5 October 2014

Growth financing for Finnish SMB companies

Lately I have been contacted by several SMB entrepreneurs for bank loan challenges. Indeed, access to finance is a key obstacle to the growth of many Finnish small and medium-sized enterprises. If you do not have deep enough pockets, or, for one reason or another, you do not want to rely solely on bank financing, you might want to look into what kinds of instruments public sector and private investors are able to provide. Bank financing, services offered by insurance companies or bonds for SMB companies with the First North provided marketplace, are not discussed here. If a company is in a startup phase or finds crowdfunding opportunities attractive, other potential funding sources are listed here.

The focus is on company growth and, in particular, organic growth. Thus we are concentrating on situations, where a company aims to increase its product or service sales on existing markets, to grow revenues through international expansion, or to create more turnover by developing and bringing to market new products, services or business models. Growth paths that, for example, utilise acquisitions, ownership or industrial arrangements, are not discussed here.

Financing sales growth

Growing sales require financing for e.g. manufacturing and service delivery capacity, working capital or for marketing and sales machinery. On the other hand, significant new investments in product development are usually not required. From funding point of view, just boosting sales is, therefore, often not so sexy compared with internationalisation or innovation initiatives. This is not, of course, how it should be; if a company cannot reach its revenue potential with current products on its current markets, it will also fail with new products or on new markets. A good and credible plan on how to use the new funding and how it affects enterprise value, makes it considerably easier to secure financing.

Company development grants by ELY centres are the basic public sector tool for financing sales growth. A grant may be used for investments, e.g. in land, buildings, machinery, equipment and furniture. In addition, it may also be used to finance development activities, for example, to hire external experts to develop company's strategy or sales and marketing. A small business may also apply for a grant for wage and salary expenditures required to create new jobs or for other expenditures relating to expanding business.

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is running a programme that improves competitiveness of SMBs, granting funds for business development and job creation. ERDF also partially finances the company development grants of ELY centres.

Finnvera may participate in the financing of investments and working capital with loans or guarantees. Depending on the amount of the grant requested, Finnvera can either be the sole financier, or funding requires co-financiers, or sufficient amount of the total financing must come from the company itself.

Private investors like Bocap, Korona, Fenno Management, MB Rahastot and Noweco Partners are among the ones that offer equity, loans or other financing to grow company revenues. Besides credibility of the business plan, many funding players have preconditions for the size of the funded company, as well as for investment size and industry focus. Garantia is, in turn, guarantee insurance company that guarantees funding and other liabilities of Finnish companies, as well as insures risks associated with investments.

Financing internationalisation

International market expansion gets a lot of interest and attracts potential public and private financiers.

Company development grants of ELY centres and SMB competitiveness development programs of ERDF can be also used for internationalisation.

Finnvera loans and guarantees can be used to cover the need for working capital arising from exports or to finance the international operations of a Finnish parent company. Export guarantees, export credit and interest equalisation services protect companies against the risks associated with export customers, banks and countries and help in the funding of export projects. Equity investments can be made together with private entities in technology-intensive or innovative service enterprises that have the potential for developing into international growth enterprises.

Suomen Teollisuussijoitus (Finnish Industry Investment) makes, together with other investors, own capital based investments to companies going international. Investments can be equity, capital loan, convertible bonds or mezzanine financing.

Tekes supports planning for global growth; it gives grants, for example, to test a new concept or product to potential clients, to develop marketing strategy and to make studies on intellectual property rights and their protection. Applicable until the end of 2014, Tekes Team Finland Explorer program gives loans to purchase professional services for e.g. target market expansion studies or new market business plans. Under Young Innovative Enterprises (NIY) business development framework, it is also possible to obtain a grant or a loan for internationalisation.

Finnfund finance companies that operate or plan to operate in developing countries or in Russia: the instruments are equity, investment loans, mezzanine financing or their combinations, as well as in exceptional cases, guarantees. Business partnership support by Finnpartnership includes grants for establishing operations in developing countries, which can be used in project planning, development and training phases.

In practise most of the private financiers require that a company is engaged in and is seeking to expand international business. For example, Conor Venture Partners, Folmer Management, Helmet Business Mentors, Innovestor and Tutor Invest underline their willingness to finance companies going international. Besides industry and size preferences, investors have - depending on their background - varying preferences on internationalisation directions.

Financing innovation and commercialisation

Tekes has traditionally been the cornerstone of developing new things: its research and development funding provides grants and loans for developing products, services, production methods, business models and competence. A mere development project does not, however, create company growth, and Tekes has rightly been criticised for supporting only technology exercises. For this reason, it is now offering also loans for demos, piloting and commercialisation, which can be used for, inter alia, machinery and equipment rent or depreciation, materials or supplies costs and for other commercialisation costs. Commercialisation costs can be also covered by NIY funding.

Company development grants of ELY centres can be used, for example, for patent rights of technology transfer initiatives, licenses, know-how or acquisition of unpatented technical knowledge. ELY can also cover raw material and semi-finished product costs related to product development, as well as salary and wage expenditures. In addition, also ERDF supports creation of new business activities in small and medium-sized enterprises.

EU Horizon 2020´s SME Instrument supports growth-oriented, innovative small and medium-sized enterprises. The program assists in the development of new concepts and solutions, in testing and commercialisation. The programme has identified certain priority areas, such as ICT, biotechnology and sustainable energy and transport.

Private investors are more interested in the results of innovation and commercialisation than just doing something new. Most of the investors, however, do appreciate new approaches and consider well functioning innovation and commercialisation machine as a precondition for funding. For example, Auratum, Folmer Management, GTW Group, Joy Group, Nordic Growth and Vision Plus emphasise the importance of innovation.

More information on Finnish SMB funding

All of the above mentioned financial instruments and sources require an application and negotiation process, with always uncertain end results. By pinpointing the right potential funding sources that have strategies matching with the business situation and objectives of the company, and by running the application process professionally, the odds of success can be significantly improved.

More information on the sources of funding for small and medium-sized Finnish enterprises can be found on the webpages of financiers and by contacting them directly. There is also a summary of financing sources available with more information on general conditions of funding, as well as on possible company and industry focus.


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