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Managing Cash in Uncertain Times: Alternative Funding Options for Series A+ Startups with Diana Florescu, Wolves Summit Partner and Founder of mediaforgrowth, Global Media for Equity Network and Advisory Firm

Financing is one of the major pillars for startups, who often require a considerable amount of capital to mobilise their ideas. Investments allow a company to hire necessary talent, develop its concept(s), scale its operations and finally bring its products to market more quickly.

To be successful, a startup must successfully stand out from all, attracting investors’ attention and demonstrating its worth. Following an investment, they must show development and progress within a specified time frame, as monies are most likely to be given in benchmarked tranches. Failure to hit milestones and show growth could result in the investor withdrawing or leading to bankruptcy.

In the high-risk start-up landscape, investors must understand the chances and be prepared to lose their investment. Due diligence is a crucial procedure that investors undergo when examining a potential investment opportunity to guarantee that it is a good fit for their investment portfolio and risk appetite.

When it comes to startup business funding, venture capitalists and angel investors come to mind. However, they are only one of several options for capital. Nowadays, instead of relying primarily on venture capital, a new wave of more democratic and dispersed funding is sweeping the market.

Fuelling Business with Fundraising Best Practices

Diana Florescu, Wolves Summit Partner and Founder of mediaforgrowth, (MFG) Founder, discusses the top fundraising tactics that are fuelling startups in an exclusive interview with Mohit Sagar, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, OpenGov Asia.

Diana recognises that numerous research including Startup Genome reports, over the years, have been conducted to examine the reasons why startups fail. It’s not surprising that some of the main causes of failure are related to securing funding and achieving product-market fit before the company exhausts its funds, as well as team dynamics.

Yet, another area that presents significant challenges is the company’s go-to-market strategy and its product marketing methods. This highlights the importance of achieving not only problem-solution fit but also product-market fit, which is closely tied to having a go-to-market plan. A good plan can translate into marketing growth opportunities and consideration for brand positioning.

“Funding has often been a challenge for first-time founders. This year in particular will be a challenging one for a lot of startups in the market for fundraising. Getting cash from the right investors will continue to always be a concern,” says Diana, “A lot of founders are now turning towards venture debt or raising bridge rounds. She believes that the advent of accelerators and initiatives, such as startup and student competitions or government-funded grants is a step in the right direction. They have helped to decrease the funding gap in industries that are largely focused on producing deep-tech products.

The Rise of Alternative Funding Options

Many investors are grappling with how to segment the industry due to the difficulty of accurately estimating the market size and future applications of AI. This is particularly evident in discussions surrounding technologies such as ChatGPT.

“Microsoft, for instance, is now integrating this technology with Bing, its search engine, to improve search results. This move is intended to give Microsoft a competitive edge over Google and open new avenues for advertisers. The applications of this technology are extensive.” Diana elaborates.

Currently, advanced climate technology, life sciences and biosciences, as well as gaming, with a particular focus on Poland, are receiving significant attention. Poland is currently one of the fastest-growing gaming markets in Europe. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, is heavily investing in industries such as life sciences that demand significant research and development funding.

In addition to venture capital, there has been a rise in alternative forms of funding for startups in recent years, including crowdfunding, venture debt, revenue-based financing, and other options. There are various funding sources available to help a venture without necessarily diminishing an equity stake.

Some funding may be non-dilutive while others involve an exchange of equity. One of these non-dilutive alternatives is a venture loan, which has become increasingly popular in recent years. Additionally, there has been a rise in media for equity as a funding source.

What Investors Look for in a Startup

Most investors typically look for highly-scalable, proven-business models operating in a big-size and growing market and with a clear path to profitability. Historically valuations came down to revenue multiples, and some were very hard to justify. This year investors seek profitability, equality, and value in logical multipliers. When referring to media for equity deals, these funds apply the same due diligence as a traditional investor, however, they also consider the media-startup fit.

There are a lot more investors who prefer to invest in B2B companies than in direct-to-consumer businesses. Therefore, as those consumer enterprises grow and need to spend significantly more budget on advertising, I believe there will be a funding gap to fill,” says Diana.

“The UK has a few more consumer VCs than the rest of Europe. As more VCs are placing their bets on consumer startups and start seeing returns I expect the consumer space to emerge as a key area for VC investment in the upcoming years. In addition, mentoring is essential, especially in the startup phase of a firm. Entrepreneurs should consider early on what skill gaps exist in their team. If they are unable to fill those gaps with the right team members, it could be due to market or financial difficulties.

“Think about surrounding yourself with mentors or even having a board of advisors. Carefully consider how to structure it and how you want to incentivise these people potentially. But having a mentor, especially as a first-time founder, may give you a head start,” adds Diana.

She emphasises the importance of growth marketing for startups and believes it helps to drive success. During the early stages of a startup, many founders may be struggling to gain traction. Hence, a growth marketing mindset could save a lot of time and a lot of money in the long run for entrepreneurs. “So, try to do digital experiments as soon as possible in your business.”

Diana points out that founders are becoming aware of new trends and recognise the need for a clear path to profitability. Without it, it could be challenging for startups to attract investors in the coming year.

Urban Ideas and Solutions Through LKYGBPC    

The Lee Kuan Yew Global Business Plan Competition (LKYGBPC), which began in 2001, is a biennial global university start-up competition hosted in Singapore. Organised by Singapore Management University’s Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, focuses on urban ideas and solutions developed by student founders and early-stage start-ups.

“As I was finishing my bachelor’s degree I decided to take part in a similar contest in the United Kingdom (UK),” Diana reveals, as she shares her “best approach” to making entrepreneurship an integral part of one’s education. “I was aware of it because the organisation that was running the contest worked closely with approximately 100 Universities across the UK. One of the methods of making more students aware of such opportunities is making university “hatcheries” and student competitions part of the curriculum.”

Diana added that there are various strategies for scaling an idea-stage venture it is not part of a programme, module or curriculum, there may be frequent interactions with students as part of a university-based incubator. She witnessed a roadshow that has been touring many European nations, and she believes that this is the best approach.

She believes that understanding the individual preferences and inclinations of students is crucial. This includes identifying students who have entrepreneurial experience and where they are in the process. She believes it is important to help future entrepreneurs from an early age and incorporate entrepreneurship into curricula as soon as practical.

Diana grew up in Romania, where entrepreneurship was not typically taught in schools, like in other countries, and where the norm is to finish university and look for a job before attempting to climb the corporate ladder.

She feels that it is important to teach young people that they can achieve things on their own and provide them with the resources and support they need to succeed. She believes that it is essential to receive assistance from the government and educational institutions to promote entrepreneurship.

Diana suggests that creating a venture capital fund that is tied to the student competition, such as the LKYGBPC could be a great way to support startups. Such a corpus could provide follow-on funding to some of the companies and invest in the portfolio companies as they expand.

The LKYGBPC is positioned as an innovation campus movement with the goal of creating a global start-up ecosystem involving investors such as venture capitalists, corporate conglomerates, and government agencies.

Diana’s experience working with a startup had a profound impact on her and influenced the way she wanted to approach entrepreneurship. Before founding the MFG, she had worked in various industries and tech ecosystems. She specialised in building and delivering marketing and innovation programmes for growth-stage startups and some of the world’s largest accelerators, tech conferences and innovation consultancies.

After launching her food tech startup, Diana became eager to work with accelerators and foster collaboration between startups and investors. She went on to lead global marketing initiatives for companies such as Startupbootcamp and Rainmaking, both of which have programmes in Singapore. Through these initiatives, Diana aimed to bridge the gap between startups and established companies, as well as connect founders with investors.

When she was in Doha, Qatar, Diana helped run a sports tech programme, becoming a meeting point for innovators and investors in the field.

Diana has observed that one of the fundamental issues in the startup ecosystem is the lack of funding or expertise for consumer entrepreneurs and founders who aim to grow their businesses through digital means. This can often create a gap in both financing and skills needed to scale the business.

Her ambition is to support founders from seed to IPO to raise media capital funding and make a distinctive contribution to the media for equity space, which she firmly believes will undergo significant transformation in the coming decade. The idea of MFG emerged from the absence of a well-established global entity that could foster awareness and provide support to entrepreneurs seeking media financing.

“Having worked closely with numerous founders, I had first-hand insight into the challenges they faced. This prompted me to delve deeper into the industry and investigate the space,” says Diana. “And that’s when the idea of media for equity came about. I could leverage my background in marketing and media.”

As of present, numerous investors and media businesses support entrepreneurs, but there is no single formal industry body to help educate both founders and investors.

Over the 12 months or so, Diana has built a network of30+ investors globally including media investors in Singapore and Southeast Asia. Her experiences have helped her develop a strong understanding of the industry, and every year the organisation creates an annual report on the state of the industry

Diana is astounded by the number of young entrepreneurs seeking to enhance their skills and their eagerness to learn from success stories. She observes a rise in small and medium-sized businesses participating in global business competitions, indicating an upward trend year by year.

In the end, this is where she wants to be. She enjoys the pace of the sector and the impact she knows her company has had and will continue to have.

“I’m excited to see how the media capital space will evolve over the next decade. I feel fortunate to have a front-row seat to this transformation and to be able to create a tangible impact for both media companies and founders. As you may have noticed, I have a lot of energy and I strive to direct this energy towards finding creative and innovative solutions to problems Diana concludes.

About mediaforgrowth (MFG)

The MFG is a media for equity advisory firm and a global network of media investors specialised in Series A to pre-IPO media capital fundraising. Their goal is to optimise media capital fundraising for startups and emerging fund managers.

First, they partner with founders to grow revenue and scale internationally using media for growth investments. Secondly, MFG connects emerging and established media for growth funds with investors to accelerate the flow of media capital and the creation of new funds. For more information, please visit www.mediaforgrowth.co

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