David Prosser: EU cash on the Horizon for innovators

 

The wheels of the European Commission sometimes grind slowly, but the Horizon 2020 project seems set to deliver valuable benefits to innovative small businesses in the technology and manufacturing sectors.

Horizon 2020 is a €9bn (£7bn) fund of finance for businesses seeking to bring new technologies to market, with cash available to help them test commercial viability as well as to finance initial production runs. A third of the money has now been earmarked specifically for small businesses; the Commission has also attempted to cut through the red tape of the applications process – small businesses are now entitled to apply alone for finance, for example, where previously they had to do so through larger consortiums.

Marlon Wolff, chief executive of Ingenious Britain, a resource hub for small businesses, says British companies need to get moving: “This project could be the difference between being able to bring innovative new ideas to market and not. Applications are open until the end of 2020, but it is going to be highly competitive and we want UK businesses to explore the potential sooner rather than later.”

Small business man of the week: Jonathan Samuels, Chief executive, Dragonfly Property Finance

“I launched Dragonfly in 2008. I’d been working in South Africa where I’d set up another lending business; the mortgage market was on its knees and I’m sure many of my competitors thought I was launching at the worst possible time – but their problems were legacy problems that I didn’t have.

“In that first year, I was lending my own money while also pitching to institutional investors for funding. Eventually I persuaded Octopus Capital to put £25m into the firm – the money was meant to last a year, but I had invested it within four months, earning much higher returns than any of us had expected.

“From there, the business has really scaled up – the tightening of the credit markets left a space for a non-bank lender like us and we’ve lent more than £750m since we launched. We’ve also diversified to include bridging finance, development loans, commercial lending and a commercial property fund.

“Competition has got much tougher but we’ve continued to grow because we’ve built a reputation.

“The business has now come full-circle – in November, we sold it to Octopus, but we’ve all remained with the company and we’re really ambitious. We’d like to triple in size over the next few years. Part of the challenge is recruiting good people and I spend a lot of my time doing that.”

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