Equity investment patterns give reasons to be cheerful
It can be all too easy to get caught up in the negativity that has surrounded the world of business in the past few years. But while the concerns of business experts are often valid, when we peel back the layers of commentary the figures can sometimes paint a different picture.
Data released earlier this year by Beauhurst shows that equity investment into high-growth UK businesses has soared to record levels. In all, £8.3bn was invested during 2017, more than double the previous 12 months.
More than 80% of this total came from overseas investment, which reached £5.87bn last year, compared to £2.05bn in 2016.
For our part, BGF completed 48 new investments and provided £310m in funding to smaller and mid-sized UK companies in 2017.
Of course, Brexit has been having its impact on business and consumer confidence, as noted in PMI surveys and other local indicators such as the Danske Bank Consumer Confidence Index.
But at the same time there has been a wave of foreign desirability for growing businesses that has passed almost unnoticed.
It seems that overseas investors are excited about the future of the UK economy and prepared to bet on the success of future trade deals with the likes of the US.
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But investment isn't being directed into just any businesses - it's heading to the high-growth and the ambitious, those that are working hard to be globally competitive, innovative, and resilient.
This isn't confined to London or England - my experience is that there are lots of businesses in Northern Ireland that fit those criteria and they too are on investors' radars.
You only have to look at the multi-million pound investments from overseas investors into the likes of refrigeration business Lowe Rental and travel company Camperco, which have been completed in the first quarter of 2018, for proof of this.
If the supply of equity investment increased in 2017, so too did the demand. Clearly businesses don't have the desire to wait until Brexit unfolds further before moving forward with their plans.
They're acting now. We're seeing this across our NI portfolio, from earlier-stage businesses, such as Audit Comply, to growth-stage companies such as Riverridge.
Whatever the stage of business, the common factor across our portfolio of 200+ companies across the UK is that they are investing in growth through expansion and acquisition.
It's good news that investment is up. But there are a few caveats.
First, there is more foreign appetite than domestic funding. That needs to be redressed, and quickly. The number of government-backed deals continues to reduce, and we're also seeing the impact of the EU-aligned European Investment Fund drying up.
More needs to be done to deploy capital that could be used to support the SME economy. BGF's launch in the Republic of Ireland last year, with backing from ISIF, AIB, Bank of Ireland and BGF's existing shareholders is one example.
Second, a deep pool of capital isn't necessarily a patient pool of capital. In business, patience is not only a virtue in a potentially volatile environment - it is vital.
Patient capital exists to help management teams realise the best possible value for their business - and that can take time.
That doesn't mean there's a conflict between patient capital and exits. Rather, patient capital allows management teams to shoot for the right type of exit, at the right time and the right price for the entrepreneur and the economy.
It's an approach that's gaining traction.
BGF did more deals with more companies specifically seeking investment for growth and expansion than any other investor in the world last year. And yet, we invest in companies headquartered in the UK and Ireland exclusively.
This shows that, right now, there is clearly a strong match between the domestic supply of, and demand for, patient capital into ambitious businesses.
If we can capitalise on this moment in time to properly mobilise significantly more domestic capital, then we could have an unprecedented impact on the UK's high-growth economy.
Paddy Graham is an investor in the BGF (Business Growth Fund)