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 created as an extension of the Par Syndicate, a group of over 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 invested £86.8 million in 58 EIS-qualifying companies across its syndicate and EIS fund. 18 have been realised, generating exit proceeds of £85 million (an average exit multiple of 4.2x), whilst the remaining portfolio shows an unrealised value of £68.9 million (July 2021). 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 target holding period of 6–8 years (not guaranteed)
  • Aims to invest in companies with £20k-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 10 investment professionals (one chairman, five partners, three investment managers and an investment analyst. In order to make an investment decision, the five partners must unanimously agree. The members of the Par team have personally invested £4.2 million in the portfolio (March 2021), 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 Network is made up of over 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 fund’s benchmark objective is a pre-tax 15% realised IRR, based on net subscriptions after applying upfront charges. The expected holding period of the fund is 6-8 years, returns and timeframes are 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 deltaDNA, 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 is expected to 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. 

Cyan Forensics _ Par EISCyan Forensics (recent investment)

Described as ‘game changing’ by the UK Government, Edinburgh-based Cyan Forensics provides cutting-edge digital forensic tools to law enforcement, social networks and online platforms. It aims to help governments achieve policy objectives in child protection and the reduction of radicalisation and terrorist activity.

Its technology works by creating a digital fingerprint, called a Contraband Filter, from an existing database. For example, Counter-Terrorism investigations might target bomb-making manuals or extremist material used for radicalisation. This filter is then combined with Cyan’s technology to scan seized devices in minutes.

The company’s latest product, Cyan Protect, uses the same technology and acts as a first line of defence – moderating and blocking harmful online content in real-time. 

Cyan has already secured a contract with the UK Home Office to provide its technology to police forces across the UK and supports Counter Terrorism investigations internationally.

Par Equity led a £5 million Series A funding round for the business in March 2021, alongside other investors, including Mercia Asset Management, Triple Point Capital, SIS Ventures, and Scottish Enterprise.

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 £3.5 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 advanced data analytics to help game publishers improve and personalise the users’ experience– and maximise revenue even from free-to-play games and gambling sites through targeted adverts, marketing and in-game purchases.

Founded in 2011, the company has analysed data from over one billion unique users, helping sites identify problem gamblers and risk-assess for fraud such as money laundering and match fixing.

deltaDNA’s backers include Par Equity, which made its initial investment 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 which in turn listed onto the New York Stock Exchange in September 2020. The Par EIS Fund has now fully exited its position, achieving a 17.6x return on capital, before tax relief. 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 

The track record so far has been encouraging. Since its inception in 2008, Par Equity has invested £86.8 million in 58 companies across both its syndicate and EIS fund. These investments have generated exit proceeds of £85 million with a remaining portfolio balance of £68.9 million (July 2021) – note past performance is not a guide to the future. 

The chart below shows the average performance of the total subscribed into the EIS fund each tax year, based on valuations as at 9 July 2021, expressed on a £100 invested basis. Please note, individual investor portfolios’ performance will deviate from the average.

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. 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 2015/16, Par Equity has delivered attractive total returns, without taking into consideration any additional EIS tax reliefs. Across the 2011/12–2015/16 tax years, for every £100 invested, on average investors will have received £227.25 of their initial investment back and have a portfolio balance of £75.94, leaving a total return of £303.19 before any tax reliefs are considered. As ever, past performance is not a guide to the future. These are average returns, individual returns will vary. Returns are weighted towards two very strong years in tax years 2011/12 and 2012/13.

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. 

Exits could take considerably longer than the three-year minimum hold period. Equally, an early exit could affect tax relief.

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 1%
Administration charge
Dealing charge
Performance fee 20%
Investee company charges
Initial charge up to 5%
Annual charge See below
All fees and charges are stated inclusive of VAT, where applicable. 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. However, it may take longer.

The next tranche deadline is expected to be 22 October 2021.

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 over 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 the track record is 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 worthy of consideration by 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
22 Oct 2021 for next tranche
Last updated: 2 August 2021

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