Glasgow Chamber of Commerce has become the first in the UK to form a partnership with a crowdfunding platform through a joint venture with Glasgow City Council.
The tie-up with Funding Circle, the biggest business-focused platform in the peer-to-peer lending arena, will feature direct lending by the chamber to businesses operating in key sectors identified by the Glasgow Economic Commission.
The chamber says it will drive a campaign to raise awareness of an under-used avenue in Scotland, where only a small percentage of borrowed finance as yet comes from the alternative funding sector.
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To be eligible, businesses must typically have a minimum turnover of £100,000 and have been trading for at least two years. Once businesses pass Funding Circle's credit assessment processes, their loan is posted on the platform 'marketplace'. Would-be investors then choose which type of businesses to lend to, and bid the amount of money they wish to lend and the interest rate they want to earn. Investors can bid small amounts, from as little as £20, on lots of different businesses to spread their risk.
The chamber's lending will be spread across around 10 to 20 businesses over the next six to 12 months based upon demand, and will form a percentage of each loan alongside private co-investment. The chamber and Funding Circle will also run peer-to-peer lending workshops later this year for small businesses interested in trying the model.
The government-backed British Business Bank and other UK councils have already signed up to lend money directly to businesses through Funding Circle, where since launch in 2010 investors have lent £14.8 million to businesses in Scotland, and over £300 million UK-wide.
Last year, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce published research which demonstrated the ongoing demand for finance amongst small and medium-sized Scottish businesses, while the Glasgow Economic Commission has urged "a range of innovative funding and other mechanisms" to promote growth.
Alison McRae, projects director for Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, said: "Funding Circle is an extremely novel approach to business finance, effectively creating a marketplace for borrowing.
"As a chamber of commerce one of our main goals is to encourage business growth and this is only achievable if funding is available.
"We have already identified that many Scottish firms are missing out on the opportunities presented by crowdfunding and we hope our involvement can stimulate the market.
"Uptake across the country is currently extremely low, so our ambition is to reverse this trend."
Samir Desai, chief executive co-founder of Funding Circle, said: "We're beginning to see more and more interest from councils and organisations looking to use the Funding Circle marketplace as a way of boosting lending to businesses in their local regions. About £7 million of lending has been facilitated by five councils so far and a further three have recently started to lend. We strongly believe this network will evolve over the next period to create a blueprint for an equivalent twenty-first century regional banking network."
Bailie Liz Cameron, executive member for jobs and the economy at Glasgow City Council, said: "This is great news for businesses in the Glasgow area, a Scottish first for the city and a UK first for Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. Funding Circle is another example of the innovative approach to growing the economy taken in Glasgow."
Edinburgh-based ShareIn, specialising in health care sector lending, last week became the first Scottish crowdfunding platform and only the second in the UK (after Crowdcuble) to win regulatory approval for retail investors.