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London's universities say ‘OpenSME’ to new support for capital's small businesses

A group of London's universities are launching a new collaboration – OpenSME – that seeks to make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to access the expertise and knowledge they offer.

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Best of both worlds

30 November 2012

Entrepreneurship Guest Lecture Series: Alex Macpherson
Alex Macpherson is the first Venture Capitalist to join the Entrepreneurship Guest Lecture Series at UCL. To define Alex only as a Venture Capitalist would, however, be reductive.

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He started off in the City, working for SG Warburg. He soon became fascinated by the world of small businesses; he left the City and became an entrepreneur, founding Katalyst Ventures. His company was sold in 2007 to Octopus Ventures, which Alex joined later on.

At Octopus “we focus on the people”. Alex’s role is that of Head of Investments: his main job is to decide what companies to invest in and, then, actually invest in them. The first thing Alex focuses on? The company’s team which, in his opinion “makes the business’ entrepreneurship”, the relationship between its members and with the VCs. Secondly, Alex looks for the personal motivation behind the business and the team’s commitment in each step towards the set goal. Alex mentions how offering “a blend of complementary skills” and possessing an attractive business model are techniques which win the attention of VCs.

Alex entered the world of venture capitalism as an entrepreneur: this allows him to “get the best of both worlds and see things from very different points of view which complete each other”. His main advice to budding entrepreneurs from the perspective of an entrepreneur is to concentrate on, polish and strengthen the qualities of their businesses. As a Venture Capitalist, however, he adjusts this piece of advice: “you need to recognise the gap you have as an entrepreneur”. Focussing on the weaknesses of one’s business and fixing them is what leads to long-term success. Success –in Alex’s view- is when there is revenue for both the entrepreneurs in which money is invested and for the VC who invests.

In order to win Alex’s attention and support, companies must “have it all”. Some of the businesses in which Alex has invested and which have, according to the definition above, turned out to be successful are Secret Escape, Zoopla, and Graze. The latter stands out in particular, as it has faced a growth of 10% per month since Octopus Ventures’ investment. In Alex’s words, at Graze they had “all I ask for, the passion as well as the hard facts”. 

Written by Carolina Mostert

The UCL Entrepreneurship Guest Lectures are organised by UCL Advances which is affiliated to UCL Enterprise