Many startups using crowdfunding offer techie apps or fintech products and services, but it was a Midlands-based doughnut company that recently enjoyed phenomenal equity crowdfunding success.
The Project D doughnut company, set up in 2018 by three former schoolmates, launched an equity crowdfunding campaign in May 2023 to raise £400,000 and accelerate the company’s growth. It already had an annual turnover of £2.6m prior to the crowdfunding, and had set an aim to reach £12 million in three years. They were staggered to receive, in just a preliminary private investment round, pledges of £2 million. This was before it was even open to the general public. They used the Crowdcube platform, which is a major one for equity crowdfunding offers in the UK.
The three founders were left wondering how to respond: how much added equity would they open up to crowdfunding investors? Some people may think they should just take the full £2m on offer from investors in the private round, and then go ahead and generate even more from the public round. However, given the high demand for their equity, they could scale back now and possibly come back soon with another round at a higher share price.
Equity crowdfunding success like this is great to see, though it doesn’t happen very often to this degree. And it does also present some problems. I began to think about what the reasons or the circumstances were that caused this surge of popularity. Five factors came to mind.
1. Project D has a low-entry-cost product that significant numbers of customers have been able to try, and evidently decided they like the doughnuts and the way the company operates its D2C order-taking and delivery. They have a substantial community of over one million people to attract as investors. They had obviously done some good data capture work to be able to communicate the crowdfunding offer to them.
2. A lead investor had guaranteed £150,000 – 37.5% of the initial £400,000 target. That gives smaller investors confidence to go ahead.
3. The business had used social media very cleverly to raise brand awareness, with viral videos on its Tiktok account receiving 19 million views in a single two-month period.
4. Project D can claim corporate accounts with British Airways, Brewdog, Amazon and Rolls-Royce. It might have been no more than a delivery to a local office, but big brand names add cachet and boost investor confidence.
To investors, it must have looked like a tasty winner all the way! There are lessons here for all sorts of companies in many different sectors about customer data capture, effective marketing, the value of corporate accounts and the reputational benefits of entering and winning awards.
If you are considering running a business-related crowdfunding project, and want to discuss it with an independent crowdfunding adviser, then please get in touch by an email to [email protected]. To keep up with crowdfunding news, events and projects you can follow me on Twitter.
Donations crowdfunding has already made a significant impact on the way people support charitable causes. Driven by social media and online platforms, it allows individuals and organizations to access a wider audience of potential donors and has made it easier for people to donate small amounts of money to causes they care about.
I’ve now been writing and publishing content for the international platform Crowdsourcing Week for nearly seven years. It covers all aspects of the crowd economy, and the technology that allows it all to take place. I was recently asked to look at trends in the donations crowdfunding sector.
So, what does the future hold for donations crowdfunding? To be clear, this article is not about crowdfunding that offers backers a reward of any kind – beyond the warm feeling people get from helping someone else. It is not about crowdfunding to invest in business equity, or to earn interest through lending on a peer-to-peer basis.
Crowdfunding risks and returns follow the same rules as any other investment. Higher returns mean exposing money to more risk.This is certainly true in crowdfunding, whether you want to raise money for your business or on a personal basis. I wrote an article for my client BOLD Awards on this topic, which looks at the risks and returns involved in reward, debt, and equity crowdfunding. I included some examples, plus a little personal experience.
Debt crowdfunding platforms, also known as peer-to-peer lenders, generally experience an average default rate of 1 to 10%. Equity crowdfunding mainly, though not exclusively, involves backing startup businesses. On average, 50% of them fail in their first three years, and only 1 in 10 succeeds beyond ten years. Investors seek higher returns from buying equity than from providing capital for loans.
Reward-based crowdfunding, which does not involve buying equity in or lending to a startup, carries its own risks. It swiftly developed from rewarding backers with a gesture of appreciation for a donation to a project or an appeal. In many instances it has become a quasi-sales channel where the donation is effectively the purchase price of a product, and the product happens to be the reward that is provided. Even though this may sound like a straightforward transactional arrangement, it can carry risks if the product on offer is still in the development stage. It is definitely not the same in timescale or consumer protection as ordering an item from Amazon.
The rest of the article goes through the balance of crowdfunding risk and return for each of reward-based crowdfunding; debt crowdfunding (aka peer-to-peer lending): equity crowdfunding; and crowdfunding to buy fractionalised ownership of tangible assets, such as art, luxury cars and watches, rare whisky, and so on. It is over at the Bold Awards site, please use this link to continue reading: https://bold-awards.com/crowdfunding-risks-and-returns/
It’s been a pleasure to spend time in 2022 working with the CrowdInvest equity crowdfunding platform. Headquartered in London, it’s a cross-border startup investment platform with a mission to connect investors from developed markets with startups from growth markets. A key objective is to accelerate the growth of businesses concerned with environmental or social impact outcomes. They will also operate an equity crowdfunding secondary market for shares bought through the platform.
Their initial spotlight will be on the UK-India corridor and then expand to include emerging economies in southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East. CrowdInvest will pay particular attention to nurturing founders from less privileged backgrounds to generate inclusive, sustainable economic growth. Their transparent application process and due diligence procedures have no gender bias.
I recently wrote an article for them about the growth of secondary markets for shares bought through equity crowdfunding. Buying equity in a privately-owned business through crowdfunding is always risky, and in the early days it was also an illiquid investment. No matter how circumstances changed for any individual investor, their money was going to remain off-limits until the business they invested in exited by completing either a trade sale or an IPO.
The growth of equity crowdfunding secondary markets in privately-owned businesses has subsequently developed in the past few years for two main reasons:
Improved liquidity makes investing in startups through equity crowdfunding platforms more appealing.
To make secondary buying and selling a larger income stream for the crowdfunding platforms.
You can join the CrowdInvest waitlist today at https://www.crowdinvest.com/ to stay up to date with developments on how to be involved, either investing in startups from emerging economies or in the platform itself.
The biggest asset class is property. Developers create individual companies for each development project, and decide whether to offer investors opportunities to buy equity or lend money.
Equity crowdfunding investments in US real estate on reputable platforms, with terms of 5 or more years, have an average annual return of over 17%. Shorter-term real estate crowdfunding investments have average returns in the 10% to 12% range.
I have made one modest equity crowdfunding investment in property and received a 28% gross return after two years.
The UK property loan platform Kuflink is currently offering annual gross returns of up to 7.44%. CrowdProperty is a much larger UK property crowdfunding platform (it has raised over £500 million in total) and is offering up to 8% p.a. for investments held in an IFISA.
A newer format of property crowdfunding allows retail investors to acquire fractional ownership of property that is leased or rented, and offers a regular income from it. Buy-to-let crowdfunding platform InRento, licensed by the Bank of Lithuania, has earned a historic average 19.49% ROI for its investors. It recently became the largest licensed crowdfunding platform in the EU by the number of investors, providing an opportunity to invest in rental projects. Projects currently listed on the platform offer an average 7.96% annual return.
Non-property luxury assets
Other platforms offer crowd investment opportunities in non-property, luxury item assets including fine wines, art, watches and cars.
Konvi is a European crowdfunding platform for people to invest through shared ownership of such luxury items. A holding company is created for every asset that is going to be funded. This holding company’s purpose is to own, manage, and sell that one particular asset. When a person invests in an asset, they become a shareholder in the relevant holding company that will exist for two to ten years. Average returns have been up to 20% p.a. over the past decade.
Konvi’s main competitors include Rally Road (USA), Masterworks (USA), Yieldstreet (USA), Otis (USA) and Timeless Investments (Germany).
The Masterworks platform makes it possible for anyone to invest in blue-chip art, with works by artists like Banksy. From 1995 to 2020, contemporary art prices outpaced S&P 500 returns by 174%, and it is part of an estimated $1.7 trillion asset class that is expected to grow 58% in just 5 years, according to Deloitte.
US equity crowdfunding platform StartEngine is currently offering equity in fine wine from Bordeaux, France. According to Wine Guardian, wine is a stable investment that has earned investors a solid 13.6% annualised return over the past 15 years.
Investing in luxury item assets is often beyond the control and protection of financial investment authorities. As well as poor decisions made on receiving poor advice, there is also the prospect of deliberate, fraudulent scams.
As an example, rare whisky has recently been the top performing UK luxury investment. According to The Wealth Report 2020, rare whisky was the best performing collectable of the decade, experiencing a meteoric rise in value of 586% up to 2019; faster than any other collectable luxury asset, such as watches, art or classic cars.
Whisky is not under the remit of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which would only get involved if the investment was structured under a collective investment scheme.
HM Revenue and Customs is responsible for excise duty for whisky casks, approving persons to hold excise casks without payment of excise duty, while the whisky matures in a secure and approved excise warehouse. They would only get involved with a potentially fraudulent firm if it didn’t pay the correct tax.
Misleading investor advice through paid-for communications is under the authority of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Yet high returns attract undesirable actors, out to part the unwary from their wealth. And in unregulated markets, with plenty of grey areas, it can be easier to achieve. – With alcohol there is no spot-price like with commodities such as gold to provide a common yardstick. – Even if their was, the main problem with buying into whisky as an investment is that you don’t always know exactly what you’re getting. – Identifying fakes, if it indeed exists at all, can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive. It could even involve lab-tests such as carbon dating. Given time, NFT technology could make it quicker and cheaper for all stakeholders – investors, brand owners and enforcement bodies – to identify counterfeit products and distinguish fakes from the genuine article.
In the meantime, good advice for potential investors is they should fully research any firm they are looking to engage in an investment with. Look at the age of the company, the duration it has been trading whisky casks for, and whether there’s a valid Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme and WOWGR licence (under The Warehousekeepers and Owners of Warehoused Goods Regulations 1999).
I am an independent crowdfunding advisor, providing strategic overviews of how to plan and structure a successful crowdfunding campaign, without links to any particular platforms. If you think that could be useful to you, please get in touch.
Since January 2022 I have written numerous articles for what is going to be a new equity crowdfunding platform in the UK, called CrowdInvest. Its unique market position is that it will offer UK investors opportunities to buy shares in tech startups that operate primarily in India, which is the world’s third largest startup ecosystem. With a population approaching 1.4 billion, startups in India can seriously scaleup without the added complexities of developing or servicing a market in other countries.
CrowdInvest is a group entity of Red Ribbon Asset Management Plc, an Indo-British investment company established in the UK in 2007. Crowd Investments Limited is an Appointed Representative of Prospect Capital Ltd, authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK, and investor benefits will be available under the HMRC’s EIS and SEIS schemes.
I recently interviewed CrowdInvest’s co-founder Nakul Garg, an alumni of the London School of Economics. With his permission, here is that interview that was originally published at his LinkedIn account.
Let’s begin with something that many people ask. The Financial Conduct Authority approves CrowdInvest. Particularly for anyone new to equity crowdfunding, does this mean their money is safe?
Money is safe, and we will comply with all FCA requirements and vet the startups we will host to ensure they offer viable investment opportunities. We also ensure that lead investors back the deals and that the risks borne by retail investors are shared with them. However, the failure rate of startups anywhere is notoriously high, and the success of any individual startup cannot be guaranteed. Capital invested in private companies will always incur a level of risk.
UK investors who buy shares through equity crowdfunding enjoy valuable tax advantages when they invest in privately-owned UK companies registered under the HMRC’s EIS and SEIS requirements. Why will they choose to invest in Indian startups?
This is something we seriously thought about. Our solution is that we will require Indian startups to open a branch office to scale their operations in the UK. Doing so will make them eligible for the HMRC’s EIS and SEIS tax benefits. Also, we will onboard UK startups who are already eligible for EIS and SEIS tax benefits and wish to scale up operations in the Indian market.
So the CrowdInvest platform will also host non-Indian startups?
In the first phase, we will focus on startups located anywhere in the world who operate in or want to scale up in the Indian market. They will principally, though not exclusively, be Indian startups. In a second phase, we will onboard investment opportunities from African and south east Asian markets and open up opportunities for investors from other parts of the world. We will truly be a cross-border platform.
Does CrowdInvest have to be approved and regulated by any Indian authorities as well?
No, when we start trading, we won’t cater to Indian investors, so we are not required to be regulated by the Indian regulatory bodies. All our financial promotions will focus on UK investors, so we need to comply with only UK laws and regulations.
What investment options will CrowdInvest provide?
In the first phase, our focus will be on equity crowdfunding and convertible loans. We will start offering other alternative financial instruments as we grow our market penetration.
How will CrowdInvest win the trust of investors?
We will make sure only vetted startups are onboarded on the platform. The vetting process will include rounds of preliminary checks and due diligence to ensure they have the required certificates, licences, intellectual property, and everything else in place per UK standards.
Other crowdfunding platforms have webinars for startup founders to pitch to potential investors and for investors to ask questions. Will you be doing the same?
Yes, we will, through panel talks, speed date sessions, virtual round tables and YouTube. CrowdInvest will also provide newsletter inclusions and social media promotions.
With the market value corrections that have taken place this year in the startup space, it has been reported that Indian startups have shed over 11,000 employees, and several are now operating at valuations lower than their IPO. Is there any feeling you may have maybe missed the peak market?
In India,Inc42collects data and reports on the startup scene. They said a little while ago that 57 VC funds launched in 2022, 37 focus on early-stage funding. Seed stage funding in India in the first half of 2022 has been four times higher than in 2021. So whilst a market value reset has certainly taken place, many investors had already turned their attention to the higher ROI generally available from backing startups earlier in their lifecycle. This is where CrowdInvest will operate. So No, we haven’t missed out on anything.
That’s very positive to hear. We’re nearing the end of the interview. Can I ask you what is your own background in crowdfunding and what drew you to it?
I started in the crowdfunding industry three years ago and have since carved out a niche for myself in cross-border investments and fundraising in the Indian startup ecosystem.
I graduated with a Masters from the London School of Economics and gained more than eight years of experience in entrepreneurship and risk consulting, with an extensive background in business development and crowdfunding. My expertise lies in developing and maintaining strong client relationships.
I am also a recognised early-stage entrepreneur, endorsed by the LSE Entrepreneurship arm (LSE Generate) and incubated at IIM (Indian Institute of Management) Udaipur Incubation Centre. Additionally, I have worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Consulting and served US-based startups with their financials while working at a PCAOB registered firm (the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board).
That’s very impressive and well-rounded. A final question, if I may. Do you already have some longer-term aims for CrowdInvest?
We will certainly democratise platform ownership by running our own equity crowdfunding. Our vision is to become a crowd-owned alternative investment platform operating across international borders.
Thank you, Nakul. I wish you success. Thank you, Clive.
This year I have been writing articles for an Anglo-Indian asset management company. They have been planning an equity crowdfunding platform that will enable tech startups in India to offer equity to UK investors. The latest news is they have received approval to go ahead from The Financial Conduct Authority and the platform, CrowdInvest, will launch on 1st September 2022. Anyone can register to be kept informed of news and progress at https://www.crowdinvest.com/.
Even not so long ago there were still articles appearing that tried to put crowdfunding and VC funding in opposite corners, posititoning them as rivals for the favours of startup founders who were seeking investment. The truth is that while there some limited of overlap, they represent different types of investors who have some different motivations and expectations. Here is a reduced version of the article I wrote on this topic.
EquityCrowdfunding withVC Support
Going to VC investors or using equity crowdfunding is often portrayed as a binary choice. In reality the two are not completely interchangeable. This article looks at similarities and differences, and some examples where they have been used together.
Both forms of funding buy equity in a business for it to develop and grow. The businesses do not have to repay the money, it’s not a loan, though the business owners do reduce their level of ownership. Dividends aren’t required because investors expect to see profit reinvested.
Businesses do not have to be making a profit, or to have even started trading. VC fund managers and equity crowdfunding investors gauge future potential. Business sector knowledge and investment experience help develop analytical skills to identify the ones most likely to succeed.
In both cases the investments are relatively illiquid. Money can be tied in for several years, difficult to get back early, and of course a business may fail with all investments lost.
Investors want to know the Exit Strategy.
VC funds and equity crowdfunding platforms represent different types of investor. Those investing through VCs generally invest much higher sums and tend to be High Net Worth Individuals, or represent family funds or institutional investors. It is Strictly Business. VCs usually invest between £2m and £50m. Whereas crowdfunding’s non-professional “retail investors” use personal money, can sometimes back a business from as little as £10, and perhaps invest in businesses they simply want to give a chance rather than expect a healthy ROI.
VC funds therefore prefer close integration with businesses they back. This can involve a seat on the board, setting KPIs, releasing funds in tranches when certain milestones are achieved, making introductions, and advising the directors. They may also pressure businesses to agree deals or sell out at a time that suits the VC fund more than it does the company founders. A business with hundreds or thousands of crowdfunding shareholders is unlikely to experience such co-ordinated pressure on its decision-making.
Equity crowdfunding allows private companies to raise sums that are far below a level that would interest a typical VC fund manager. Yet at the same time they’re higher than could be expected from bootstrapping or contributions from friends and family.
Used in conjunction
Two trends have emerged.
1. Before VCs become involved, the earliest startup investors have often already enjoyed the biggest ROI. Some individual VC investors want to feed nearer the top of the food chain. The response has been to launch Micro VC funds that focus on early stage startups.
2. Equity crowdfunding has established itself as a viable source of business fundraising and investment opportunities. Demand to be hosted on a crowdfunding platform allows them to be selective about the startups they accept. They receive payment only after successful projects, so they often give preference to candidates that already have high levels of guaranteed support.
These factors converge when VC funds become cornerstone backers of a business that uses equity crowdfunding. VC backing can encourage more retail investors to get involved, believing that the VC’s due diligence checks must have found no cause for concern.
The Seedrs platform has a substantial network of long-standing relationships with top institutional and angel investors looking to invest in high-growth, high-potential businesses, and arranges meetings to help startup founders secure vital cornerstone founding.
Using both VC funding and equity crowdfunding is particularly good for a business that wants to recruit loyal customers. This applies to fmcg grocery brands as much as fintech startups. Committed customers can become investors, and investors can become valuable customers in a virtuous circle.
Examples of VCs supporting equity crowdfunding
Wealth management startup Moneybox raised £35m institutional cash in April 2022, led by Fidelity Ventures. Moneybox wanted some of its account holders to share in their future success alongside the institutional investors. 14,704 people became shareholders through investing £6.25m in May 2022 via equity crowdfunding.
Insurtech startup Cuvva sells short-term cover to drivers who don’t own a car but are able to borrow one. Its equity crowdfunding target was £2.5 million. By June 20, with two days left to run, they had achieved £3.26m from 2,835 investors. Three VC funds (LocalGlobe, RTP Global and Breega) invested £1.5m, 60% of the declared target.
Online art marketplace Artfinder raised £443,000 from 590 investors through a Crowdcube campaign in May/June 2022. This included further backing from VC firm Wellington Partners which brought its total investment to £5 million.
Honestly Tasty makes a plant-based alternative to cheese. Their June 2022 equity crowdfunding had a £450,000 target, and Vegan investment fund Veg Capital contributed almost £250,000 – 55% of it. By June 20, over 350 backers had pledged more than another £425,000 with 16 days remaining.
Please get in touch if you are considering using any form of crowdfunding yourself. I have studied it for eight years and I will be able to advise you on how to improve your chances of success.
In January 2022 I started writing content for CrowdInvest. It is a new equity crowdfunding platform, and part of Red Ribbon Asset Management Plc. The platform will enable Indian startups to trade shares in the UK to raise investment funding. India now has the world’s third largest startup ecosystem, though equity crowdfunding as we know it in the UK does not happen in India. This article is about how local campaigners and activists can structure a variety of community projects as a not-for-profit company and issue shares in them through a crowdfunding project.
Crowdfunding is an extremely versatile way of raising money. It can raise donations towards personal aims or charitable and worthy causes, act as a sales channel for new products, and private companies can trade equity. A further use of crowdfunding is to generate funds that are used for a community benefit. Since 2012, community share issues have raised over £155m from more than 100,000 people to support 440+ enterprises.
Why not just pass the hat round and collect donations in a regular way? This article will explain the added benefits delivered by community shares offered through a crowdfunding project, who is eligible to run them, and provide some examples.
What are community shares?
A community project can set itself up as a legal entity and offer equity for money invested in it. The investors seldom take part with an expectation of financial reward, they usually do it to support initiatives that will benefit their local community.
Each investor is allocated one share, regardless of different amounts they may have invested. Also, the shares cannot be bought or sold in a secondary market. These measures protect the integrity of a project from majority control being bought by a third party who could be hostile to its aims. Shares can only be sold back to the issuer, if there are funds available to buy them.
There is little expectation of an eventual return on investment in the standard sense of a company acquisition or an IPO, and dividends are not paid though there could be interest payments at a pre-fixed rate. Like any commercial venture, there is the risk of a project failing and capital could be lost.
It may not always be necessary to use crowdfunding and community shares. A group of community activists may be able to afford the cost of their project without publicising their venture to a wider audience. However, there are several other benefits from using crowdfunding.
Crowdfunding community shares is a low cost way of transferring equity, without needing solicitors and lawyers. The crowdfunding platforms can ensure any relevant financial and legal rules and regulations are followed, they handle the transactions, and issue shares when the fundraising is completed. For this they may charge a fee, which includes handling transactions, of up to around 8% of the amount raised. It varies, and project leaders should check with the platforms they are thinking of using.
Research has shown that investors in community shares put in eight times more than they would have given as a straight donation. That’s a measure of how much it means to people to be formally involved with a local project and have a say in it.
A crowdfunding project can gain media exposure and bring a project/society’s aims to a wider number and range of stakeholders.
Investors can inject more than money. They can also bring added skills and knowledge they are willing to offer to the project.
Once a community project is incorporated as a society eligible to issue community shares, it may also be able to register with HMRC under its EIS or SEIS schemes. Investors who pay UK income tax would then be able to reclaim from 30% to 50% of the money they put in.
Crowdfunding platforms may also be able to offer match funding donated by a third party.
What’s needed for crowdfunding to succeed?
There are basic requirements that include providing a business plan for potential investors to study, and an offer document.
Beyond these essentials, there are three more generally accepted key requirements:
1. A community project/society has to have a crowd of supporters who can be inspired to make an investment.
2. The project should provide a tangible long-term benefit, rather than be a way to shore up running costs or cash flow problems associated with some existing infrastructure, for example.
3. The project/society leaders have to be happy to share ownership with a wider community. Investors who have voting rights will also expect their views to be heard.
Community share projects can often be in out-of-the-way places where trading levels are insufficient to meet turnover or profit targets. This can cover a community buying its local pub when the brewery-owner would otherwise close it down, or taking ownership of a village shop and post office. Shareholders then have a vested financial interest in supporting the community assets.
Preserving a local bookshop in the face of growing online shopping was another example. The project leader said afterwards: “We raised the money we needed quicker and we raised more through community shares than we would’ve done via a loan. It’s great having all these members having a stake. They will be customers as well as members.”
On a far larger scale, the town of Dingwall in Ross-shire, Scotland, had a proud tradition of malt whisky production dating back to 1690. Ninety years after the town’s last whisky distillery closed, a new one opened as the world’s first community owned distillation plant after a £2.5 million community shares fundraise in 2018. Over 2,400 investors from 30 countries bought shares in what became the UK’s largest community share crowdfunding campaign. The distillery created local job opportunities, with business and personal incomes feeding in to the local economy.
In this example, issuing community shares supported sustainability in the built environment. Carl Elefante, former president of the American Institute of Architects, said: “The greenest building is the one that already exists.” When the NHS decided to close the Southwold and District Hospital in Suffolk it was going to be demolished and replaced by luxury homes. A group of local people partnered with a housing association to buy the former community hospital and recycle it. Their community share offer raised almost £400,000 towards redeveloping and repurposing the former hospital as a community hub with a library and co-working space, plus nine affordable flats and houses.
LATCH (Leeds Action To Change Homes) is a community benefit society in the Chapeltown area of Leeds. For over 30 years it has been transforming derelict buildings into new homes for people who need them, helping them get their lives back on track while at the same time providing training and employment opportunities. In August 2021 they raised over £550,000 to refurbish vacant properties as eight new homes.
These few examples demonstrate how community share crowdfunding can empower local communities to take control of their environment and resist corporate decision-making that is not always in their best interest.
The world’s population is expected to have grow by over 2.3 billion people from 2009 to 2050. To feed the world population by then, food production will have to increase by around 70% from the 2005/07 levels (source: The World Bank). Meeting this world demand for food is going to need innovation in agriculture: selecting what to grow, how to grow it, learning how yields per acre of land can be raised, and reducing food waste significantly. Innovations and breakthroughs do not have a past history for banks, other traditional lenders or investors to weigh up the potential risks and returns. Crowdfunding for agriculture, agritech and new foodstuffs will help develop the innovation needed to feed over 9 billion people by 2050.
It’s more than just the number of people
Annual economic growth forecasts for developing countries are around 2.9%, which will reduce economic poverty substantially. Rising income levels usually drive an increased demand for meat, eggs and dairy. This in turn boosts pressure to grow more corn and soybeans to feed more cattle, pigs and chickens. If too many farmers follow this trend it would still mean shortages of subsistence crops for the poorest people.
Other complications include:
an increasing level of foodstuff used for biomass fuels
methane produced by livestock is a significant contributor to greenhouse gasses
extreme weather conditions associated with climate change will ruin crops more often
On the plus side:
hydroponic farming enables more efficient use of resources
robotics coupled with better data collection will allow greater use of artificial intelligence
better crop selection, reduced infestations and better-timed harvesting will improve arable efficiency and yield levels
There are different types of crowdfunding, all based on the broad principle of getting a little bit of support from a crowd of people, rather than try to get all the money from a single source.
Donations crowdfunding is what it says; people donate and expect nothing tangible in return. The satisfaction of having helped a cause or an idea they empathise with is enough.
Reward crowdfunding was originally a way to incentivise donors with a perk – some form of a related benefit: perhaps a product sample; a t-shirt as a thank you; or a mention on a website page. This developed in to commercial reward-based crowdfunding, whereby crowdfunding platforms can be used as virtual sales channels: a “donation” is “rewarded” with a specified product item that can be made on demand. The sums involved can range from very modest projects to some generating over £1m of orders.
It is common for startup creators of an innovative product to use reward-based crowdfunding to check marketplace traction. On achieving good results they move on to equity crowdfunding to set up a solid business. A great example is The Cheeky Panda, which has disrupted the paper tissue market with a plant-based alternative. It began in 2016 with a reward-based crowdfunding project that aimed to generate £10,000 of orders for tissues made from sustainable bamboo, which has three crops a year. After just five years’ trading and four rounds of equity crowdfunding, plus VC and institutional investment, the business is currently valued at £80m. Its founders are reportedly planning an IPO in 2022 at a flotation value of £300m.
The UK remains a global leader in equity crowdfunding – which is the raising of investment funds through trading shares in a business via a crowdfunding platform. By comparison, U.S. equity crowdfunding remains complicated by a two-tier system of accredited and non-accredited investors; limits on how much businesses are allowed to raise and individuals can invest; and strict (expensive) legal verification of documents. After a brief trial period in China it does not exist at all. It is banned by the financial authorities in India who claim the majority of people need to be protected from both scammers and from inherent financial investment risks they do not understand.
In peer-to-peer lending, crowds of retail investors make money available to P2P loan companies, for whoch they receive a higher fixed rate return than the retail investment levels generally available to individuals. With fixed repayment dates, it is a more liquid form of investment than taking equity in startup businesses. P2P lenders make the funds available to vetted borrowers. Without having to pay middlemen, shareholders, or finance a legacy infrastructure of bank branches, it means the borrowers can pay lower interest rates. Approval and access to the money is also much faster.
Folk2Folk is a UK P2P lender specifically for the crowdfunding for agriculture / farming sector.
Crowdfunding new foodstuffs
Seaweed is being hailed as a “superfood.” It is increasingly used as a basis for snack products, and for meat-free mince used in sausages and burgers. It can also be used in fabric to make clothing, in cosmetics, and feeding seaweed to cattle can reduce their methane output by up to 80%. While it is growing, on undersea ropes, it is more effective at removing CO2 from the environment than forests on the land.
Seaweed farming is in its infancy in the UK. Traditional lenders and investors lack a database of past performance against which they can assess the risks and potential returns. The modest sums often sought for early stage developments are not large enough to interest VCs.
Yorkshire-based Seagrown reached its reward crowdfunding target of £25,000 in August 2021, which will allow it to seed an extra four kilometres of rope. The seeded ropes will be suspended just offshore in the North Sea in October, and Seagrown expect to harvest their crop in summer 2022. The perks for the biggest backers include a boat trip out to the rope lines. This will give Seagrown’s founders a unique opportunity to spend time with them and find out how much they may be prepared to invest if they decide to go ahead with equity crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is good marketing and network building, it can open doors.
In 2019, the US plant-based food company AKUA launched the world’s first kelp burger made from sustainable seaweed. In 2018 they had used reward-based crowdfunding to generate $80,000 of orders for a packaged kelp jerky product via Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Then from early November 2020 to late April 2021, they raised $1,070,000 (the maximum permitted at the time) via the US equity crowdfunding platform Republic. This reinforces that progression from reward to equity crowdfunding is now quite a standard path. AKUA’s success, and that of all similar businesses, creates a growing market for seaweed farmers.
An example of crowdfunding for agriculture related to clothing is a young UK entrepreneur, Adam Costello. He grew up near the Anglesey coast. Time spent clearing plastic waste from the sea and the beaches led to a business plan to make clothing using seaweed fibre, and decorate it with messages about ocean sustainability. He offered the clothing to early backers through Kickstarter. His gross order value was modest, just over £14,000, though it was enough to start his Inland Sea business. This shows how crowdfunding provides an individual with a way to follow their passion and start making a difference, as well as an income.
Crowdfunding hydroponic farming
Also known as vertical farming, crops are grown indoors, in stacked layers, in nutrient-rich water instead of soil. Hydroponic farmers manage and maintain optimal nutrient levels in the liquid solution. It means food can be grown anywhere there is a supply of fresh water and energy for lighting – no soil required! Food can even be grown underground or in surplus office blocks, nearer to population centres in hyper-local supply chains. This reduces the food miles required to put it on to consumers’ plates. It uses far less water per volume of food produced, and no pesticides, making it more sustainable and climate-friendly.
A World Wildlife Fund 2020 report estimates indoor farming will have an annual growth rate of over 24% between 2018 and 2024, hitting $3 billion in revenues worldwide in 2024.
At a startup level, Harvest Londonraised over £400,000 in 2019 to grow food to order in the heart of London for restaurants. They are still trading, desite the hospitality shutdown during the Covid pandemic.
Also in London, UK, Square Mile Farms raised over £500,000 through equity crowdfunding in June 2020. They install vertical farms in workplaces, to engage employees in their maintenance and help businesses create a culture of healthy, low-impact living. Early customers included the major property owners and developers Grosvenor Estates and British Land, plus Vodafone. The property owners became active partners through providing access to their commercial tenants.
More recently, another specialty B2B operator, Local Indoor Farming (LIF) in The Netherlands, raised €108,000 in July 2021 through a crowdfunding campaign on the CrowdAboutNow platform. LIF will now manufacture and provide herb towers to hotels and the catering industry so they can grow their own fresh ingredients in a totally controllable manner in limited space.
On a much larger scale, Aerofarms is a US agritech business that began in New Jersey in 2004 and today it has indoor vertical farms across the country. In 2010 it raised an undisclosed amount through equity crowdfunding. They use any available buildings that are large enough, including former factories and nightclubs, even a paintball venue. In 2019 Aerofarms invested $42m in a 150,000 square feet purpose-built facility in Virginia. A recent investor in 2020 was the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) that wants to grow food in its desert. In 2021 Aerofarms completed an IPO. They are listed on the NASDAQ exchange and currently valued at $1.2 billion. They claim they grow 400 times more food per unit of land than conventional farming can achieve.
Crowdfunding for agriculture technology – agritech
Drone Ag provides farmers with drones they can fly using software loaded to their mobile phone. Without having to be there, they can spray crops, check that crops are growing well, spot infestations, and create images far clearer and more detailed than using satellite-generated ones. This enables better control of pests and soil nutrition, reduces costs and chemical use, and ultimately increases yields and profit. The two business founding brothers were farmers themselves, and through absolutely understanding the challenges that exist today they have created technology that will handle the future. They raised almost £300,000 in 2019 in exchange for approximately 16.6% equity, and then a further £300,000 in 2020 for 10.7% equity.
In the last 12 months, UK-based Small Robot Company has transitioned from prototypes to a commercial service. It uses an autonomous robot and AI software to create a weed map for customers. Fungicides and biopesticides can then be applied with precision to reduce the amounts wasted in places where they are not needed. In August 2021 Small Robot Company raised £4m through equity crowdfunding to manufacture a fleet of robots for its commercial weed mapping service. Two other devices under trial include the world’s first 5G-ready agri-robot for arable farms, and SlugBot is the world’s first robotic monitoring and bio-molluscicide treatment system for slugs.
Crover is a new business in Scotland. Its crowdfunding for agriculture technology was to develop a robot that burrows down in to cereal crops stored in silos or while it’s in transit at sea. The robot checks non-visible conditions inside the crops: humidity, temperature, presence of any pests, and so on. In August 2021 it raised £337,000 through equity crowdfunding. Crover’s next steps include pilot tests in the UK and Italy as part of the agROBOfood Innovation Experiments throughout March 2022.
Crowdfunding for agriculture will accelerate the innovation in new foodstuffs and agritech required to feed over 9 billion people by 2050.
I originally wrote this article for Crowdsourcing Week as part of its Content Marketing programme.
It’s said by many people – not just me – that as well as raising money, effective crowdfunding is great marketing. It gets you written about and maybe interviewed. It gets you noticed by would-be suppliers, collaborators, distributors, influencers, affiliates and stockists, as well as backers. I made one of own investments after being impressed when I saw, by total accident, a startup CEO interviewed on television about her crowdfunding project.
Crowdfunding is one of twenty categories in the third annual round of the international BOLD Awards. Their aim is to recognise and shine a spotlight on crowd-related breakthroughs and innovative people, businesses and projects that are leading the way and setting an example in digital industries. Other categories include AI, Robotics, AR/VR, Crypto, Fintech, Cybersecurity, Agritech, Sustainability…….. here’s the full twenty categories.
Here’s how it works. Entries are submitted online, naturally, and can be viewed by potential voters and continually updated by the entrants. There will be a public round of voting early in 2022, which is an opportunity for entrants to mobilize their communities and “get the vote out.” An international panel of judges will then take a look at the entries, and winners in each category will be decided through a blend of public votes and judges’ appraisals.
Winners will be able to collect their awards at a prestigious black-tie gala dinner on March 25th, hosted by Europe’s largest accelerator hub, H-FARM, on their campus just outside Venice. It will be a unique event, with unrepeatable opportunities to network and connect with leading edge innovators and disruptors among the other winners, the judges, and invited VIPs. Given thatcrowdfunding is great marketing, here will be your chance to make an impression in person.
Plenty of candidates would be able to enter under several categories. As an example, the Small Robot Company, with its agritech robots controlled by AI and working to improve sustainability, has recently concluded a round of equity crowdfunding in the UK.
Previous nominees in the Crowdfunding category include Startup Italia and Borrow A Boat from the UK.
Entries are open, with the price held at €77 until September 15. If you have worked hard and enjoyed crowdfunding success, get some recognition at the BOLD Awards gala dinner award ceremony in Venice in March 2022. Register to enter now, and maybe I’ll see you next March in Venice.