Q: What is your background, before the world of GAS?
A: I’ve been a venture capitalist, specialising in early stage technology investing, for 32 years! However I started my working life as an investment banker – after three days I knew that was not the job for me but it took me three years to summon up the courage to dump my salary and cheap mortgage and jump ship. I found a job as the finance and commercial guy in a start-up – a spin out from Imperial College – developing control systems for industrial robots in the early 80s. I raised capital for them, got to know the VC world from the other side of the fence and hopped over it. A poacher turned gamekeeper, in other words. I spent most of my career helping to build Quester into one of the most active UK based early stage investors. I was lucky enough to be investing in software companies during the extraordinary first wave of the internet in the late 90s. We sold Quester in 2007. For a while I took it a bit easier, wrote a few books, including a guide for entrepreneurs to the world of venture capital called “Angels, Dragons and Vultures – how to tame your investors… and not lose your company”. Inevitably I started doing some Angel Investing because there is something addictive about exciting start-ups. I also decided to focus on investing in Greentech companies because the change taking place in the sector creates great opportunities and issues relating to climate change and the state of the planet are what I care about most.
Q: What made you join Green Angel Syndicate (GAS)?
A: I bumped into Nick Lyth (co-founder of GAS) soon after he’d started it and joined his advisory board. A year ago he was looking for someone to help take it to the next level. I never planned to go back to full time work – but I couldn’t resist, and I’m now working harder than I have in the last 10 years! I have tried to bring my long VC experience to bear to make sure we do the best deals and carry out our due diligence to the highest professional standards.
Q: What would you describe as the syndicate’s USP?
A: There are several! Our sector focus mean we have developed a reputation for expertise which attracts good companies to us. We have lots of really smart, experienced, well-connected people in our group. We can bring our expertise to bear to help us make the right investment decisions and to help our portfolio companies after investing. I invest my own money in each deal GAS does – so my main motivation is to make sure that they all work out well. We provide a framework for angels to invest in and interface with Greentech businesses in whatever way they want – relying on our due diligence, getting involved in some of it, or working with portfolio companies post-investment.
Q: What motivates you about the world of angel investment and greentech?
A: Like all our members I want to make money from investing but I have always believed that you can do that and back businesses which have a positive impact. Technology innovation has always excited me. The urgent need to meet carbon emission targets and make the best use of the world’s resources while improving rather than trashing our environment is forcing a huge amount of rapid change – in how we generate electricity, how we transport ourselves around, how we produce food, how we use materials not once but over and over again. Big companies have vested interests and established ways of doing things, and cannot adapt fast enough to take first advantage of these market opportunities. Young, fast-moving, agile companies can. The visionary entrepreneurs who found those companies need visionary investors alongside them and that is what I hope we are at GAS.
Simon Acland is the co-founder of Green Angel Syndicate, the only angel syndicate in the UK specialising in investments that are of benefit to the Green economy. We support early stage technology companies developing products and solutions specifically for a more efficient and sustainable use of global resources.