It took a plane flight to the other side of the world for Glenn Gaudet, an Australian entrepreneur, to secure additional financing for his fledgling vehicle safety business.
Even though Mr Gaudet has a track record of success – shares in the Queensland veterinary business he helped create have risen fivefold since listing – when he needed further backers, he went to London. Australia may have one of the strongest economies in the developed world but interest in fundraisings by small technology companies is weak to non-existent, he says.
“We thought [the fallout from the credit crunch] would last a year or so and that then the market would get back to normal. Six years on, it hasn’t.”
In much of the developed world, entrepreneurs continue to struggle to raise finance. In the UK, for example, loans to SMEs fell by 3.5 per cent in the year to March, according to the Bank of England.
Like many, Mr Gaudet has turned to alternative sources – in his case angel investors provided £300,000.
The biggest lending gap is in the £150,000-£1m range, says Jonathan Willis, chairman of the Ideas Factory, the angel network that financed Mr Gaudet. Founded in 2010, it already has 30,000 potential investors on its books and has supported some 45 enterprises.
Angel investing is also taking off in new markets, such as the Middle East. The proportion of SME bank lending in the region is traditionally lower than in developed markets, opening the way for private investors says David Moleshead, chairman of Envestors Dubai, part of Braveheart Investment Group, the listed Scottish SME specialist.
In the past three years, it has been approached by more than 1,000 companies. Of those it puts forward to investors at meetings held a few times a year, 30-40 per cent are successful.
Within alternative financing, peer-to-peer (P2P) lending – online marketplaces linking lenders and borrowers – is arguably the most positive recent development for SMEs.
Nesta, the innovation charity, says P2P lending could provide £12bn or up to 10 per cent of commercial lending in the UK within a decade. Pioneered in the UK and US, new marketplaces are quickly taking hold elsewhere, notably in China.
At present, P2P’s share of commercial lending is negligible. As of this month, Funding Circle, the UK market leader, had lent to almost 1,900 companies with the average loan size £65,000. But it recently lifted the maximum for loans to £1m, up from a cap of £50,000 at its launch in 2010, says James Meekings, co-founder.
Moreover, it is expanding the market: about a third of borrowers say they would not be able to raise finance elsewhere.
Receivable, or supply chain, financing, where banks advance clients the value of their outstanding invoices, is also increasing, says Raman Rai, global head of business banking at HSBC. In 2006, HSBC had such operations in 12 countries; now it offers the service in 26.
Since the onset of the financial crisis entrepreneurs have also been able to draw on significantly increased support from government and multilateral agencies.
Between 2007 and 2011, for example, the value of government guaranteed loans increased by 65 per cent in Turkey, 80 per cent in Chile and 86 per cent in Italy, according to the OECD. In Japan, the biggest provider of credit guarantee loans, more than a third of SMEs receive this form of finance.
India’s SME credit guarantee scheme has also rocketed, rising from Rs61m ($1.1m) in 2001 to Rs69bn in 2010. Yet its SMEs remain chronically short of capital, says Krishna Tanuku, head of the Indian School of Business’s centre for entrepreneurship development.
A key issue, he says, is that most SMEs and micro-businesses have little or no contact with banks – the vast majority work in the informal sector.
“Linkage is the problem not the quantum of finance available,” he says.
Nor is there a holistic approach to developing small businesses. Government might finance a visit to a trade show but back home an entrepreneur may not have the skills, technology and access to information to capitalise on the new contacts.
But he says the growth in incubators, both commercial and at research centres, is promising; he expects hundreds more to spring up in the next three to four years.
“The commercial ones are entrepreneurial themselves and can help guide new businesses, not just lend them money.”
Nevertheless, many banks say they have stepped up SME lending in developing markets.
Since 2008, Standard Chartered, the Africa, Asia and Middle East specialist, for example, has doubled its loans to the segment (companies with turnover up to about $40m) to some $22bn, says Tim Hinton, global head of SME banking. A significant proportion is linked to government-backed schemes while about $3bn is micro-lending, akin to personal loans, with advances repayable in instalments.
But he says that since the financial crisis the “bar has been raised” as banks themselves face greater scrutiny from shareholders and regulators.
“Companies have to build strong business plans and demonstrate financial discipline,” he says. “They need to present a better face than they would have done in the past.”
Property lending is one of the growth areas, he says. Successful entrepreneurs in the bank’s markets are increasingly developing secondary investment portfolios in property, assets that can be used as collateral.
HSBC also reports good growth in SME lending in developing markets. But Ms Rai says it is also “open for business” in mature economies: last year it set up a £4bn fund for the segment, subsequently lifted to £5bn, in the UK; this year it has established another, worth €1bn, in France.
Successful entrepreneurs and banks that work well together share the rewards.
In 2006, Shanghai Sanrise, a chemical trading enterprise, for example, secured its first credit line after encountering Standard Chartered at an SME forum. The business’s turnover has since quadrupled and its credit facility risen from Rmb5m ($1.3m) to Rmb73.5m. The bank now provides it with services from letters of credit and receivables financing to e-banking, payroll and strategic advice.
Wang Tingzhang, chairman, says, with the benefit of hindsight, the bank was right to caution against a move into solar energy in 2010. When approached by others offering preferential loans, he says he tactfully rebuffs them.
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