Stephen Bloch is the face of the investment and mentoring team at Innovation Warehouse. In this blog, he explains how he became part of the pioneering coworking and investment ecosystem and what aspiring entrepreneurs must prioritise during the investment-readiness process.
I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was at university, setting up my first business while I was still a student. I went through a number of different businesses and, after a bit of trial and error, found myself in a world which I quite liked, which was media and telecoms. I exited a business in that sector, went back into the music business, which was good fun, but then found myself back doing more practical things – which involved telecoms and wireless broadband in the early noughties.
I’ve never had a proper boss – or anyone I’ve had to be nice to [laughs].
A few years ago I was mentoring at the Accelerator Academy, based at Innovation Warehouse, and I was in and out of the building so often that I built a relationship with the existing team here, and for the last three years I’ve been full time.
I really enjoy the work that Innovation Warehouse does and working with the startups that come through here, trying to see how I can assist in helping them raise money to grow their businesses. It also means that I and the investment team have to have a good grasp of a number of technologies, processes, and markets. It’s good to be intellectually stretched on a daily basis.
Trends in tech
Over the last couple of years we’ve seen waves come and go, some ideas just have their time. Often there is a need, but then quite a few people fill that gap in the market and we start to see the same concepts repeat, which, to be blunt, gets frustrating.
There is also a risk of investor fatigue in these situations – particularly if the flock of imitators are simply that. Unless someone’s actually got something new to say, something fresh to bring into the market, it doesn’t excite one. So it’s very important that a business has some differentiation from its competitors and something that has attraction in the marketplace – something that customers, whether they’re business or consumers – are willing to pay for.
It’s not to say that all these businesses are not good, but ultimately it’s down to the talent of the management team to execute and to do well. It’s competitive out there, and it doesn’t really matter which sector or vertical you’re looking at, they’re all competitive. There are no easy wins.
Inspiration vs. commerciality
In the end it’s the rational business decision that wins through. Sometimes you come across entrepreneurs that are inspiring, but if the fundamentals aren’t there then it’s not going to work, and it’s not going to work for the investors.
One can point at some very high-profile businesses that have gone under, where hundreds of millions were invested. You look at them now and think, “How did that happen?” And then you realise that the market was simply in love with the founder.
However, you do need founders who have some vision and charisma – which can be the difference. But that’s not enough on its own.
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