The Lowdown Hub

RCA alumni nab £9 million in start-up funding

Tashia Tucker, chief executive and founder of Olombria

Health and energy tech start-ups were among 15 firms led by alumni of the Royal College of Art that raised more than £9 million in investment and grants in 2020.

After a difficult fundraising environment in the first half due to Covid-19, investment bounced back strongly, with investors signing cheques for more than £6.5 million in the final quarter of 2020 alone.

A third of the fledgling companies housed in InnovationRCA, the college’s incubation and business support arm, were in health tech, with others tackling energy provision in remote locations and food shortages.

BuffaloGrid has reached mobile operator shops in rural India

Olombria, founded by Tashia Tucker in 2017, supports farmers’ efforts to improve crop pollination by helping hoverflies to become better pollinators. It secured more than £1 million in December, with a significant tranche of the funding coming from the government’s Future Fund scheme.

Tucker, 39, said that it was “hairy” raising finance in a global pandemic and the company only had about three months’ runway of cash remaining when the fundraising round was closed. “We started fundraising right before the [first] lockdown hit. It was in the early days of Covid and it was difficult because I think a lot of investors wanted to make sure that the startups in their portfolio were OK, so conversations naturally slowed.”

Dialogue with potential investors picked up in the summer, helped by meetings taking place virtually. “Rather than traveling to each pitch event we could knock out a pitch pretty quickly, so conversations may have even been facilitated a bit faster,” she said.

However, it did make the final stages of the discussions and the due diligence more difficult. “Really having investors understand what you’re doing and get out into the field without being able to travel is quite complicated.”

Daniel Becerra, chief executive, and co-founder of BuffaloGrid

Daniel Becerra, the co-founder, and CEO of BuffaloGrid, a company set up in 2011 which supplies portable solar-power charging units to people in off-grid locations, curated his office set-up to help sell his ideas to investors.

Behind him on screen, he has an array of BuffaloGrid hardware including the prototype BuffaloGrid hub, which is being used in mobile operator shops in rural parts of India where electricity is unreliable and intermittent. Next to him is the bicycle generator from the early days of BuffaloGrid. “You just have to use everything that you have to make it as appealing as possible,” said Becerra, 42.

Last year he secured £800,000 from private investors and the Future Fund. After starting the fundraising process in May, it was finalized in December. “If you were in cleantech, in health care, or in one of the [other] sectors affected by Covid and your solution could potentially address some of those issues there was a massive appetite for investment,” he said.

Nadia Danhash, director of InnovationRCA, agreed. “More of our angels [private investors] are focused on impact, whether it’s health or [helping] disadvantaged people, leveling up or the climate,” she said.

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