It’s more durable than ever to be a startup, as funding turns into scarcer and valuations of progress corporations take a hit.

But extra UK entrepreneurs proceed to emerge, together with social media influencers who’re attempting their hand at working a enterprise.

We communicate to Pembroke Venture Capital Trust’s funding director Simon Porter about how the portfolio, which has a massive publicity to shopper corporations, is weathering the financial gloom, and why he thinks influencers is likely to be a vibrant spot.

Simon Porter: The Pembroke VCT investment director is investing in consumer companies and thinks influencer-led businesses can provide good returns

Simon Porter: The Pembroke VCT funding director is investing in shopper corporations and thinks influencer-led companies can present good returns

Since its launch in 2012, Pembroke VCT has raised over £196million, as of September 2022.

It invests in younger, privately owned startups throughout six broad sectors, together with meals and hospitality, wellness and design.

‘I believe there’s a funding hole of kinds, which I believe Pembroke truly plugs pretty elegantly’ says Porter. 

‘A enterprise begins with founders’ capital, then family and friends, then angel traders. Then there’s often a hole between angels and larger establishments, which I believe is traditionally the place Pembroke has been.’

Its technique has reaped some high-profile rewards. In 2020, Pembroke invested £2million in meal equipment firm Pasta Evangelists which proved to be a hit through the pandemic. 

It was snapped up by Italian agency Barilla Group and the exit represented a 2.3 instances return within the twelve months since Pembroke’s preliminary funding.

Last yr, Pembroke bought its funding in style model ME+EM to non-public fairness agency Highland Europe, attaining a return of 16 instances the unique funding.

These successes have come after years of refining the technique with Porter admitting: ‘I believe within the very early days, we in all probability backed [startups] barely too early.’

He says Pembroke has exited six or seven companies at a loss in its historical past – ‘a lot had been legacy companies… however we realized classes.’

Why Pembroke is making a bet on social media influencers


Minimum funding – £5,000

Total web property (as at September 2022) – £196.8m 

NAV – 119.36p

Dividend – 2.5p dividend declared (to be paid May 2023) 

Initial cost – 5% 

Net preliminary cost – 3% 

Sectors – wellness; meals, beverage & hospitality; training; design; media; digital providers

Current provide ends 5 April 2023, however could shut earlier if absolutely subscribed.


Pembroke has largely invested throughout shopper manufacturers which have some expertise of their given fields, however now it’s seeking to social media influencers to assist enhance returns.

In October, Pembroke invested £1million into make-up model VIEVE, which was based by influencer Jamie Genevieve in 2020.

‘She’s bought 3million or so followers who’re extremely engaged along with her merchandise – it is a pure advice engine. Whenever she does a pop up it sells out inside hours,’ says Porter.

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‘It’s additionally an attention-grabbing take on a fairly legacy sector – there hasn’t been a large quantity of innovation and [make up] is dominated by the large manufacturers. 

‘So these guys are a little bit of a disruptor in some senses however creating top quality merchandise with out model mark-up. It’s led by somebody who’s extremely partaking with a loyal following who assist the model by way of attain and in addition assist her refine the subsequent product.’

Where different manufacturers within the portfolio won’t have such a loyal following, influencer-led companies have a ready-made buyer base keen to purchase merchandise supplied they know their viewers.

Porter highlights activewear model TALA, led by influencer Grace Beverley, which it invested in final February.

‘She’s bought a large variety of followers however she’s superb at utilizing her influencer standing. She’ll design a vary, have a pattern made, put it on her Instagram and take pre-orders. She takes them and will get stuff made within the factories.

Pembroke VCT recently invested in influencer Jamie Genevieve's beauty brand VIEVE

Pembroke VCT just lately invested in influencer Jamie Genevieve’s magnificence model VIEVE 

‘Unlike another style enterprise she has fairly beneficial working capital. She did not should tie cash into inventory as a result of she meets orders she’s already obtained.

‘She actually is aware of her clients they usually’re extremely evangelical in regards to the venture.’

Social media influencers have a shelf life although, and Pembroke is aware of that higher than most, after overseeing the winding down of Alexa Chung’s personal model.

‘It clearly wasn’t working, it is a very troublesome area. One of the issues was her viewers, weren’t essentially her clients. Your common followers are of their mid 20s, your value level in all probability is not aligned sufficient.

‘There’s at all times a threat with an influencer-led enterprise having their title above the door.’

How Pembroke VCT is faring amid financial gloom

The portfolio had its fair proportion of challenges through the pandemic given its publicity to shopper corporations, however Porter stays upbeat in regards to the well being of the portfolio.

He highlights Secret Food Tours, a firm which depends on journey and tourism, which needed to ‘primarily mothball and relaunch… [but] now they’re doing record-breaking numbers.’

‘Other corporations on paper would have struggled have however most of it has been fairly momentary they usually’ve been capable of scale up fairly shortly since. For some corporations Covid was truly a chance.

That is to not say that Pembroke has been resistant to the adjustments throughout the startup panorama because the economic system began to open up once more.

While consideration has been on the massive hits to listed tech companies and the accompanying layoffs, early stage startups are additionally going through warmth from the autumn in valuations as rates of interest rise.

In Pembroke’s newest outcomes, within the six months to September 2022, the agency mentioned it had made a lack of £5million with funding revaluations amounting to a web value of £3.3million.

It mentioned it had decreased valuations in six corporations, together with Chucs Restaurants, Kinteract, and Stitch and Story, however the worth of six of its different portfolio corporations, together with Five Guys, had elevated.

small business

‘Our resilience within the portfolio was, as everybody else’s, was examined in Covid. I’m happy to say it does carry out exceptionally nicely and I believe a lot of that was a testomony to our founders and to VCTs usually.’

The complete return per share has inched up steadily because the pandemic, from 121.3p in March 2020 to 151p by March 2022. It dipped to 147.6p by June 2022, in keeping with its most up-to-date filings, and it has raised its goal dividend from 3p to 5p. 

‘The returns for each us and the founders is how we assist and wrap round them from day one to exit,’ says Porter. ‘We will assist the groups put within the subsequent degree of individuals, say a CFO or a actually good non exec or chair. It will give [them] the very best likelihood of success… and provides everybody the prospect of a good return.

‘We need to assist them put in place the individuals they should ship that imaginative and prescient. We’ve bought a financial institution of greater than 100 actually good business non execs. They do not want the work fairly frankly however have a actual ardour for this area and need to get entangled in serving to small companies.’

Money maker: Pembroke's latest results revealed that the value of six of its portfolio companies, including burger chain Five Guys, had increased

Money maker: Pembroke’s newest outcomes revealed that the worth of six of its portfolio corporations, together with burger chain Five Guys, had elevated

Will more money for VCTs dilute the portfolio?

Despite the powerful financial outlook and a troublesome interval for wider small-cap investing, urge for food for VCTs has held up nicely.

VCTs issued shares to the worth of £1.12billion within the final tax yr, a 68 per cent enhance, and it’s prone to rise once more this yr.

This is basically due to the elevated tax burden as a results of frozen thresholds. More skilled traders are actually seeking to VCTs, which supply 30 per cent revenue tax aid.

Porter thinks that whereas traders are appealed by the tax aid, they’re additionally more and more within the UK startup area.

‘I believe a lot of massive corporations have misplaced their capability to innovate. Our personal founders began off someplace like Deliveroo, and had a nice thought for enterprise. But it is not an setting that actually fosters innovation, they usually cannot actually launch in-house so that they go away to arrange their very own enterprise.

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‘There is growing protection of small British companies being acquired by massive gamers who need their expertise, ambition, imaginative and prescient, and entrepreneurial aspect.’

A whole lot of massive corporations have misplaced their capability to innovate  

Pembroke itself has seen elevated urge for food amongst traders: final April the fund raised a document £46million and launched a new provide to lift as much as £60million.

The success of the likes of Pasta Evangelists can have little question raised its profile, however Porter thinks it is as a lot about about the kind of corporations Pembroke invests in.

‘[Investors] stroll previous a Five Guys and say ‘I’m an investor in that through Pembroke!’ A variety of our manufacturers you possibly can see on a each day foundation. There’s a lot extra private curiosity in corporations.

‘We usually have traders come to us to make introductions on behalf of our firm, as a result of they only are usually fascinated about seeing them succeed.’

But with elevated cash into VCTs, they is likely to be prone to diluting their portfolios given they’re certain by guidelines to deploy a specific amount of capital over a interval.

Could they find yourself overpaying for corporations or sacrifice the standard of companies they’re investing in?

‘It’s definitely not a drawback now we have and we’re very a lot a increase and deploy kind of fund. We increase what we are able to deploy primarily. Then we come again to the market a yr later, so we do not sit on money. 

‘We assume it is good for our traders who’re paying us a administration payment to handle cash moderately than sit on money on the stability sheet.

‘I believe some funds are in all probability a bit much less picky or combating over a deal… which I assume is the place your pipeline administration is available in as a fund. 

‘We’re traditionally extremely fortunate in that many of the corporations we take a look at come on to us. It’s a operate of how we had been based however we’re lucky to see a lot of offers lots of which the market would not.’

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