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My First Investment

Speakers from this year’s Venturefest share the memories and lessons learned from their first investment.

On September 29, Venturefest will bring together innovators, investors and entrepreneurs in the spirit of collaboration – putting representatives from SME’s and budding entrepreneurs face-to-face with the investors that could provide financial backing and support to their business.

An exciting mix of speakers, workshops and panel debates will motivate delegates to share ideas, make connections and foster new business opportunities. Here, six of the leading business figures appearing at Venturefest share their first experience of investment to motivate young entrepreneurs who will be aiming to secure their first investment:

Matt Warren, CEO and founder of Veeqo
Matt Warren is sitting on the ‘Investors for Innovation’ Panel

My first investment took place when I was 13 years old, in which I inadvertently organised a national fishing competition. The investment began when I rented a local lake for the day and bought an advert in a popular fishing magazine to advertise what I thought would be a modest-sized competition. I was soon surprised to receive an influx of calls to my family’s home phone enquiring into the competition. As I was yet to tell my parents about the event, I had to secretly install my Dad’s old answerphone machine and so potential competitors could leave a message and book a place in the competition even when I was at school.

When the day of the competition arrived, I asked my dad - who still had no idea what I had been planning - to drive me to the fishing lake. Needless to say we were both surprised to see almost 100 cars waiting in the car park. My dad was even more surprised when someone asked who was in charge of the competition and I meekly replied; “me.” Incredibly, people had travelled as far from Scotland, Manchester, and even Cornwall to compete.
Naturally, as a naïve teenager who had found themselves a little out of their depth, not everything ran smoothly on the day. I made an error in how I distributed the fishing spots and so all of the competitors ended up in one small area of the lake, fighting for the same fish. I had also underestimated how long it would take to weigh in all of the competitors’ fish, which caused a few delays. My dad, who was still in shock, had to spend the whole day at the lake to help me, and didn't talk to me for quite a few days after that -  although my mum has recently admitted that he was secretly impressed with me!

Anna Bastek, founder and CEO of Wolfstone
Anna Bastek will speak about growing her multi-million pound company

Growing up in Poland during communism, my family weren’t particularly affluent, and I never liked to ask my parents for money - it just didn’t feel right. To earn my own, I worked from a young age and all the way through university: in a press house during my holidays, organising promotions in supermarkets in the evenings, at a driving school on weekends, and even teaching English in my spare time!

After graduating I moved to Wales and secured a work placement as Marketing Executive in a small business. Gradually, I started to learn everything I needed to know about setting up my own business in the UK and decided to do just that. In my spare time I started a cleaning company, online affiliate programme, carbon offsetting website and a translation company, Wolfestone, which turned out to be a real success.

But juggling so many different roles meant that I was working 15-hour days and I soon started burning out. It was at this point that I decided to quit my job and focus on my own business, full time.  Despite my family voicing concerns about taking such a huge risk, this was the best decision I have ever made. My family had thought that keeping my job was the only way to guarantee security, but I never agreed with that. Being in charge of my own destiny – and investing in myself - appealed to me much more.

Ann Casey, investment executive at Finance Wales -
Ann Casey is running a workshop on early stage investing

Cardiff University spin-out, Alesi Surgical was one of my first early stage investments.  When I first met the founder of Alesi Surgical in 2009 he had an interesting idea for a medical device and had created a prototype to prove its feasibility.  Fusion IP (now IP Group) and Finance Wales both invested in the first equity round for the company.

When you’re investing in spin-outs and early stage technology ventures, building a strong working relationship with the company’s management team is crucial.  You have to trust them and believe they have the knowledge and ingenuity to overcome the challenges that always come up when you’re developing and commercialising innovative new technology.  For the company itself, securing the backing of a reliable investor like Finance Wales early on is invaluable.  It’s important that any investor can ‘follow their money’ as it can take a number of investments before your company earns its first revenues.

Frank Webster, campaigns director at Seedrs
Frank Webster is sitting on the Investors for Innovation Panel

My first investment was in Mike’s Fancy Cheese Limited, a Northern Irish manufacturer of award-winning unpasteurised blue cheese. I made the investment via the Seedrs platform – a great way for a smaller investor like me to become an angel investor; sharing research, investment capital and risk with a group.
181 other people joined me in my new business venture, each investing amounts between £10 and £15,000. Between us, Mike’s Fancy Cheese raised over £120,000, which enabled the company to build their dairy. This allowed the business to produce its own cheese, which is now on the menu at Michelin-starred restaurants, and on sale in Ireland and the UK.
While I'm under no illusion that this is going to be a 10x home run investment, I’m really happy to have been part of the story, and to have backed a phenomenal entrepreneur who is building a brilliant business. My first investment was a thoroughly exciting and engaging experience, although I've probably spent more than I ever invested on the cheese itself!

Mark Hindmarsh, founder and director of Smart Anchor Ventures
Mark Hindmarsh is a panellist judge for ‘The People’s Pitch’

I made my first investment at 15 years old when I took part in a 4 week competition for young entrepreneurs. At the beginning of the competition, each team was given a £25 investment to buy materials for their project and I persuaded my team to invest ours into producing and selling homemade decorative candles.

To increase stock production - and therefore revenue potential - I persuaded fellow school children to ask their parents to donate unused candles to our team. We subsequently revamped these donations and sold them back to the same parents at a discounted price which gave us a healthy profit.

Despite achieving by far the highest profit of all the teams in the competition – we made a total profit of £300 from a £25 investment – my team and I were disqualified from the competition for not following the rules, which stated we could only invest in the materials provided by the competition organisers. You could say in some ways my high-risk approach to my first investment didn’t pay off, but I believe the experience taught me that true entrepreneurs don’t always follow the rulebook in order to achieve their goals - and that I was a maverick non-conformist.

James Henderson, technology seed fund manager at Finance Wales -
James Henderson is running a workshop on raising seed funding for tech start-ups.

One of my first investments at Finance Wales was in one of our portfolio companies, Unite Technologies and working on this investment I learnt how important it is to be positive and believe in what you’re trying to achieve, whatever challenges you face. We’d backed Unite with three investment rounds and our equity and debt round in 2010 accelerated its growth plan, boosted the management team’s confidence and underpinned its transformation from a product supplier to a high-value solutions provider.
By being persistent, differentiating between the external, uncontrollable economic factors and the factors they could control, Unite’s management team built a company recognised for its technologically advanced solutions as well as its future potential before selling it to a large American technology company.  Finance Wales achieved a 2.4X return on its investment - our largest to date at that time.

Registration to attend Venturefest is now open. Visit www.venturefestwales.co.uk