SCOTTISH companies could raise millions of pounds in extra investment by tapping into crowdfunding as an alternative source of finance, a new report has found.
Glasgow Chamber of Commerce (GCC) commissioned research into awareness and take up of crowdfunding - a method of raising a target sum by attracting a series of smaller investments - as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) continue to struggle to access finance from banks.
The report found that while Scottish companies had the potential to raise £16 million through crowdfunding in 2012, based on Scotland accounting for 8% of the UK economy, only £1m was generated using the model.
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And while the amount raised by Scottish firms is growing, the report suggests it remains "well short of the sums potentially available", in spite of the success enjoyed by brewer and bar operator Brewdog in taking the approach.
GCC commissioned the report after a trip to Chicago last year, when the delegation visited Threadless, a T-shirt graphic design company that has grown into a $10 million business through crowdfunding and crowdsourcing its products.
Chamber chief executive Stuart Patrick said the experience convinced him the concept has "real potential, particularly for early-stage businesses" that are continuing to find it difficult to source funds form mainstream banks.
With the study finding that 76% of chamber members are aware of crowdfunding, and 54% saying they would consider using it as means of raising finance, he said the prospects for the concept in Scotland were good, particularly among SME. Mr Patrick noted: " If we are saying broadly a half of small businesses have an interest in this, then there is potential".
The comparatively low take-up of crowdfunding to date in Scotland comes in spite of the UK being an acknowledged leader in the field.
There are four main crowdfunding formats: reward, where a reward such as a product or service is offered in return for a pledge of money; equity, where small parcels of non-tradeable shares are offered to the crowd in return for an investment; peer 2 peer (P2P), where a loan is made of small contributions and made available to a borrower; and donation-based, when money is pledged for no specific tangible return.
There is currently only one crowdfunding platform in Scotland, the rewards-based Bloom VC, but Mr Patrick said this should not be a deterrent to Scottish firms, especially with the major US platform Kickstarter now available in the UK.
He said: "You are trying to go after a crowd of supporters or stakeholders in your business who are not geographically constrained. There is nothing stopping you using Kickstarter here in Scotland to build up the community in your local area and indeed to stretch yourself into that geography. Who knows where you will find yourself."
The sums sought by companies surveyed in Scotland ranged from £5000 to £50,000, a typical band for a crowdfunding campaign.
Report author Tim Wright, from research firm Twintangibles, said no single reason can explain why crowdfunding has yet to be fully embraced in Scotland. He highlighted the lack of Scottish platforms, an over-reliance on grant funding, poorly-prepared financial statements and lower demand for finance in Scotland as potential factors, but suspects a lack of knowledge, guidance and support are the most telling.
The study sought the views of government at Scottish, UK and European level on crowdfunding and found that attitudes were broadly positive. Mr Wright said the fact the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills at Westminster has earmarked £30m from the Business Finance Partnership to invest in companies through two P2P platforms, Funding Circle and Zopa, signalled that a "tacit endorsement of this approach".
The government's commitment will see it cover 20% of eligible loans made under the platforms, with the remaining 80% coming from other lenders on the platforms. The interest charged will be set at market rates, based on the average rate applied to the other parts of the loan.