So the legend goes that Lionel Messi could dribble a ball before his second birthday; Kobe Bryant could dunk at three, and Serena Williams picked up a racket at four. Child prodigies abound, and Guy Tolhurst started his first business at five years old. Selling woodlice from his bedside table, Tolhurst took advantage of an unregulated isopod market and a tight network of family and friends. However fine the margins were, Tolhurst’s woodlouse enterprise would put him in good stead for posterity. Some 30 years on, the entrepreneur now runs three small businesses in and around financial services that facilitate capital investment into thousands of businesses around the UK.
“I’m on a mission to help SMEs access the capital they need to realise their growth ambitions,” says Tolhurst. “But also to help them become responsible with the capital they take on and get the right support along the way.” Some SME leaders are unaware of the funding options available to their business, particularly equity investment, according to Tolhurst. “One of the current barriers is that only 10% of entrepreneurs are taking on equity investment while 49% are taking on debt,” says Tolhurst. “I’m passionate about solving that because with equity investment, you get a lot more than just capital: you get access to talented and experienced people who are willing to support you along your growth journey.”
Entrepreneurs have long been hostile to the idea of selling equity largely because they do not want to relinquish control over their business. Tolhurst believes that this is a classic misconception. “Just because you are substituting equity for growth capital, it doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily going to lose control of your business,” says Tolhurst. “That’s why it’s important to take on the right capital, from the right partner at the right time, and this changes over the life of a business.”
Taking on the right capital, as opposed to any capital, is an important caveat. In 2012, the government sought to address access to finance issues for SMEs by implementing new initiatives, such as the British Business Bank, the Midlands Engine and the Northern Powerhouse as well as promoting the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS). These interventions, plus low interest rates and relatively slow macro-economic growth over the last decade, have made access to capital far easier for SMEs, but it has also caused confusion. “We now have a complicated financial capital landscape,” says Tolhurst. “When the government solved the access to finance problem, they created another – a lack of education and information for SMEs on financing options.”
To plug this knowledge gap and help SMEs learn from the paths taken by their peers, Tolhurst launched Intelligent Partnership’s 100 Stories of Growth campaign this summer, which seeks to promote successful SME growth stories and inspire others. Success, according to Tolhurst, is contagious and by highlighting successful SME stories, this allows the bug, as it were, to spread.
For more information about Guy Tolhurst and his 100 Stories of Growth campaign, visit: www.100stories.co.uk