Par EIS Fund

The Par EIS fund invests in technology growth companies predominantly based in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North of England. The fund was effectively created as an extension of the Par Syndicate, a group of 200 experienced business angels. Those angels, now known as the Par Investor Network, are key to the offer. They contribute new deal flow, help with due diligence, provide guidance and experience to investee companies and co-invest alongside the fund. 

Par Equity focuses on what it dubs the “equity gap”– the area beyond the reach of most business angels but not large enough for private equity to be interested.

It steers clear of technology companies it believes to have over-hyped valuations, favouring those with defensible intellectual property, a proven track record of sales and/or a positive response from early adopters or consumers. 

The track record so far has been encouraging. Since its inception in 2008, Par Equity has achieved 18 realisations from 58 EIS-qualifying investee companies, achieving an average 3.3x money / 27% IRR on exit (June 2020)– note past performance is not a guide to the future.

Important: The information on this website is for experienced investors. It is not advice nor a research or personal recommendation to invest. If you’re unsure, please seek advice. Investments are for the long term. They are high risk and illiquid and can fall as well as rise in value, so you could get back less than you invest.

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Highlights

  • Seeks to invest in innovative technology companies predominantly in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North of England
  • Focus on value
  • Co-invests with Par Equity’s network of expert business angels 
  • Investors can expect 7–8 companies in their portfolio, but a minimum of 5, with a 6–8 year target holding period (not guaranteed)
  • Aims to invest in companies with £20-200k of monthly revenues
  • Minimum investment £20,000 – you can apply online

The manager

Based in Edinburgh, Par Equity LLP (“Par” or “Par Equity”) provides intellectual and financial capital to early-stage technology companies. It made its first investment in March 2009 and launched the EIS fund in 2012, originally formed to invest alongside the Par Investor Network.

Par Equity’s investment team consists of 11 investment professionals (one chairman, five partners, three investment managers, an investment analyst and an investment researcher ). In order to make an investment decision, the five partners must unanimously agree. The members of the Par team have personally invested £3.8 million in the portfolio to date, and all the Partners invest into the EIS Fund every year on identical terms as investors. This level of alignment with investors is reassuring, in our view.

Watch a video interview with Andrew Noble, partner at Par Equity:

Investment strategy

There are two aspects to the investment strategy which Par feels gives it an edge. The first is location, and the second is the involvement of the Par Investor Network. 

Par Equity will invest across the UK. However, it believes there is an arc of opportunity from Belfast through the North West of England into Scotland. In these areas, businesses operate from lower-cost properties, employ smart people for less and are less swayed by the hype that sometimes affects businesses in the South East. Scottish-based portfolio companies also benefit from the support of the Scottish Investment Bank and Scottish Enterprise. 

The geographic area targeted by Par Equity amounts to a huge swathe of the UK. The Par Investor Network plays a critical role in uncovering opportunities throughout the region. 

The Network is made up of around 200 business angels. Around half are entrepreneurs looking to invest proceeds from successful businesses and the other half are senior professionals (e.g. high-ranking lawyers and accountants).

They are well connected and have deep expertise in their respective fields, so are often approached by entrepreneurs operating in their sector, giving Par access to pre-screened businesses competitors might not see. The Network also offers intellectual capital and skills Par Equity may not have in-house. They can validate the technology and market opportunity.

Par Equity does not invest unless angels in its network are also investing. This helps provide an added layer of due diligence. 

Some members of the Network are also part of Par Equity’s Advisory Panel. They take an active role in investee businesses, providing ongoing support and expertise. Par Equity will typically appoint someone to the board, often an angel who has invested (this is the case for 70% of investee companies).

Target returns

The team is targeting 2x returns before tax relief over a 5-year period, not guaranteed. 

Exit strategy

Par Equity’s Advisory Panel looks to provide hands-on support to the management of investee companies to help them grow and achieve their potential. This engagement has helped to enhanced returns in the past for investors by securing profitable exits for investee companies, as with the example of PathXL, detailed below. 

Whilst it is hard to put a timeframe on exits due to the nature of the investee businesses held, the expected holding period is between six and eight years (not guaranteed) but could be longer. 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.

Portfolio

Investors in the Par EIS fund can expect exposure to seven or eight underlying companies, with a minimum of five. Companies should be largely revenue generating, but pre-profit at the point of investment. Historically, 90–95% of the investments made by the EIS fund were generating monthly revenues of between £20k–£200k at the time of investing. Par Equity tends to participate in investment rounds of at least £0.5 million. 

No new investee company will account for more than 25% of an investor’s portfolio. 

The companies outlined below are historic investments made by the Par EIS fund in its previous iterations and give a flavour of the types of companies a new investor might expect. 

BrainWaveBank – Par EIS FundBrainWaveBank (recent investment)

Belfast-based BrainWaveBank has developed what it describes as a “Fitbit for the brain”: a wearable device combined with a proprietary software platform that uses advanced analytics and machine learning to measure cognitive fitness.

Patients perform gamified cognitive tests whilst wearing the device. The results are tracked via the software platform to spot early signs of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and psychiatric conditions like depression and schizophrenia. This is more convenient, less invasive and more affordable than hospital scans. 

BrainWaveBank has reportedly secured several contracts with pharmaceutical and biotech companies to use its platform to evaluate patients and track the effects of new therapies in early-stage clinical evaluations.

In July 2020, Par Equity led a £1.1 million investment round. The investment is to be used to continue to develop and commercialise BrainWaveBank’s technology and to roll the platform out into the global clinical trials market. 

QikServe – Par Equity EIS FundQikserve

Edinburgh-based Qikserve has developed patented digital ordering technology that allows hospitality patrons to order and pay for food and drinks without queueing at the counter. The patented technology is fully integrated with some of the world’s largest Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) system providers, such as Oracle.

QikServe’s full product suite includes kiosk solutions, payment solutions, order-at-table and pay-at-table and, more recently, through the December 2019 acquisition of complementary business Preoday, order-ahead software. The latter was repurposed in response to Covid-19 to allow restaurants to continue serving their customers during lockdown with Kerbside Collection and Click & Collect. 

Par Equity has been supporting QikServe since 2014 through its EIS Fund and extensive Private Investor Network and has invested £3.4 million to date across six rounds, with the most recent being a £2.7 million round led by a third party investor in May 2019. Par’s (and other co-investors) continued support has helped QikServe reach global brands and bring enterprising solutions to their diverse customer base throughout the Covid-19 crisis. 

deltaDNA – Par EISdeltaDNA (example of previous exit)

Edinburgh-based deltaDNA provides sophisticated player engagement tools for game-makers, powered by deep data analytics.

Its solution enables publishers and developers to better understand different player behaviours and create personalised experiences, targeting individual players with real-time in-game messages to build engagement, increase retention and ultimately drive significant revenue growth for the game publishers.

Par Equity made its initial investment in deltaDNA in July 2013 and supported the business in three follow-on investment rounds. In September 2019, deltaDNA was acquired by Unity Technologies for an undisclosed sum. As part of the deal, Par Equity took some shares in Unity Technologies on the premise that Unity would IPO in 2020. 

In September 2020, Unity Technologies successfully listed onto the New York Stock Exchange. As a result, the total Par investor group returns stand at 7.7x money, within which the EIS fund has delivered a 12.6x return to its investors (including a cash return of 4.9x) before any tax relief. These returns are based on the listing price of Unity Technologies at $52 (18 September 2020) and will be subject to any further price movement during the lock-up period. Past performance is not a guide to the future.

CIQUAL (example of previous failure)

As with any early-stage investment, not all will work out as planned. One failure was an investment in a company called CIQUAL. CIQUAL developed customer insight software that enabled mobile network operators (MNOs) to capture and analyse their customers’ behaviour and deliver enhanced customer care and value, driving retention and additional revenues streams. 

At the time of Par’s initial investment in 2009, MNOs were reaching market saturation in most advanced economies and were looking for alternative revenue streams. CIQUAL's solution provided a point of difference in a competitive landscape. Despite several promising contract wins, the product failed to scale and in 2019 the company was forced to close.

Performance 

Since 2008, Par Equity has invested in 58 companies and achieved 18 exits, of which seven were profitable with an average 3.3x exit multiple (June 2020). This highlights how concentrated investment returns can be when making investments into early-stage EIS qualifying companies and consequently the benefits of a diversified portfolio. Please note past performance is not a guide to the future.

The chart below shows the valuation as at 30 June 2020, had you invested £100 in each tax year.

Source: Par Equity. Figures are net of all fees. Past performance is no guide to future performance. These figures do not include any realised returns which would be available through loss relief. In the above examples, initial tax relief of up to 30% could also apply. So, for the tax year 2015/16, the total return including initial tax relief would be £88 , remember tax rules can change and tax benefits depend on circumstances.

For investors who have invested for a minimum 5 years or more between tax years 2011/12 to 2014/15, Par Equity has delivered attractive total returns, without taking into consideration any additional EIS tax reliefs. Across the 2011/12–2014/15 tax years, for every £100 invested, on average investors will have received £76 of their initial investment back, and have a portfolio balance of £150, leaving a total return of £226 before any tax reliefs are considered. As ever, past performance is not a guide to the future. 

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 / SEIS 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.

This EIS / SEIS 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.

The nature of businesses in the portfolio means the first round of funding is unlikely to be the last. Future rounds may dilute existing investments. Par Equity aims to allow existing investors to participate directly in follow-on funding outside the EIS fund. 

Charges

A summary of the main charges is shown below. Some of these will be payable by the investor, whilst others by the investee companies. The investment may have additional charges and expenses: please see the provider documents, including the Key Information Document, for more details.

Investor charges
Full initial charge 3%
Wealth Club initial saving
Net initial charge through Wealth Club 3%
Annual management charge 0.75%
Administration charge
Dealing charge
Performance fee 20%
Investee company charges
Initial charge up to 5%
Annual charge up to 1.25%
All fees and charges are stated exclusive of VAT, which may be applicable in some cases. Any fees and charges payable by the investee companies or the underlying businesses do not directly come out of your investment. However, they will effectively reduce the returns generated by investee companies and therefore impact your investment.

More detail on the charges

Timing of the offer

Par anticipates taking up to 12 months to fully deploy investor capital. There are no deadlines with this EIS offer.

Our view 

Par Equity’s offer is considerably enhanced by the involvement of its Investor Network. The fund has the benefit of a small and close-knit investment team yet can access a pool of 200 experienced investors to provide deal flow, help with due diligence, take board seats, and actively engage with and add value to investee companies. Par Equity co-invests with its angels and the investment team invests on the same terms, aligning interests with those of EIS fund investors.

Par has a focus on regions of the UK less well served by venture capital, which in Par’s view makes entry valuations more attractive. Par will only invest where there is proof of concept and where a business is showing early signs of revenue. Which may appeal to some investors. 

This approach seems to be working and early signs are encouraging in our view: the fund has started to realise investments and return capital to investors, although this is not a guide to the future. 

In our view, the Par EIS fund is worth consideration for experienced investors looking to build or broaden their EIS portfolio.

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.

The details

Type
Fund
Sector
Various
Target return
Not specified
Funds raised / sought
-
Minimum investment
£20,000
Deadline
Discretionary
Last updated: 17 September 2020

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