Post By Simon Montford on Dec 4 2018
On Friday 30th November I attended the VCT and EIS Investor Forum in London. The event enabled private investors to meet fund managers in person and learn how different VCT and EIS funds compare. The event featured an expo, cinema, exhibition space, and seminar room where talks and panel debates took place throughout the day. Attendees were given the opportunity to gain industry insights and understand what is going on more generally across the entire small-cap equity market landscape.
Those who attended included High Net Worth individuals, business angels, retired corporate executives, IFAs, Wealth Managers, Family Office representatives, legal advisors, and startup entrepreneurs. My primary reason for attending was to cover the Expo, which was held on a separate floor from the main event.
Sponsored by Innovate UK and Creative England, it consisted of a lab and playroom packed with tech startups. Highlights included MarkerClub, Fox Robotics, Witt Energy, Trik, RadBot and Service Robotics, but my pick of the day went to ZOA Robotics. The company is developing industrial quadruped robots (similar to those developed by Boston Dynamics) and I will definitely be keeping an eye on their progress.
As time was short, I only attended a few of the talks and panel debates - here is a quick summary. The day kicked off with a keynote by Gerald Ratner, the infamous retail entrepreneur who made a very costly joke back in the early 90s. His recount of the entire debacle was highly amusing and actually quite inspirational. He started by sharing a personal account of his lowest point and how he used positive self-talk and exercise to mentally recover from the flippant remark that turned his career, business, and professional reputation into a toxic pile of ash. His wittily self-deprecating account of how he managed to reboot his entrepreneurial career, and put years of debt and depression behind him, was a great way to kick-start the day!
The remainder of the agenda comprised of talks, pitches, and debates, but the three most noteworthy topics for me were transparency (investors want more data from fund managers), inclusivity (greater gender and ethnic diversity), and of course Brexit!
What came across loud and clear was that the industry continues to remain resilient and there are plenty of reasons why the industry is and should remain (pun not intended) optimistic. According to figures released by the British Business Bank, the UK is still attracting record amounts of private capital and the number of investable companies continues to grow. Of the EIS fund managers I interviewed most, felt optimistic about post-Brexit Britain, and all had strong deal pipelines. This gave me the impression that the UK small-cap equity sector and tech ecosystem are both in rude health, and that Britain will continue to be a hub of innovation and global excellence.
It was actually very reassuring to see that the smart money in the room clearly understood the importance and potential of tech startups and Knowledge Intensive (KI) businesses. I firmly believe that if Britain is to retain her place in the world, financiers and government must redouble efforts to support the tech sector. This is because knowing how to leverage Machine Learning (ML) to facilitate organisational knowledge, insight, and wisdom from big data will become a strategic imperative.
They say data is the new oil, well I think Artificial Intelligence (AI) is rapidly becoming the lifeblood of corporations and governments. It is vital, therefore, that an abundance of early-stage capital gets into the hands of the best and brightest entrepreneurs and innovators. Not only will small-cap equity funds be rewarded with increasingly handsome returns, but by backing them, the UK economy will continue to strengthen and ensure that the British tech sector remains at the vanguard.
In addition to AI and ML, the UK must also remain at the cutting edge of Internet of Things (IoT) and Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT). As regular readers will know, WEB3//IOT is all about the convergence of these three game-changing innovations (IoT+AI+DLT). That's because we predict the emergence of a machine-dominated web will be made possible by ubiquitous connectivity and rapid advancements in machine intelligence. DLT will be used as a distributed machine-to-machine (M2M) protocol layer, like TCP/IP is for today's people-centric web. Over the next few years this will lead to the creation of a machine economy that will generate an abundance of wealth and prosperity for many decades to come.
Addendum; I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to cover the Expo, and I'd like to give Blendology an honourable mention. I attend a substantial number of conferences, but hadn't come across their "smart" connected name badges prior to this event. The badges were a highly innovative solution that really did facilitate attendee interaction as well as post-conference networking. Just another example of British innovation in action!
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