Don't invest unless you're prepared to lose all the money you invest. This is a high-risk investment and you are unlikely to be protected if something goes wrong.
Risk Summary

Estimated reading time: 2 min

Due to the potential for losses, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) considers this investment to be high risk.

What are the key risks?

  • You could lose all the money you invest
  • Most investments are shares in start-up businesses or bonds issued by them. Investors in these shares or bonds often lose 100% of the money they invested, as most start-up businesses fail.
  • Checks on the businesses you are investing in, such as how well they are expected to perform, may not have been carried out by the platform you are investing through. You should do your own research before investing.

You won't get your money back quickly

  • Even if the business you invest in is successful, it will likely take several years to get your money back.
  • The most likely way to get your money back is if the business is bought by another business or lists its shares on an exchange such as the London Stock Exchange. These events are not common.
  • Start-up businesses very rarely pay you back through dividends. You should not expect to get your money back this way.
  • Some platforms may give you the opportunity to sell your investment early through a 'secondary market' or 'bulletin board', but there is no guarantee you will find a buyer at the price you are willing to sell.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket

  • Putting all your money into a single business or type of investment for example, is risky. Spreading your money across different investments makes you less dependent on any one to do well. A good rule of thumb is not to invest more than 10% of your money in high-risk investments. Learn more here.

The value of your investment can be reduced

  • If your investment is shares, the percentage of the business that you own will decrease if the business issues more shares. This could mean that the value of your investment reduces, depending on how much the business grows. Most start-up businesses issue multiple rounds of shares.
  • These new shares could have additional rights that your shares don't have, such as the right to receive a fixed dividend, which could further reduce your chances of getting a return on your investment.

You are unlikely to be protected if something goes wrong

  • Protection from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), in relation to claims against failed regulated firms, does not cover poor investment performance. Try the FSCS investment protection checker.
  • Protection from the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) does not cover poor investment performance. If you have a complaint against an FCA-regulated platform, FOS may be able to consider it. Learn more about FOS protection here.

If you are interested in learning more about how to protect yourself, visit the FCA's website here.

For further information about investment-based crowdfunding, visit the crowdfunding section of the FCA's website here.

Investing Capital

How do you decide which companies to invest in via EIS?

The Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) was launched in 1994 to encourage more private funding for new businesses.

It has since helped to leverage over £18bn worth of startup investment.

The scheme allows investors to receive tax relief on up to £1m of funds injected into businesses in any tax year – or £2m if those companies are considered ‘knowledge-intensive’.

The headline benefit is an income tax break worth 30% of the value of your investment applied in the year of investment, or the previous one.

An exemption from capital gains tax also applies on profits earned from shares owned for three years or more. Capital gains can also be deferred by putting them into an EIS-compliant startup.

There is also zero inheritance tax to pay on shares held for at least two years, while investors benefit from loss relief to protect against the collapse of their investee. If the business fails, you receive relief valued proportionally in line with your income tax bracket.

The latest annual figures, for 2016/17, show that almost 30,000 investors claimed income tax relief through the scheme. A total of £1.8bn was raised for 3,470 companies that year.

And choosing which opportunities you invest in through EIS is partly dictated by the basic rules of the scheme.

Read more: 10 common questions on EIS investing

Firstly, the business must not be listed on any exchange and its operations must centre around a qualifying trade. The majority of trades do qualify, but if more than 20% of operations involve ineligible trades, you will not be able to claim EIS tax breaks.

These trades, shown here, include farming, running a hotel or nursing home, legal or financial services, and energy generation. Coal or steel production, property development and leasing activities are also on the list of non-qualifying trades.

The company must also have a permanent UK base, no more than 250 staff and less than £15m in gross assets. Investors with a connection to the business, either financially or through employment, will not be able to claim income tax relief through the scheme. Companies must meet EIS criteria both at the time of investment and also for three subsequent years.

Furthermore, any monies raised through EIS must be used to expand the business, and not to purchase another company’s shares, trade or certain assets. These rules are designed to ensure that only businesses offering a high growth opportunity to investors are EIS-eligible.

With so many opportunities standing within the EIS parameters, however, choosing which one to invest in can be hugely challenging.

Select wisely and you will not only mitigate your income tax bills, but also diversify your portfolio and enjoy potentially strong returns.

You may also wish to play an active role in helping to guide the enterprise beyond its goals as a seasoned business expert.

If you find the selection process overwhelming, or simply want a fast-track into tax efficient startup investing, you could invest via a managed EIS fund.

But if you are keen to go it alone as a business investor, there are various approaches to help you choose from the many available opportunities.

Read more: 6 facts you might not know about EIS tax reliefs

Initially, you may decide to seek an opportunity in a sector you know well. Perhaps you are keen to share your expertise to disrupt the established order in this particular industry. Alternatively, you may be drawn to a high growth industry that has piqued your interest. Aside from the financial benefits, business investment can be a vehicle to pursue more interesting or meaningful work – possibly after exiting your own business. You may therefore seek to back businesses involved in solving world problems through innovation.

But whatever factor is top of your agenda when you look for EIS-qualifying startups to add to your portfolio, there are some fundamental considerations.

Crucially, is the management team capable of realising the business plan? As an investor, some degree of instinct is required as you weigh up the people behind the business. Since yours is likely to be a long-term investment, you must of course click with the people you back - but there are also many characteristics to look out.

Is the team adequately skilled? Does it have strong market knowledge? Will it respond quickly and flexibly to unexpected setbacks? Is the team harmonious? Will the founders take your advice on board?

Analysing the business model is also absolutely key to your assessment of the opportunity. Investors use many different tools to test startup business models from every angle. As a sophisticated investor, you may have devised your own system. It is worth noting that startup business models are not set in stone. They will invariably change – either through minor tweaking or more sweeping adjustments. As an investor you are looking for signs of potential, but also evidence that the model is robust and likely to function smoothly.

Also vitally important is the market opportunity. In a study of 101 failed startups, CB Insights found ‘no market need’ was the most common reason for failure.

The management team must be able to demonstrate clear market demand, whilst your own research into the market opportunity will help to ensure that the true picture is not being sugar-coated in the hunt for investment.

Another good indicator of market demand is the momentum in the business. Early sales, web traffic, enquiries, positive focus group responses and beta testing results can all serve as indicators of market need for the product or service.

Read more: the 5Ms of investing: why are they so important to understand when investing in  startups?

The money factor must also be questioned before you invest.

Is there enough cash flow in the business to keep it in hot pursuit of its targets? Does the business have a clear plan to maximise the impact of your investment? Are further fundraising events that will dilute your share on the horizon? Money, and the other pre-investment considerations mentioned here, are often termed the ‘5 Ms of startup investment’ (you can read more about them here).

In summary, as an investor you must choose opportunities that are aligned with the ambitions you have for your portfolio – and possibly your career if you intend to become an active and engaged business angel.

Becoming a startup investor can be a steep learning curve, with various associated risks, but the benefits of EIS, alongside the many advantages of enterprise investment, can undoubtedly make it a journey well worth embarking upon.

Driving Growth.
Creating Value.
Delivering Impact.

Backed by

Growth Capital Ventures (GCV) is backed by funds managed by Maven Capital Partners, one of the UK’s leading private equity and alternative asset managers.