Essential Linc to investors

Finance: a non-profit network provides a lifeline for a hi-tech company
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The Independent Online
WITH worldwide customers including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, and Sharp, Bede Scientific Instruments would appear to be well set up. But problems in funding product development and increasing sales of its goods meant that Bede required both finance and management assistance.

The University of Warwick Science Park put Bede in touch with the Local Investment Networking Company (Linc) - one of 11 UK agencies in a national scheme founded in 1987 as a non-profit company to help small companies find equity finance and support through private investors.

Susan Krantz, general manager of the Linc scheme, said the organisation had achieved 27 "pure matches" of companies and investors, totalling pounds 1m, this year. But much larger amounts of funds had often been released as a result.

Through Linc, Bede, which utilises leading-edge technology based on research at Warwick and other universities to make instruments for measuring materials, gained a cash injection of pounds 850,000 and the management expertise of a well-known Midlands businessman, Norman Price. The money helped Bede finance future growth, including expansion in the United States, while Mr Price worked alongside Bede directors in amending the business plan, updating the organisational and financial structure, and raising much-needed investment.

Harry Stott, project manager for Linc at the science park, said it was "a textbook example of how things ought to work. It has worked spectacularly well."

Mr Price was introduced to the company at one of the science park's regular Linc investors' meetings, addressed by Alistair Waite, Bede's financial director, last September. After 25 years' experience as a senior manager and director at TI Group and Triplex Lloyd, Mr Price has become a sought- after trouble-shooter, mainly within the specialist manufacturing area. As a result, he was able to recognise the problems and opportunities Bede was up against.

"Bede had an established, high-quality product range with some unique characteristics, together with an immensely capable and energetic staff," he said. But he added that the company did not have the ability to exploit fully the potential of a growing market, where the cost of entry for competitors was relatively high, because it was under-capitalised.

The total funds required were beyond Mr Price's resources, but he worked with the financial director and a Midlands accountant to find other sources of money, particularly the Newcastle office of investment capital group 3i and Barclays Bank.

Bede secured pounds 850,000 - one of the largest investments facilitated by the Linc scheme. Mr Price said it showed its value to British industry, "especially with the hi-tech sector, where general management and commercial expertise, as well as financial backing, are often critical to small businesses".

Linc brings together potential investors and small and medium-sized companies. Companies can operate in any sector but should be looking for an investment of between pounds 10,000 and pounds 250,000. The science park scheme has a focus on technology-based businesses, and the cost of running it is underwritten by the park, with assistance from the Department of Trade and Industry.