Tina Rogers found herself running her own business after completing a management buy out at a software house.
After becoming the managing director of Syntech, Rogers has become involved with a number of startup and growing businesses. She first became a business angel in 1997 and is currently invested in four companies. Some of those have been introduced through Xenos, the Welsh business angel network, but she has also had a number of private introductions through the industry and her own contacts.
Rogers currently sees one business plan a fortnight and she specialises in the technology sector. The portfolio of companies currently includes Burns e-commerce software, Stilo - xml authoring software, KCS - HR and payroll software, Practice Net - software for accountants.
Her CV is cluttered with experience – she has launched an internet service provider, worked as a non-executive director and completed two buy-in management buy outs – particularly in the technology sector. But unlike the technical wizards leaving school and setting up websites, Rogers is simply a traditional businesswoman with a passion for fast growth businesses.
Without the benefit of the technical expertise that many of the software gurus bring to the business – in fact, she admits to not needing to fully understand the technology before investing in a company – Rogers approaches her investments with a fairly common sense approach. Will the idea make money?
Earlier this year, she invested in an e-commerce company. “I understood it not necessarily from a hi-tech point of view but as a consumer. E-commerce is something I didn't know anything about but they were the experts,” she said, explaining that a company that has a clever technology or an innovative idea doesn't need another technician.
What most technology companies lack – apart from money – is sales and marketing experience. Great ideas are often stifled by a lack of commercial awareness – this is the difference between invention and innovation. “There is no shortage of money or good ideas,” says Rogers. “There is, however, a real shortage in translation.”
“There are so many wonderful ideas,” explained Rogers. “But that is where they stop. When you ask how they intend to make money, it is 'sell lots',” she added.
Conversely, Rogers has seen numerous clever ideas but not been trapped by the lure of fancy technology that offers no commercial benefit. “It is an emotional thing,” she admits. “I saw the technology and was excited by it.”
Recalling one business plan that had excited her interest initially, Rogers explained that following the first meeting she went to three further sessions with the company. The business plan was scrutinised and reworked, all of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats was examined in detail. Despite her initial interest, after nearly two months it became clear that there was no clear financial outline for the business and the investment fell through.
Despite having a young family and no financial need to work, Rogers continues to throw all her energies behind the companies she had invested in. And has no hesitation in explaining why she became a business angel. “Involvement,” she says, explaining that, while the potential for a financial gain is there, money is not the overriding factor. “It is flattering to think that businesses want to learn from you. That is more of a turn on than wanting the money,” she explained.
Against a backdrop of venture capitalists moving up the investment scale and looking increasingly at larger more cost-effective transactions, it is individuals seeking this type of involvement that will drive the future of the UK's small businesses. Rogers acknowledges the vacuum being created at the bottom of the UK's investment market as the venture capitalists move upmarket.
Rogers also acknowledges the lack of real help available to someone with a good idea. Usually the only people who want to help are either accountants who are trying to make money from the fees or agencies in the public sector, where there may be no real entrepreneurial experience. It is precisely these gaps that business angels such as Rogers – driven by a passion for business and a desire to be involved – can fill.
“I will look at investments where I think I can add value,” she says. “The money is not a big factor – in fact, it is neither here nor there.”