How to fuel your business ambition: An Ambition Nation panel debate

Nov 13, 2017 / Ambition Nation Events

finnCap Ambition Nation London Stock Exchange corporate brochure

Advising on and providing wider access to growth capital is a central focus of Ambition Nation, but what else is needed to stoke the inner fires of our brightest entrepreneurs? At the launch of finnCap Ambition Nation last week, our speakers and panel offered fresh perspectives on the aspirations of UK PLC and the opportunities lying in wait.

The principle that underpins Ambition Nation is simple, as finnCap CEO Sam Smith put it in her opening address at our launch event, ambition breeds ambition.

It stands to reason. If you’re a business leader with the hunger to grow, yet perhaps not a clear idea of how or where to look, the first place you go is where someone else has been before. Do they face the same challenges as you? How did they overcome them? What funding options did they have? What can you learn from their experiences?

Company leaders want to know more about their funding options… and they want impartial sounding on how to do it

We’re creating a community based on that principle, getting companies to help and inspire each other to keep thinking bigger. And that requires a tidal change.

A coalition of the willing and able

British companies don’t tend to shout about success these days – we’re quietly ambitious, as we recently discovered from The State of Small Business report. Maybe it’s the uncertainty of the economic backdrop; maybe it’s just that inherent culture of Britishness of not wanting to make a fuss. But make no mistake, we are positive on the economy. We just need – and are indeed ready for – that extra boost, as the panel at our launch of Ambition Nation on Monday at the London Stock Exchange laid out.

AIM is a marketplace that shows this attitude; it’s why we saw the potential for Ambition Nation to rise out from and beyond what we achieved with our AIM High events.

Speaking at our launch, Marcus Stuttard, Head of AIM and UK Primary Markets at London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG), described a “coalition of the willing” in the UK. The ambition is there, bubbling under the surface, and conversations about how we release a geyser of growth have been happening in earnest, especially within LSEG.

The UK has investors that have the right capital that’s ready to deploy

Marcus said that conversations overheard in the corridors of LSEG clearly show company leaders want to know more about their funding options, they want to grow and they want impartial sounding on how to do it. Moreover, they want to hear and be reassured that other founders have lived and been through the same sorts of challenges that they now face.

“We have a fantastic opportunity,” said Marcus. “Now is absolutely the right time to get behind our ambitious businesses – to push out Ambition Nation.”

The ingredients and the recipe for success

The numbers speak for themselves. £100 billion has now been raised for growth companies on AIM alone, a significant milestone for a growth market. In other words, the UK has companies that investors want to back, investors that have the right capital that’s ready to deploy. We have all the ingredients right here, right now; Ambition Nation is a recipe to bring them together.

To find the scope of how that coalition of the willing has taken shape, our launch turned to panel debate to hear three very different perspectives of ambition, UK business and finding the right growth capital. Hosted by Michael Hayman MBE, the panel comprised Angus Thirwell, CEO and co-founder of AIM success story Hotel Chocolat, Jon Moulton, widely renowned venture capitalist, founder of Better Capital and non-executive chairman of finnCap, and Faisel Rahman, founder and CEO of Fair Finance.

We’re known for being particularly resourceful… we can do a lot more to support those ideas, stick with them for longer

“We’re growing slowly as a nation,” said Jon. “We need more ambition. It’s mostly about culture – having that respect for the people that achieve things. The vast majority of ambitious companies have a chief executive that is ambitious.”

Angus pointed to the need to create a culture not only of being seen to be trying hard, but also of being seen to fail and learning from one’s mistakes. Musing that a degree of old school, Gentleman-and-Player Britishness is a factor at play, Angus was encouraged by the loudening ambitions of Britain’s burgeoning younger businesspeople.

“The rise of the digital economy makes things easier for our great innovators,” said Angus. “We have lots of ideas; we’re known for being particularly resourceful and I think we can do a lot more to support those ideas, stick with them for longer and not cash out too early.”

As someone seasoned in providing some of that support to great British idea-makers, Faisel said that gaps remained because of an imbalance. He opined that the problem with British growth is that it is not spread evenly; that not everybody has the same access to advice, people, networks or growth capital.

“I see ambition as a way to fix that problem,” said Faisel. “If we can include more people into the opportunities for growing, we have a better chance of achieving more than what we have. Most of us complain about what we see; there are few of us that look at the problem and say ‘I can do something about that.’”  

There’s a compelling case for hiring fresh and exceptional talent

Of course, ambition alone has limited power without capability, education and determination. As Jon pointed out, government policy is unsure in the current climate, as is the direction of travel for funds coming from the UK business bank’s pot; meanwhile, private equity returns tend to be quite low in the UK.

“We need to get good companies going,” Jon continued. “We need to put ambitious people in a place where they’re creating real value for themselves and the economy.”

The sustainability of doing good

More and more, that value is found not simply in equity returns, but also in the ambition to achieve, to make a difference. A major driver of ambition to which Faisel alluded is a stark shift in attitudes over the last couple of decades that clearly show – mostly younger – entrepreneurs seek to make positive change. Perhaps that is societal or environmental value, but the core ambition is fuelled by purpose.

“Purpose is fundamental to change,” he remarked. “The closer that people feel, inside themselves, the more ambitious they are to achieve that change – something to feel proud of. It used to be something we left until we retired, now people want to see it as a business opportunity. And that space is really exciting.”

These are ideals that present a sustainable driver of the economy. Angus explained how not only had Hotel Chocolat found ambition in creating brand values that aligned profit and purpose, it also presented a compelling case for hiring fresh and exceptional talent.

“We found that to be a potent recruiter of the right kind of talent and retained those people in the long term” said Angus. “Our customers like it, too. Especially with consumer brands, the customer expects that brands will apply their extensive resources to do good.”

Our ambition is buoyed through a combination of positive thinking, enabling access to growth capital with minimal constraint and releasing some of the regulatory burden on small companies trying to grow. In that respect the looming situation of Brexit is too foggy to make a judgment call on the regulatory forecast. Some will see opportunity, some will experience pain, as Jon put it.

We need to get good companies going

What Brexit can offer, he said, is an opportunity for our government to reward our companies for their achievements, make them visible to the public, and in so doing encourage other businesses to aim to thrive.

With Ambition Nation, this is exactly where we are, ahead of our time and hitting the ground running.

Our next event: Ambition Nation | Manchester Summit on 22 November 2017, open to CEOs and investors - Register your place today

For more information on Ambition Nation or if you have an exciting growth story to share, contact AmbitionNation@finncap.com.