Sources of funding

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It is unlikely that banks or venture capital investors will provide funding to develop or market an invention. Banks do not want to take risks, and venture capitalists tend to invest only in existing businesses run by experienced managers.

More fruitful sources of funding for inventions are: 

  • Family and friends

Individuals may be willing to invest small, affordable amounts. For example, the inventors of the hugely successful quiz board game Trivial Pursuit® were turned down by every company they approached. They then offered $500 and $1000 shares to friends and raised all the money they needed to launch it. Many people will gamble sums they can afford to lose in return for a small but worthwhile stake - for example, one per cent per €1000 invested - if a business venture is presented convincingly.

  • Private investors often known as ‘business angels'

These are private individuals with money to invest in small businesses. Most look for three things: effective management, a good product and a worthwhile market. They may be willing to take a large risk, but in return will want a large reward. A convincing business plan will be essential, and the angel may insist on taking a close personal interest in the business.

Business angels often form local syndicates, details of which should be available from local business support organisations.

  • Potential business partners

Partnership with an existing business may be a good way of getting investment in the form of money or other resources. But if the relationship is unequal, the risks to you may be high. It will be vital to base any partnership on a legal agreement that defines the relationship, its objectives, the sharing of rewards, and what happens in a range of changed circumstances. Always be careful not to give away more control of the invention or the business than the partnership is worth.

  • Government or EU grants and subsidies

Business support organisations will be happy to give you information about current funding schemes for innovative small businesses. The funds available may not cover all your development costs, but they may make it easier to obtain additional funding from the commercial sector. 

Some schemes may be limited to businesses in designated areas. It may be worth moving your business to become eligible for support, but you must carefully examine the terms and conditions. For example, if you are tied to specific premises, can you be sure that an initially low rent will not rise steeply later? 

  • Support from universities

Universities may be worth exploring as a source of help. This may range from low-cost undergraduate projects, for example in market research or product design, to consultancy or testing at commercial rates. Many universities now actively seek business opportunities in innovation, but they also expect to profit from them. You should therefore ‘shop around' for a university with the most appropriate resources and the most acceptable terms and conditions.  

  • Competitions and publicity

Winning an invention or innovation competition can provide useful funds and publicity. Always ensure before entering any competition that (a) the organisers understand the need to limit disclosure, and (b) you have adequately protected your idea. But do not file a patent application simply to enter a competition - unless you are absolutely certain of winning it!

Always beware of media publicity - particularly television - if you cannot control the information that reaches the public. For example, if you are presented as a ‘mad inventor' rather than a serious entrepreneur, your competition win could turn into a loss! For print media, it will definitely help if you can produce media releases of professional quality.

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