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Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Impact investment: How to get funding for your project

Navigating different forms of investment for your social action project or organisation can be a a daunting task; from searching for appropriate investors, to working out how much money to ask for.

Following our recent event Bridging the Gap: Impact Investment for a more Inclusive Economy, which explored key issues in impact investment, we've pulled together answers to some key questions from the evening.

Think we've missed anything? Comment below or tweet us @nesta_uk.

What kinds of projects are investors looking for?

Lucy Heady, Impact Director: At Nesta, we are looking for startups who have new ideas for solving tough problems. We want to see projects that are driven by a deep understanding of the problem they are trying to solve, rather than a solution in search of a problem. We also want to see how you are reaching the people who need your product or service the most, and whether your business model is inclusive at the same time as being commercially viable.

Where can I find out what funding is available?

Nathan Elstub, Chief Investment Officer: There are a number of resources that can help you. The web is obviously useful, most investors have websites explaining what they invest in. Networks like the Social Impact Investors Group bring together a wide range of social investors, and organisations like the Big Society Capital act as wholesale investors into funds and have lists of the organisations they support who invest in individual enterprises.

There are also lots of events and conferences on social and impact investment and sector events for specific social themes like ageing well, transition to work etc. where you are likely to find a handful of interested investors in the audience. The important thing is to try to find which investors have a specific interest in your type of project, whether that's because of the sector you operate in (health, education etc.), the type of organisation you are (charity, business etc.) or the type of project you are looking to fund (property purchase, development of a technology platform etc.).

Kate Sutton, Inclusive Economy Lead: You can get in touch with Nesta Impact Investments directly. Nesta puts its open calls online and they are promoted through our weekly newsletter, so sign up to that. For impact investment in the UK, Big Society Capital is a good place to start and NCVO have a great funding database. Being clear about what the funding is for specifically - and what impact it will lead to - is very important.

How do I work out how much money to ask for?

Ishaan Chilkoti, Interim Investments Director: There isn't a particular shortcut for this. It requires working through the details of the project or business you are looking to fund and how much each aspect is going to cost. If you are raising equity, you usually need to consider how long you want the funding to cover you for. Typically we recommend raising enough money to fund you for 18-24 months. Once you've formulated a plan, speak with investors and see the appetite for your project; you may increase or decrease the amount of money you ask for after initial conversations.

When approaching investors, what information should I provide?

Nathan: Investors are generally interested to know what your long term goals are, what you are planning to do with their investment (hiring staff, marketing, buying assets etc.), what you expect the results of the investment activity to be. This is usually presented in a business plan of some form, which sets out a road map for the development of your enterprise or project.

This should be in a form that can be used by the investor to make an assessment of the strength of the proposition, and also by the enterprise as a way of measuring how well you are doing at meeting your goals in a way that will enable you to take action to ensure that you are delivering as effectively as possible. You can get ideas about how to create a business plan via diytoolkit.org.

Do I need to provide evidence of success?

Nathan: You should aim to give investors as much confidence as possible before investment that you will be able to deliver on your plans and then, once investment has been made, that you are delivering. You will do this by providing data that shows you have done things before which give you a deep understanding of the proposal and the challenges you will face, ideally from past projects that are similar in as many ways as possible to your current proposal.

You should expect investors to test the data you give through referencing of third parties, auditing of numerical data back to source, and interviews with the management and staff teams within your enterprise.

Kate: Having a clear value proposition and impact story is the best place to start, along with a really clear articulation of user need. It's best to start by sending a pitch deck or executive summary and then follow up with more detailed plans later. Evidence of success is ideal but not vital - if you can show clearly how you will be successful and how you will make impact (and how you will measure that impact) with clearly backed up assumptions, then this is enough to start with.

Lucy: At Nesta, if you are very early stage then we don't need to see evidence of current success, but we do need to see that you are collecting data that tells you about impact and that you are using this data to design and improve your service. We also need to see that you are drawing on the existing evidence base for projects similar to yours, to ensure you are following good practice and not repeating mistakes that have gone before.

Are there standard terms that investors will ask me to agree on?

Ishaan: The terms of an investment can vary depending on the type (equity or debt), amount and type of investor you are speaking with. Generally, investors want to understand your business in detail and have regular updates on how it is performing once they have invested. The specific terms they request in order to achieve this can be wildly different. Of course, with debt there will be an interest rate and almost certainly fixed obligations regarding repayment.


Nathan Elstub

Nathan Elstub

Nathan Elstub

Executive Chair, Impact Investment Committee

Nathan chairs Nesta’s Impact Investment Committee with lead responsibility for governance of Nesta’s direct investment activity.

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Kate Sutton

Kate Sutton

Kate Sutton

Head of Corporate Social Innovation

Kate was responsible for managing Nesta's Corporate Social Innovation and Inclusive Growth work

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Lucy Heady

Lucy Heady

Lucy Heady

Impact Director

Lucy worked with portfolio companies to measure their impact and assesses the likely impact of potential investments.

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