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Accountancy firm warns SMEs against crowdfunding

AN accountancy firm is urging small and medium businesses to consider the long-term consequences before trying to raise money through crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending warning there is scope to be "ripped off".

CASH FLOW: Brewery company BrewDog is currently attempting to raise £4m through crowdfunding. FRASER CAMPBELL: Worried about firms amassing debt from strangers.

Campbell Dallas suggested these new funding models were uncharted territory for companies with little understanding of how the loans are to be repaid and the risks involved.

Crowdfunding has traditionally split into two main models with the fundraisers either offering equity in the business or some kind of reward – which could be a mention on the company website or a product – based on how much money is pledged.

Dozens of Scottish companies and projects have avoided traditional financing sources and gone down the crowdfunding route.

Beer firm BrewDog is currently raising £4 million having already managed to get £2m.

Yet research commissioned by Glasgow Chamber of Commerce earlier this year found only 54% of its members would consider crowdfunding and sums pledged were typically below £50,000.

However crowdfunding is much more prevalent in the US where the Kickstarter platform is particularly well established.

It has been used to get music and film projects, including Veronica Mars starring Kristen Bell which raised $5.7m (£3.7m), off the ground as well as helping businesses including Pebble Technology, which secured almost $10.3m to get its watch which syncs with smartphones into production.

However, Fraser Campbell, the Glasgow-based partner at Campbell Dallas, has concerns about how the funds raised will be repaid and said there were few examples of how an exit from a crowdfunded business could be achieved.

He said: "We are experiencing a digital revolution in the way we lend and secure debt and while that is quite exciting and fresh, the concern is that we have never seen this through to a resolution.

"This is uncharted territory and like any untested avenue there is an associated risk.

"Using [peer to peer] lending or similar, you are raising your debt from complete strangers from across the globe, and there is not enough history or track record to understand what happens once it is time to repay the loans.

"All sorts of things come in to the equation, such as regulatory issues and legal and banking considerations and there is scope for some people to be ripped off."

Scottish based venture business Bloom VC, founded by Amanda Boyle, has helped fund dozens of small scale businesses and arts projects through its online crowdfunding platform.

Michelle Rodger, chief communications officer, said: "Like any other investment if you are investing for equity in a crowdfunding then you need to go in with your eyes open."

While Mr Campbell was not suggesting any Scottish companies were involved in any wrongdoing he had concerns that using crowd funding may also make it difficult if a company wants to progress onwards to other forms of fundraising.

He added: "This is where things can get very complicated and as a company matures and is ready for the support and financial muscle of a [venture capitalist] to take it to the next level, they could find this blocked by the original micro-investors.

"Crowd sourcing is in its infancy and it's a method of financing which may suit certain businesses but a proper analysis of the pros and cons need to be carried out before proceeding and it should be measured against all other funding options."

Ms Rodger said: "None of the equity crowdfundings in the UK have yet gone for a second round and I think that will be interesting to see what happens there.

"From our conversations with banks and other sources of finance they see the reward model as being like a deal pipeline as it brings through businesses which would have struggled to attract funding in another way.

"I think the businesses that go down the reward route will be much more ready to take on additional funding when they need it."

Investors who choose to take equity in a business may also find it hard to realise their investment unless the company is sold or goes on to a stock market listing.

In BrewDog's case it provided a full share prospectus outlining the investment case and the risks and has also promised to provide a platform where equity holders can buy and sell shares by 2015.

James Watt, BrewDog's co-founder, said: "Crowdfunding for us has been about more than just raising finance.

"It is about building a community and shortening the distance between us and the people who like our beer.

"It is very different from a traditional company investment as our investors get a lifetime discount in our bars and online shop, invited to our AGM, get the chance to be involved in the decisions we make and they can see what we are doing with the money when they walk into their local bars."

It is estimated more than 
£3 billion will be raised through crowdfunding in the UK and US this year. The Financial Conduct Authority is starting a consultation on possible regulation of crowdfunding later this year.

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