Change is a funny thing. Sometimes it takes us forward, sometimes it pulls us back. Sometimes it comes from years of effort and sometimes, it just happens without anyone realising. We recently experienced one of these changes. It pulled us back, forced so many of us into hardship and worst of all, it stole our confidence. I’m talking about the economic crisis. It’s fair to say that things are getting better, though not with the speed or ferocitywith which they got worse. The road to recovery seems slow.
Yet there is another change happening in the UK. A change in the commercial climate, specifically for Crowdfunding. This change could take us forward, give us the chance to create something, to innovate. It could give us back our confidence. But it’s not just about confidence, Entrepreneurs are naturally optimistic. They have to be. It’s about a combination of factors coming together at the right time in the right way to create a thriving Crowdfunding industry in the UK.
Firstly, something that we really take for granted in the UK. Our politicians are (begrudgingly) working together in the national interest. I know, the phrase ‘in the National Interest’ makes me cringe too. Like a radio station playing your favourite song way too often, Cameron & Clegg utterly killed that expression. Cringe factor aside though, it’s true. I’m not talking about the Conservatives forming a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. That was a marriage of necessity.
I’m talking about Barry Sheerman (Labour MP, Huddersfield) who chairs the Westminster Crowdfunding Forum. I’m talking about Vince Cable (Liberal Democrat MP, Twickenham) supporting greater access to alternative sources of finance like Crowdfunding. I’m talking about Damian Collins (Conservative MP, Folkestone & Hythe) awarding the 2013 UK Startup Initiative award to Crowdcube, an Equity Crowdfunding platform (and my new employer, we’ll cover that later). I’m talking about genuine cross party political will and if you want to know just how special that is, you only have to look across the pond at Washington DC.
But it’s more than just political will, it’s UK economic policy. Our favourite bogey man, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne, recently unveiled the UK Budget. As part of the new budget, the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) was made permanent. SEIS was a trial launched by the Coalition Government which allows individuals to invest up to £150k into any company and in return, they get up to 50% tax relief on their income that year. Well that whopping incentive is now permanent. Also the UK ‘Exceptional Talent Visa’, which historically favoured Science and the Arts, is now extended to world class Technologists. This makes it a tempting move for any Silicon Valley Techies tired of the commute.
What about the regulator? If anyone’s going to stand in the way of progress, surely it’s the bureaucratic regulator. Actually no, not this time. If you remember the Financial Services Authority (FSA), you’ll recall they were pretty much asleep at the wheel while the financial service industry went all Patrick Batemen on us. Their replacement, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) could have easily regulated so harshly against any risk as to suffocate Crowdfunding. But they didn’t. They found a compromise between protecting the consumer and allowing Crowdfunding to grow. It’s not perfect, but it’s a well-reasoned first step.
So, let’s summarise. We have cross party political support for Crowdfunding. An economic policy designed to support entrepreneurial investment. A Visa programme updated to attract the right kind of talent we need to build tomorrow’s companies and a seemingly reasonable regulator, able to strike a balance between protecting the people without tying the hands of businesses. All of these changes are coming together to create one of the most favourable Crowdfunding environments in the world.
But you know what I’m most excited about? It’s not just that the changes are happening, it’s that they’re happening here in the UK. A country full of innovative, commercially driven entrepreneurs that’s always punched above its weight. A country that competes to be the Financial Capital of the world. A country that created the computer, the jet engine, the internet. Combined with the potential for a thriving Crowdfunding industry, I can’t wait to see what we come up with next.