Review: Oxford Capital Growth EIS
Archived article: please remember tax and investment rules and circumstances can change over time. This article reflects our views at the time of publication.
The Oxford Capital Growth EIS aims to back ambitious entrepreneurs who are building companies in sectors where the UK leads the world. It seeks to invest in small businesses that are solving commercial, technological or scientific problems in innovative ways. Oxford Capital typically invests at the first round of institutional funding for these early stage businesses.
- Early-stage technology focused EIS fund
- Wide range of sectors covered
- Investors will typically hold a portfolio of 12-15 companies
- High growth opportunity: target return of 2x (not guaranteed)
- £25,000 minimum investment
Oxford Capital was founded in 1999 by Ted and David Mott as a venture capital investment company typically looking at early-stage opportunities coming out of Oxford University. The scope was widened to encompass the whole of the UK.
To start, Oxford Capital invested in the life sciences sector. It then rode the renewable energy wave (and still does) and delivered some excellent returns to investors. Oxford Capital has now come full circle to return to early-stage technology investments.
In 2015 Tom Bradley joined as Partner to refocus Oxford Capital’s growth strategy and to ensure it was investing in the best areas with the best expertise. Mr Bradley leads the Ventures team, whose members have more than 70 years of Venture Capital experience combined.
The Growth EIS seeks to invest in early stage businesses that are solving commercial, technological or scientific problems in innovative ways. It looks for entrepreneurs in sectors where the UK has global strength. The focus is on technology, specifically the software, ecommerce, fintech, artificial intelligence (AI), health tech, gaming, and retail technology sectors.
Oxford Capital typically invests at the “Series A” round of funding. It is the first institutional round of investing, after the entrepreneur has received friends, family and maybe grant based funding. Often the company has no revenue at that point.
The team looks at about 1,200–1,500 opportunities a year and generally has first round meetings with about 30-50 companies a month. Obviously not many pass the first round and only about 5-6 a month are looked at in more depth. Overall Oxford Capital makes about 5-6 new investments a year.
A typical initial investment is £0.5 million, but it can be up to £2 million. Over time, with companies that succeed up to £9 million could be invested. Oxford Capital tries to provide companies with sufficient capital to last over 12-24 months so management can focus on running the business rather than having to raise capital constantly.
The team likes starting with small investments and adding more to the successful ones over time. They are fully engaged “hands on” investors with early stage companies as that's when they believe they can have the most influence on a business’s success and it helps them assess the quality of management.
In companies with high growth potential, a lot of the investment goes into R&D. However, in the majority of companies it goes into widening out the product range, sales and marketing. The companies invested in often benefit from the wider knowledge-based EIS rules that allow a greater level of investment and into older companies than other more traditional EIS companies.
40-50% each year goes into new investments, and the balance into follow-on investments. Each investor will typical invest in 10-12 companies. The follow-on investments tend to be bigger investments. Presently Oxford Capital has 24 active companies in the EIS portfolio. Some examples are Push Doctor (a provider of online video GP appointments – profiled below), Moneybox (a digital savings service), Spoke (a clothing ecommerce business), Import.io (a data extraction service for AI applications), Attest (a provider of smartphone-enabled market research services) and UltraSoC (a silicon IP company designing debugging technology for the next generation of silicon chips). Overall, Oxford Capital is investing about £20 million a year into growth companies.
Please note that due to the nature of EIS portfolio funds, new investors will not necessarily see funds invested into these companies unless follow-on investments are made. New money will be deployed into new and follow-on investments.
Push Doctor – an example investee company
Push Doctor is a digital health business, allowing patients to have video appointments with GPs via its mobile app or website. Patients can see a GP in as little as 6 minutes. The company has a network of more than 7,000 GMC-registered GPs who fit time on Push Doctor around their daily lives and normal NHS and private practice work.
Users can pay per appointment or join on an inclusive monthly subscription. Doctors are available from 6am to 11pm, seven days a week. At the end of the consultation, the GP can provide a prescription, a sick note or a GP referral – charged extra for pay-per-appointment patients. The fees are split between the GPs and Push Doctor.
The company also offers services to businesses, providing consultations as part of employee/customer benefit packages. Current clients include Uber, STA travel and Danone. In addition, Push Doctor is an NHS commissioned technology provider, helping the NHS deliver better digital healthcare affordably, safely and sustainably.
Oxford Capital first backed the business in January 2016 when it led an $8.2 million Series A investment round. Tom Bradley joined the board as a non-executive director. The company had previously received $1.2 million in seed funding. In July 2017, Oxford Capital made a follow-on investment as part of Push Doctor’s $26.1 million Series B round, which was led by Accelerated Digital Ventures (ADV), the venture investment company backed by Legal & General, Woodford Investment Management and the British Business Bank.
There is a target return of 2x initial investments excluding tax benefits. This is variable and not guaranteed.
Oxford Capital has a specific team member whose role is to drive exits, Robin Lincoln. Last year’s refocusing of new investments means it is too early for exits under the new strategy. It is difficult to time exits, and as a company gets more mature, if it needs more funding Oxford typically uses its “co-invest” partners rather than EIS money so it is then not tied in for a further three years. Generally speaking, the majority of exits are expected to be a full sale of the business to strategic buyers, typically in the US.
By definition this is a high-risk investment which could result in a total loss, as well as having the potential to deliver high returns. In a portfolio of any ten companies, one might do very well (although there are no guarantees), several could fail and the others might just tick along. These are early-stage technology businesses, so there will be a higher risk of failure than with later-stage, more mature businesses. It is also likely they will require multiple rounds of funding.
These are long-term investments. The usual risks with unquoted companies exist with this EIS offer. For instance, EIS investments are illiquid and capital is at risk. Investors should only invest money they can afford to lose.
The initial charge is 2%, which is deducted from your subscription before tax relief is applied.
There is an additional fee of 2.5%. The annual management fee is 2%. The annual fee falls if the underlying companies fall in value, but doesn’t increase if they rise. There is an annual custodian fee of £50 plus VAT and a dealing fee of 0.35% each time a company is bought or sold. Deal arrangement and monitoring fees may also be charged. Oxford Capital charges £15 plus VAT for each EIS3 certificate. 10% of an investors net subscription (after the initial charge) is kept back for fees, therefore only 90% is invested. Finally, a performance fee of 20% of any net profit, after the return of 100% of the original subscription is made.
The team behind the Oxford Capital Growth EIS has a good reputation and there are in our view some very exciting companies in the portfolio. It aims high and looks for early-stage UK firms with global potential. Investments in early stage technology companies are high risk but they could also, if successful, deliver high rewards. For investors considering an EIS technology fund, this offer shows promise.
This review is not intended to be advice or a personal recommendation to buy the investment mentioned, nor is it a research recommendation. Wealth Club aims to highlight investments we believe have merit, but investors should form their own view on any proposed investment.