government, and from organisations set up to help new businesses grow. When we finally found grants we were eligible for, we applied, and were told we had met the criteria.
Then we were hit with the unexpected. Having allocated where we’d spend the money, and with high hopes after we were told that we had met all the criteria, we expected the grant to come through. We were told that the funds weren’t available. We weren’t ready to hear that, and I had no idea that it had been a possibility. Everything in the process up to that point had happened as expected, except when it came time to the money, which was a pretty vital part of it (or so we thought). I had to do something about this immediately if I wanted the business to survive.
Plunging into personal networks
I hadn’t considered it before, but I started looking at my own contacts. It had felt awkward to approach them asking for money, and the idea of going to a networking event didn’t feel comfortable at all. This is something that runs through the heads of most CEOs, I’m sure. For me, though, I really had to get into the zone. I’m on the autistic spectrum and blending business with social situations had felt really jarring. Not only did I have to act quickly to ensure my business could swim, but I had to delve into my personal network to see who might make a good investor and pitch to friends and their friends. Awkward, right?
But I persevered, and the business has thrived since I began putting myself out there and talking to people. We’ve been introduced to people at the top of huge organisations, because I’ve impressed the people I know have been enthused about the business. I found that, when I focused on our goals as a business and why we needed what we wanted, it became a lot easier to ask for money. I started getting in the zone and viewing networking as a performance, just like drumming. Today, 100 per cent of our funding is from private investors. Our investors are happy, and this approach has allowed me and the board of directors to maintain control over the company’s direction.
Stay flexible to succeed
While grants can be invaluable for some businesses, you need to have a flexible approach to funding. You may not think so at first, but your personal networks might be full of people who can make top-level introductions to people who want to invest in exciting new businesses. Have courage, take pride in what you’re offering, and take the plunge to explore different avenues for funding and you might find your business quickly booming.
Louis-James Davis is CEO and founder of VST Enterprises.