Startup Funding Club Angel EIS Fund

SFC Capital (formerly Startup Funding Club) is the most active Angel and Seed investor in the UK and among the most active in Europe.

Originally set up as an angel syndicate in 2012, it’s well known for its SEIS fund and has invested in over 280 companies to date. The EIS fund focuses on what SFC considers to be its most promising seed companies as they’re transitioning from the “startup” to “growth” phase. 

This follow-on strategy should help mitigate some risks for investors. By this point, most portfolio companies should have demonstrated commercial traction and SFC should know them well, having had a board seat for some time. However, investors should note these are still young companies and high-risk investments. There are no guarantees.

EIS funds from previous years have now started to return cash to investors. Internet of things business Vortex IoT and Cognism (more detail below) are the two most notable examples – with exits or partial exits generating returns of 2.5x and 9.2x respectively. Both companies were also investments in the SFC SEIS fund. Past performance is not a guide to the future; see performance below.

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

  • Among Europe's most active Angel and Seed investors 
  • Evergreen fund investing in early-stage disruptors
  • Target return of £2.50 per £1 invested (not guaranteed)
  • Targets a portfolio of 10-15 follow-on investments from Startup Funding Club’s most promising SEIS companies
  • Invests across a range of sectors, including digital technology, life sciences and consumer goods
  • Minimum investment £10,000
  • You can apply online – please note, you will also need to become an “elective professional client” of Startup Funding Club before your investment is accepted

The manager

SFC is an investment manager and angel investment club focused on very early-stage businesses. It identifies the opportunities for investment and provides ongoing support and expertise to the portfolio companies in which it invests. 

The SFC angel club is a group of over 500 active angel investors from various backgrounds, many with direct experience in building – and investing in – successful young companies. They co-invest alongside SFC investors and bring additional funding and experience to the portfolio. In addition, SFC has forged ties with some of the country’s leading universities and startup accelerators to broaden its deal flow. 

One notable early success, which helped SFC get where it is today, is Onfido, an AI-based identity verification business. Impressed by the management team, SFC invested before the business even had a product; and Onfido was incubated at SFC’s offices. 

The investment was SEIS qualifying but made prior to the SEIS fund being set up. Onfido was named as one of the fastest-growing business in the UK in 2019 and 2020 and raised capital from investors such as Softbank, Salesforce Ventures and Microsoft. In a secondary sale in 2020, SFC’s initial investors had the option to exit their investment for a 100x return on capital, not including SEIS relief. Note, past performance is not a guide to the future. Onfido subsequently raised a further $100 million from TPG, an early backer of Airbnb and Uber, and is now reportedly considering a US listing following strong growth in the US. 

In 2013, soon after investing in Onfido, SFC launched its SEIS fund, one of the UK’s first. The EIS followed in 2017 to provide follow-on funding to seed companies. SFC has now become a prolific seed investor, investing in over 280 early-stage companies across a broad range of sectors and winning numerous industry awards. In 2021 the manager invested in 94 companies, making it the UK’s most active seed investor (by number of investments) and the third most active in Europe behind state-backed Irish and French bodies. 

The SFC team is headed by Stephen Page, CEO, who has successfully founded and exited a number of software businesses. Stephen is supported by Chief Investment Officer Joseph Zipfel (featured in the video) whose background is in investment banking and corporate finance. The wider team and board of directors of SFC have experience in investment banking, software, corporate finance, and entrepreneurship. In total the team consists of 16 individuals, most of whom are involved with investment decisions.

Startup Funding Club Ltd is the investment adviser to the fund, which is managed by SFC Capital Partners LLP, of which Startup Funding Club Ltd is an appointed representative.

New: Meet the manager – video interview with CIO Joseph Zipfel:

 

Investment strategy

A combination of world-leading universities, some of the world’s largest business, specialist tech capabilities, great infrastructure, a pre-eminent financial centre, and supportive policies for SMEs make the UK a great place for startups. 

The fund aims to tap into this area of growth and invest in a portfolio of early-stage companies with innovative products and disruptive technologies which have the potential to generate successful exits at a significant (tax-free) multiple of the cash invested. The team targets a return of 2.5x, not guaranteed.

SFC’s SEIS fund looks to invest early, acquire a material stake in a business, gain a board seat, and offer the guidance and support needed to put in place good governance structures. The EIS fund seeks to back the most promising ones and invest once the early startup work has been completed, the business has validated its model and achieved significant growth. By taking a board seat, SFC develops deep insight into the performance of each business, before making an EIS follow-on investment. What’s more, since SFC is an existing seed investor, it will most likely be a preferred destination for businesses seeking follow-on funding. This should create a rich pipeline of opportunities for the EIS fund.

On occasion, the EIS fund may invest in companies that have not received backing from the SEIS fund. 

Target return

The Startup Funding Club Angel EIS Fund targets a return of £2.50 per £1 invested after four to seven years before EIS tax relief. Returns and timeframes are not guaranteed. 

Exit strategy

So far, the fund has achieved one full exit and two partial exits. SFC aims to exit investee companies within four to seven years, not guaranteed. Exit options could include trade sales, share buybacks and secondary buyouts. SFC may also consider an IPO if appropriate. Please note, exit options and timeframes are not guaranteed and past performance is not a guide to the future. 

Portfolio

Investors can expect a portfolio of 10-15 companies across various sectors, including digital technology, life sciences and consumer goods. SFC seeks to fully invest subscriptions over a 12-month period following a closing date, not guaranteed. 

Below are examples of companies included in previous iterations of the EIS fund. They are outlined to give a flavour of the types of companies you might expect but may not be part of a new investor's portfolio. EIS funds tend to be managed on a discretionary basis so each individual portfolio is likely to be different.

Condense Reality – Startup Funding Club EISCondense Reality – recent investment 

Condense Reality was founded in 2019 and has created a software and hardware package to capture and broadcast “volumetric” 3D content into artificial worlds – particularly game engines like Unity and Unreal Engine. 

Until now, capturing three-dimensional video that can be viewed by multiple people from different angles has required fixed studios with green screens and hundreds of precisely-calibrated cameras. Even then, processing minutes of content for streaming could take days. Condense Reality’s solution enables broadcasters and content creators to capture and stream video in real-time, outside the confines of a studio, and with far fewer cameras.

The SFC SEIS fund led an £800,000 investment round in October 2020. That money was expected to allow the company to optimise its technology for boxing, with the intention of streaming a hologram-style 3D “volumetric video” of live events alongside a normal television broadcast.

In 2021 SFC provided additional funding through the EIS fund – taking its total investment to a little under £300,000 with the SEIS funding round showing substantial paper gains. Past performance is not a guide t the future.

Maiku – Startup Funding ClubMayku

For small businesses creating or manufacturing physical products, the barriers to entry can be high due to the price and limited selection of manufacturing tools. To address this, Mayku designs simplified and affordable versions of common tools, allowing anyone to create their own personal factory.

Its first product, FormBox, is a desktop-friendly vacuum former that can be used to create high-quality, custom moulds. About the size of an open laptop, it can be powered by a vacuum cleaner and gives users access to industrial-grade technology at a fraction of the cost. 

The company launched FormBox through a Kickstarter campaign in 2016 aiming for 100 pre-orders. Within a month it had over 1,300 orders and secured $588,775 in pledges. To date, Mayku has attracted more than 8,000 clients and achieved a revenue run rate of £2 million in 2021. Past performance is not a guide to the future. 

SFC first invested in Mayku through its EIS fund in 2018. It has since provided two follow-on rounds, most recently in April 2021, bringing its total investment to £356,000.

Cognism – Startup Funding Club EIS and SEISCognism – example of previous exit

Cognism is one of the UK’s fastest-growing technology companies. It has developed software that uses machine learning to help sales and business development professionals find prospects. 

The business was founded in 2015 by CEO James Isilay and CTO Stjepan Buljat. SFC took part in the first funding round in 2017 through its SEIS fund and followed on in 2018 through its 2017/18 EIS Fund. 

At the time of SFC’s first investment, Cognism had recurring revenues of £4,500. In 2021 it announced annual recurring revenues had reached over $11 million and featured in the LinkedIn Top Startups list for the third in a row.

As at 31 December, the EIS investment in Cognism was showing an overall gain of 9.2x, with realised proceeds equivalent to 2.8x the entire initial investment. In January 2022 Cognism announced it raised £87.5 million in a deal led by American investment group Viking Global Investors. The deal valued the business at £147 million.

WinningMinds – example of previous failure

WinningMinds developed an HR-technology platform that used AI and voice recognition to analyse team dynamics.

The company had a credible team and secured paid pilots with several B2B clients. However, these failed to convert into profitable contracts. The company tried to improve its appeal to larger corporates by creating an enterprise product. This required further development and significant additional funding, which the company was unable to secure. Consequently, the business was forced to enter into liquidation in 2020. 

SFC invested approximately £170,000 through its SEIS and EIS funds. This investment has been written down to nil.

Performance 

The Startup Funding Club EIS Fund launched in the 2016/17 tax year and has invested in 68 investee companies to date. The early funds are now showing encouraging progress and have started to return capital to investors, having achieved one full (Vortex IoT) and two partial (Cognism and Bloom Magic) exits. Note: past performance is not a guide to the future. 

The chart below shows the average performance of the total subscribed into the fund each tax year, based on valuations as at 31 December 2021, expressed on a £100 invested basis. Please note, individual investor portfolios’ performance will deviate from the average.

Performance per £100 invested in each tax year

Source: SFC, as at 31 December 2021. 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.

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 and should only form part of a balanced portfolio. As must be expected with early-stage investments, some or even all of the companies in the portfolio could fail: the fewer the companies included in the portfolio, the higher the risk of loss if things don’t go to plan. You should not invest money you cannot afford to lose.

There is no ready market for unlisted EIS shares: they are illiquid and hard to sell and value. There will need to be an “exit” for you to receive a realised return on your investment. Exits are likely to take considerably longer than the three-year minimum EIS holding period; equally, an exit within three years could impact tax relief.

To claim tax relief, you will need EIS3 certificates, normally issued once shares have been allotted. This can take several months: please check the deployment timescales carefully. Tax reliefs depend on the portfolio companies maintaining their EIS-qualifying status. Remember, tax rules can change and benefits depend on circumstances.

Before you invest, please carefully read the Risks and Commitments and the offer documents to ensure you fully understand the risks. 

Charges

A summary of the main charges and savings 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 for more details.

Investor charges
Full initial charge
Wealth Club initial saving
Net initial charge through Wealth Club
Annual management charge
Administration charge
Performance fee 25%
Investee company charges
Initial charge 6%
Annual charges 1%
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

The fund anticipates taking up to 12 months to fully deploy investor capital following the closing dates but expects to be able to do so in a shorter period – not guaranteed.

Our view

SFC has forged strong ties with leading universities and accelerator programmes. Combined with its own angel network, this gives the investment team access to a strong pipeline of deals. In recent years, this has seen SFC become one of the leading start-up investors in Europe. This is relevant to investors considering the EIS fund for three reasons.

Firstly, the EIS fund primarily invests in companies from SFC’s portfolio of SEIS investments. In theory, a potential drawback with follow-on investing is the limited number of deals to choose from. This does not seem to be the case with SFC. As one of the world’s most active start-up investors the manager benefits from a large pool of seed investments in which to identify promising opportunities. Much is already known about the investee company and due diligence is enhanced.

Secondly, SFC’s high level of investment activity means investors should receive, in EIS terms, a diverse portfolio of between 10-15 companies, although this is not guaranteed.

Thirdly, SFC’s position as one of Europe’s most active start-up investors may attract entrepreneurs seeking funding, further enhancing SFC’s deal flow.

For experienced investors keen to add to their existing EIS portfolio, the SFC EIS offering seems to be maturing into a compelling offer, in our view. In addition, existing SFC SEIS investors may find this follow-on focused EIS fund worth a look.

Read important documents and then apply

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
Technology
Target return
2.5x
Funds raised / sought
-
Minimum investment
£10,000
Deadline
Discretionary
Last updated: 21 March 2022

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