Q&A: What is the EIS and why should I consider it?

A row of glass jars with plants growing in them representing the Enterprise Investment Scheme

The Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) is aimed at small businesses that are ambitious to grow. Mark Brownridge, director of the EIS Association, explains how this funding scheme works

What is the EIS?

The Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) is a Government scheme that provides start-ups and SMEs with growth capital at a stage in their development when they are often faced with a finance gap, as a result of which they can struggle to obtain the funding they need to expand or further develop their products and services.

EIS, and its start-up-focused counterpart the Seed EIS, have been created to help businesses bridge that gap through equity investment. The investment is provided by UK tax payers - private individuals who usually invest via a professionally-managed fund or portfolio. Some also invest in EIS-qualifying companies via crowdfunding platforms.

In exchange for investing in relatively high-risk small companies, the UK Government provides investors with a set of generous tax reliefs to help mitigate some of the risks and enhance the potential returns.

So, if your company needs external capital to help it grow and could benefit from additional support and advice from skilled investors, entrepreneurs and experts to achieve its goals, then EIS and SEIS could provide these things.

Who can use the scheme?

EIS and Seed EIS are open to many types of company, though there are a few exclusions, including certain kinds of financial services, property development, legal and accountancy services, care homes and farming. The full list of excluded activities can be found on the HMRC website.

There are also restrictions on the age of a company (typically seven years from the date of its first sale for EIS), the numbers of employees it has and its gross assets. These are designed to exclude larger, more mature and asset-rich companies.

How do I obtain EIS funding?

To obtain funding, you should first check whether your company is eligible to do so by looking at the HMRC guidelines. You could then think about contacting potential investors. These might include friends, family and contacts in your wider networks. In most cases, the bulk of external investment is likely to come from professional investors; they will also provide help with the administrative aspects of the scheme in terms of gaining approval from HMRC.

The EIS Association has produced an in-depth guide to help businesses obtain EIS and SEIS funding.

How much funding could I get?

The maximum any company can raise under Seed EIS is £150,000. The maximum that a company can raise under EIS is £12m, or £20m if it is classed as "knowledge intensive" by HMRC, which generally means a company with high research and development costs.

Which businesses are not suitable for investment?

Certain businesses are excluded from raising funds via EIS and SEIS; others may be eligible but not necessarily suitable. To be suitable, a business must be "investable", which is to say that it genuinely has significant growth potential that is likely to translate into a meaningful return for those who provide the investment, if the business is ultimately successful.

How do I make my business investment-ready?

A good place to start is by creating a realistic business plan that is aimed at attracting external investment. It should make a convincing, demonstrable and well-reasoned case for the growth potential of the business, provide key financial information and sensible projections about how external funding could help to unlock and accelerate this growth potential.

Are there any downsides I need to be aware of?

There are no specific downsides, though EIS and SEIS are equity investments, so to receive funding business owners must give up equity in their company. If you are a business owner, you should think about how much you are prepared to give away in return for the investment you need. And you should also be prepared to be flexible on this point - professional investors will calculate a likely range of returns from investing in your business and they will only provide funding on the basis of achieving these returns. Some negotiation is inevitable.

Remember too, that you're not just getting funding but also direct support from a team of highly experienced and motivated professionals whose goal is to make your business achieve its growth potential. This is one of the reasons for the success of the EIS and SEIS schemes to date and its continuing popularity with SMEs - the involvement of experienced investors, entrepreneurs and businesspeople who provide support, advice, guidance, and even day-to-day operational involvement because they have a direct stake in making sure their investment - your company - succeeds.

Where can I find out more about EIS and SEIS?

The EIS Association runs events around the UK, for business owners and entrepreneurs to find out how to get their business investment-ready and to get information about a wide range of topics - all aimed at helping SMEs overcome barriers to growth.

Mark Brownridge is director of the EIS Association, a non-profit trade body that exists to aid the provision of capital to UK SMEs through the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS).

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