The life sciences industry represents one of the most successful economic sectors in the UK and its growth is an important part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.
An ageing population, a growing middle class and the increased burden of chronic disease means the global life sciences industry is expected to continue to grow at a rapid pace.
If Britain is to keep up and maintain its reputation as one of the best places in the world to start and grow a business, then it is critical that we continue to invest in bioscience and research.
The life sciences sector employs over 230,000 scientists and staff across the UK and generates £64bn of turnover in the UK. Through its Life Sciences Sector Deal – part of the modern Industrial Strategy – the Government is aiming to ensuring the right infrastructure is in place to support the growth of life sciences clusters and networks.
And crucially, we need to ensure smaller companies in the fields of bioscience and research have access to the start-up and scale-up funding to create more mature enterprises that can prosper and grow.
A great example of such a business is Belfast-based B-Secur, which is pioneering next-generation biometrics using the heart to secure health and wellness insights in the connected world.
Their HeartKey® technology captures users’ ECG signals using small and seamless sensors within smart clothing, wearables, or physical touch points. The resulting signal patterns, processed by complex algorithms, provide insights on the individual – from confirming who they to how they are feeling.
- Accurately identifying who is at the wheel of a vehicle, and their state, at any time – improving motoring safety and reducing the risks of accidents
- Accessing ECG monitoring at home, every day, for medical monitoring outside a clinical setting – with the potential to save valuable time and resources for the healthcare sector
- Enabling workers to demonstrate who they are, where they are and how they are – bringing improvements in worker verification, security and wellbeing
As an early stage company, the nature of the business required heavy R&D investment and, starting with private equity, they have progressed to include UK institutional Venture Capital investment.
This has been a difficult process, and the company has had to deal with plenty of rejection along the way. As Alan Foreman, their CEO, admits, attitudes to risk, patient capital and debt capital can be more challenging in the UK, and particularly outside of London, compared to Silicon Valley.
However, with perseverance and introductions through institutions such as British Business Bank, the business has found investors that understand its value and are helping B-Secur to compete on the global stage. B-Secur has grown to more than 35 people in four years, developing truly ground-breaking technology and introducing it to the world.
B-Secur is a success story, having identified and secured the finance it needed for growth. Unfortunately, many potentially high-growth businesses simply are not aware of the full range of options available to them.
In fact, according to polling carried out on behalf of the British Business Bank last year, a third of businesses in the UK are actively looking to grow this year but have no idea how to achieve this.
As the UK Government’s economic development bank, we want to change this by improving smaller businesses’ understanding of their finance options. When we make better information available to smaller businesses, we help them make better choices about finance – being more aware of and having more confidence in their options means businesses are more likely to seek funding, driving demand and growth.
That’s why the Bank has launched the Finance Hub – a new interactive website, developed with a range of industry partners and business groups, dedicated to providing independent information on finance options for scale-up, high growth and potential high growth businesses to help them see what’s really possible.
The Hub provides independent and impartial information on finance options and includes a simple six-step ‘Finance Finder’ that helps smaller businesses explore the finance options that could work best for them. The new site also features case studies and learnings from real businesses to guide businesses through the process of applying for growth finance.
We also continue to work with the industry to provide clear information through resources such as our Business Finance Guide, which we developed with the ICAEW and 21 leading business organisations. Available from the Bank in hardcopy and as an online tool, it allows small businesses to easily navigate the range of finance options available.
Bioscience and other innovative SMEs are not only concentrated in London and the South East. There are important bioscience clusters in Daresbury, Manchester and elsewhere around the country, so it is important to address the significant imbalances in access to finance for smaller businesses across the UK both in terms of supply of capital and in raising awareness of the finance options available.
In the last six months we have been ramping up our activity ‘on ground’ to enable pioneering regionally-based businesses like B-Secur to grow and prosper.
An important development is our new UK Network, with managers based within each of the English regions and the three Devolved Nations. The Network, which was originally announced as part of the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy in November 2017, has a remit to identify and help reduce geographical imbalances in access to finance for smaller businesses across the UK.
The specific role of the managers in each region is threefold:
- Increase small businesses’ awareness and understanding of the finance options best suited to their needs;
- Develop a deep understanding of the business finance ecosystems in all parts of the UK, so that the British Business Bank can improve its support to smaller businesses across the country; and
- Add value to the business finance ecosystems across the UK by enhancing collaboration and co-ordination within and across each English region and Devolved Nation.
These managers will work closely with business finance stakeholders and partners in their areas, acting as the ‘glue’ to improve the understanding and awareness of smaller businesses of the financing options available to them.
We also have a number of supply-side finance interventions to increase the supply and diversity of finance in the regions and thereby support innovative businesses.
Our UK Business Angels Market Report, published last year in partnership with the UK Business Angels Association, found that 57% of business angels are based in London and the South East. To enable businesses in other regions of the country to have greater access to early stage equity finance that can often play a critical role in supporting growth ambitions, we launched a new Regional Angels Programme in October 2018, which aims to develop regional angel clusters across the UK.
Moreover, our regional funds, the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, Midlands Engine Investment Fund and Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Investment Fund, are helping reduce the UK’s regional imbalances in smaller business finance by supporting debt and equity finance to SMEs across their respective regions.
These programmes – alongside our tools and guides to build confidence in and awareness of finance options – mean we will be able to help more regionally-based bioscience businesses such as B-Secur to identify and secure the right kind of investment, at the right time, to grow and prosper.
If you are not clear on the full range of finance options available to your small business, you can learn about the many choices available at www.thebusinessfinanceguide.co.uk/bbb or follow the guide on Facebook @TheBusinessFinanceGuide. If you are a business looking to grow rapidly, you can access our new Finance Hub at www.british-business-bank.co.uk/finance-hub