Fuel Ventures Scale-up EIS Fund
Fuel Ventures aims to back some of the UK’s fastest-growing digital businesses and to use its first-hand operational experience to mentor and accelerate the growth of its investee companies.
Fuel Ventures was set up and is run by Mark Pearson, founder of MyVoucherCodes, the online voucher code business. Mark reportedly sold myVoucherCodes, via its parent company, for £55 million in 2014. He’s since invested personally in several early-stage digital businesses and set up Fuel Ventures in 2013. Mark has personally committed to investing alongside investors in the fund.
Fuel’s track record over this period (unrealised gains) has been impressive, although past performance is not a guide to the future.
The Scale-up EIS fund is one of two EIS funds from Fuel Ventures. It seeks to make investments into early-stage digital businesses operating in three key areas: marketplaces, platforms, software as a service. The most promising investee companies from the Scale-Up EIS fund may subsequently receive investment from the Fuel Ventures Follow-on EIS fund.
The Scale-up EIS fund will seek to invest in 10 to 15 companies, deploying capital over a 10-12 month period (not guaranteed).
Read important documents and apply
- Focus on young digital businesses the manager believes have global potential
- Founder Mark Pearson will personally invest a minimum of 10% of the total amount subscribed by investors into the fund
- Fuel has a good track record of unrealised returns to date: note past performance is not a guide to the future
- Targets 10 to 15 investee companies with an expected holding period of 10 years or more – not guaranteed
- Aims to be fully invested within 12 months – not guaranteed
- Simple charging structure investors may find appealing
- Exclusive minimum investment £20,000 (normally £100,000 for non-advised investors), you can apply online
Mark Pearson’s background is not that of a typical fund manager.
He left school to become a chef at 16. By 19 he had won a national catering competition and had begun working at Claridge’s restaurant, at the time under Gordon Ramsay. Three years later, Mark was running three gastropubs in south London.
In 2006, he founded online voucher code company MyVoucherCodes and subsequently sold it – as part of parent company Markco Media – in a deal reportedly worth up to £55 million. At that point, the business had revenues of over £12 million and employed more than 120 people.
Whilst running MyVoucherCodes, Mark made personal investments into nine technology and software businesses. Fuel Ventures was born as a result of his experience with these early-stage businesses. They were run by talented founders and Mark felt he could help them scale up. Many have been successful and delivered substantial returns on investment. One example is Paddle, an eCommerce platform that helps developers distribute their software globally. Paddle ranked twelfth in the 2020 Sunday Times Sage Tech Track 100, which ranks Britain’s 100 private tech companies with the fastest-growing sales, having reported average three-year sales growth of 159.62%. Mark was the first seed investor into the business in 2014 and exited the business in 2019.
Mark Pearson has personally committed to investing a minimum of 10% of the total subscribed to the Scale-Up EIS fund.
Mark is supported by a team of fifteen investment professionals with backgrounds in venture capital, private equity and entrepreneurship. Fuel Ventures has an independent advisory committee to add challenge and rigour to the investment process.
Fuel Ventures operates three complementary funds: the SEIS fund, Scale-Up EIS Fund, and the Follow-on EIS Fund. They all invest in the same type of companies but at different stages in their development, although there may be some overlap between funds.
Fuel Ventures is the investment advisor to the fund. The investment manager is Sapphire Capital Partners LLP.
Watch our latest video interview with Mark Pearson of Fuel Ventures (please note the video is based on the Follow-On EIS Fund):
Fuel Ventures invests in early-stage, digital businesses it believes have the potential to scale globally. In particular, it seeks marketplaces, platforms and Software as a Service (SaaS) companies. Fuel Ventures believes these are attractive as they tend to be easily scalable, have low costs per unit sold, and once a product generates revenue, typically growth is limited only by market demand, not the ability of the business to supply it.
Fuel Ventures is looking to invest between the Seed and Series A rounds of funding, where Mark Pearson believes there is a funding gap. Both stages are highly competitive: they attract angel investors at seed stage and larger EIS providers at Series A. By looking to invest in between, where there might be less competition, Mark hopes to achieve better entry valuations for the fund, although this is not guaranteed.
Central to the investment strategy is the active role Mark Pearson takes in helping management teams grow their businesses. Drawing from Mark’s experience, Fuel Ventures helps investee companies build products and services people want and need, and then looks to help grow these businesses internationally, maximising the potential value for acquisition or listing opportunities.
If successful, investee companies backed within the Fuel Ventures Scale-Up EIS fund may benefit from further investment from Fuel Ventures’ Follow-on EIS fund.
In 2021, Fuel Ventures successfully raised £4.5 million for its new SEIS fund, which may in time provide the Scale-Up EIS fund with additional deal flow.
The manager is targeting a return of £10 per £1 invested, net of all costs and performance fees, not guaranteed.
The fund expects to hold investments 10 years or more (not guaranteed). Following any sale of qualifying shares in a company, the sale proceeds will be paid out to investors, so any distributions from the fund are likely to be paid over a period of time, not guaranteed.
The target portfolio for each investor will be a minimum of five, and a target of 10–15 investee companies (marketplaces, platforms and SaaS businesses).
Through the Scale-Up EIS Fund and its previous four iterations (Fuel Ventures EIS Portfolio 1-4), Fuel Ventures has invested £38.1 million into 43 companies.
Below are previous portfolio company examples. They are outlined to give a flavour of the types of companies you might expect but are unlikely to be part of a new investor's portfolio.
OnBuy is a marketplace that allows customers to buy products online from a number of merchants in a similar manner to Amazon. OnBuy is the fourth-largest marketplace in the UK. It now has over 2.2 million customers (May 2020).
In FY 2020, OnBuy announced revenue growth of 600% for a second consecutive year. To support this growth, in the summer of 2020 OnBuy raised £5 million and recently trebled its workforce to 50 full-time staff, with plans to open a new Manchester office expected to create at least 100 jobs in the next two years.
In 2021, the business raised a further £12 million at a £131 million valuation, and plans to embark on an international scale-up: it aims to launch into over 140 countries and is targeting sales of £1.7 billion by 2025. Please note, these are forecasts and not guaranteed.
OnBuy was first backed by Fuel Ventures through the Scale-up fund in January 2020, and the Follow-on fund in March 2020, June 2020 and April 2021. Wealth Club investors also participated in the £12 million funding round in June 2021.
After requesting a refund, Aron Alexander was surprised when, rather than a digital gift certificate or similar, he received a £5 voucher in the post. He realised the digital rewards & incentive industry (valued at around $300 billion) was still stuck in the past, often relying on outdated systems.
So, he founded WeGift, a platform that intelligently automates the process of purchasing and distributing digital rewards. WeGift caters for most forms of ‘non-cash pay-outs’ – from rewards for customers to employee incentives or simply gifts. In just a few years, WeGift has managed to secure an impressive client list with names such as Amazon, Apple, Uber and Nike.
Fuel Ventures invested at seed stage in 2016 through Fuel Ventures’ EIS Portfolio 1 (a precursor to the Scale-Up EIS fund), alongside a number of angel investors, including Alex Chesterman (founder of Zoopla and Cazoo).
In 2019, WeGift raised £6.7 million in an extended Series A round led by Stride.vc alongside SAP.iO Fund, Unilever Ventures, and the Albion VCTs. In 2021, the company raised a further $12 million from existing investors and CommerzVentures. The funds will be used for further product development and to expand into the U.S.
Examples of previous exits and failures
To date, Fuel Ventures has not achieved any positive exits, however, this is partly due to the fact it is still a relatively young portfolio.
As is to be expected with EIS, due to the high-risk nature of early-stage investing, some investments will not work out and failures tend to come before successes. Admedo is an example of a previous failure.
Admedo was a technology company seeking to provide marketers, agencies, and publishers with greater transparency and control over programmatic advertising. Fuel Ventures invested £550,000 in December 2017. Fuel believes both the technology and the founder were impressive, but the route to market proved more difficult than expected. As a result, Admedo went into administration in June 2020 due to cash flow issues. Fuel Ventures backed the same founder in his subsequent venture, The Moot Group.
As at May 2021, Fuel Ventures Scale-EIS fund, including its previous four iterations, has invested £38.1 million into 43 investee companies across 57 investments.
Of these, three investments have experienced an unrealised uplift in value of over 10 times, eight of more than five times, and seven of more than three times. One company has since failed, and one is valued below cost.
The chart below shows the average performance of the total subscribed into the funds each tax year, based on valuations as at 31 May 2021, expressed on a £100 invested basis. Please note, individual investor portfolios’ performance will deviate from the average.
Source: Fuel Ventures, as at 9 November 2020. Performance figures are supplied by Fuel Ventures and are net of all fees, based on Fuel Ventures’ valuation methodology. Past performance is no guide to future performance. These figures do not include any realised returns (exits) as there have not been any. In the above examples, initial tax relief of up to 30% could also apply. Remember tax rules can change and tax benefits depend on circumstances.
Risks – important
This, like all investments available through Wealth Club, is only for experienced investors happy to make their own investment decisions without advice.
EIS investments are high-risk so should only form part of a balanced portfolio and you should not invest money you cannot afford to lose. They also tend to be illiquid and hard to sell and value. Before you invest, please carefully read the Risks and Commitments and the offer documents to ensure you fully understand the risks.
Tax rules can change and benefits depend on circumstances.
The fund relies heavily on the knowledge and experience of Mark Pearson. He’s wholly committed to Fuel Ventures, but there is key-person risk.
This EIS fund invests in early-stage businesses which are more likely to fail than larger ones. So you should expect a number of failures in the portfolio, or even be prepared for all companies to fail.
Exits could take considerably longer than three years.
A summary of the main charges is shown below. Some of these will be payable by the investor, whilst others by the investee companies. Fuel Ventures Scale-up EIS Fund is one of the very few EIS funds that doesn’t apply an initial charge to investors or investee companies.
The investment may have additional charges and expenses: please see the provider documents, including the Key Information Document, for more details.
|Full initial charge||—|
|Wealth Club initial saving||—|
|Net initial charge through Wealth Club||—||Annual management charge||—|
|Performance fee||20%||Investee company charges|
|Initial charge||—||Annual charge||2%|
More detail on the charges
Timing of the offer
Fuel Ventures anticipates taking up to 12 months to fully deploy investor capital. However, it may take longer.
The fund has quarterly closing dates, the next is 30 June 2021. This is the date upon which Fuel Ventures will commence investment into investee companies, although in some cases the manager may use its discretion to begin investing funds prior to an quarterly closing date.
In our view, this is an attractive, although high-risk, EIS offer run by a credible – and to date successful – entrepreneur turned investor.
Mark Pearson has a clear passion for digital businesses. He has a wealth of experience in building such companies, having previously grown MyVoucherCodes.co.uk from the ground to £12 million revenue, which he sold via its parent company for a reported £55 million. Mark is involved in each portfolio business, lending his expertise and experience and will invest in the fund on the same terms as investors.
Fuel Ventures has shown an ability to back some of the UK’s fastest-growing digital startups, such as WeGift, Moteefe and OnBuy. A good proportion of Fuel Ventures' investee companies have gone on to attract significant additional funding and achieved valuation uplifts from third-party investors. Early EIS investors have seen substantial paper gains. However, please note, Fuel Ventures is yet to achieve a successful exit and return capital to investors; these are long-term investments and past performance is not a guide to the future.
The Scale-Up EIS fund’s strategy, to invest in and provide support and mentorship to early-stage digital businesses and their founders, is strengthened, in our view, by the presence of Fuel Ventures’ two other S/EIS funds. The Fuel Ventures Follow-on EIS fund should be able to provide additional funding to support further development, whilst the newly launched SEIS fund may provide additional deal flow.
This is a high-risk portfolio of 10–15 software and technology companies. The offer could appeal to experienced investors looking to complement a wider investment portfolio with exposure to early-stage digital businesses.
Wealth Club aims to make it easier for experienced investors to find information on – and apply for – tax-efficient investments. You should base your investment decision on the provider's documents and ensure you have read and fully understand them before investing. This review is a marketing communication. It is not advice or a personal or research recommendation to buy the investment mentioned. It does not satisfy legal requirements promoting investment research independence and is thus not subject to prohibitions on dealing ahead of its dissemination.
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- 30 Jun 2021