Tech startups in the UK face numerous legal challenges as they prepare for Series A fundings, listed here are some prime authorized housekeeping ideas
Getting organised early will show you how to stay on prime as the enterprise grows. Once the Series A round will get going, you’ll be in an excellent place to entry the knowledge wanted in an effort to give attention to other points of the investment.
The Series A round is the first major fundraising milestone for an early-stage firm, which usually is when a startup goes by means of its first, institutional venture capital (VC) process. At this stage, corporations would have developed their idea, created a reputable enterprise proposal and sourced the seed or early-stage capital (from angel or ‘friends and family’-type buyers, or crowdfunding) to grow the enterprise.
Arguably, Series A is among the hardest levels of any startup journey, where larger scrutiny is placed on the business and the formal procedures required to obtain an investment turn out to be extra thorough. Before in search of to safe Series A funding, startups should get their house so as and make sure that they have taken key authorized steps and issues that may give their business one of the best probability to succeed.
Under, we take a look at the important thing authorized issues for an organization trying to progress to Series A.
Getting organised – preparation for due diligence
Every VC investor will do its due diligence before investing in any enterprise. In any case, they are going to be writing a considerable cheque, and subsequently will need to make sure that the corporate matches the investment proposal introduced to them. VCs additionally need to be sure that there are not any points that would undermine their pre-money valuation or the overall viability of the business.
Whereas VCs undertake totally different levels of due diligence, in almost all instances, startups might want to disclose all key financial, authorized and business paperwork to the investor. It might really feel like unexciting housekeeping, however companies must show that they are properly organised (retaining paperwork up to date and in a transparent, logical system) before talking with buyers, which can make the method run easily.
Essential documents to be retained embrace, incorporation and constitutional documents (that proof authorized ownership, corresponding to the corporate’s register of members); annual and administration accounts; cash circulate forecasts; tax computations; business contracts; leases; IP licences or assignments (together with improvement agreements; employment contracts and insurance coverage paperwork.
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Getting organised early will enable you to keep on prime as the enterprise grows. Once the Series A round gets going, you’ll be in an incredible place to entry the knowledge needed so to concentrate on different points of the investment. This may also provide the probability to determine, handle or clarify any gaps or points before you’re in a process with a possible investor (at which level remedying these issues can develop into far more troublesome). In case you are not sure, you need to be capable of ask a lawyer or investor for a sample legal, due diligence questionnaire. It will not be exactly what the investor would use, however it might cover the identical areas and requests.
Proudly owning your IP
Although some profitable businesses achieve success just by taking an present concept and doing it better than their rivals, most disruptive, tech-enabled startups have at the very least some type of a proprietary product, or distinctive software, that underpins their business proposal. Nevertheless, it isn’t unusual for early-stage corporations to not adequately register and shield their Mental Property (IP) at the early levels of their enterprise. This is typically a huge challenge for buyers, as companies that use techniques that they don’t own might expose the startup to litigation danger, and such liabilities will solely develop as the corporate scales. Subsequently, buyers will need to see proof that the company has full possession of the IP underpinning the enterprise. If there are problems or claims around the IP used, the danger and price will effectively fall on the founders and/or the company.
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Businesses should have a written task of all the IP created for the company. This can be by way of an IP task provision in an employment contract or a separate settlement. Do not make the error of assuming all IP you’ve gotten created or commissioned for the enterprise routinely will vest within the firm. Additional, because of the further formalities round registered IP (e.g. logos, patents or domains) or purposes, it is best to make each effort to make sure that such IP is registered within the firm’s identify. It is a lot simpler to resolve IP points upfront (i.e. before staff or contractors might depart), and any formal fundraising course of begins.
Testing your business plan
A credible business plan is an important part of an funding round. The founders can be asked to ‘stand behind’ it and show that it is practical and has been prepared on correct info.
Subsequently, before approaching buyers, ensure that the business plan is strong and real looking and may be defended if challenged.
Before a startup starts to interact with buyers, it ought to decide how much fairness is or shall be obtainable to incentivise staff, whether or not underneath an Enterprise Management Incentive (EMI) choice or other schemes.
Buyers often require an choice scheme to be included within the pre-money cap desk when calculating the amount of equity (such that any dilutive impact is on the prevailing shareholders), and should need to improve the dimensions of the pool if it doesn’t provide sufficient headroom to incentivise key group members and future hires.
Buyers are often glad for a brand new choice scheme to be carried out after the investment round. Nevertheless, they typically will need to agree on key terms before they make investments. The more outfitted companies are to discuss and agree the dimensions, shape, allocations and circumstances of the scheme with buyers, the better.
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Depending on the time already committed to the business, an institutional investor might require the founders to “vest” or “re-vest” all or a part of their fairness, and quit their vested fairness, in the event that they depart the corporate (albeit at a fair worth in case you are a “good leaver”). Similarly, an investor might not permit the founder to keep their board seat if their fairness is diluted under a sure degree. Be prepared to have these conversations.
Managing your present stakeholders
Consents and approvals are required from present shareholders to implement a fundraising round. This consists of investor consents, authorities to allot shares, disapplication of pre-emption rights and resolutions to adopt new articles.
If the corporate has a small group of controlling shareholders, this can be simple (both when it comes to getting buy-in for the funding and accumulating signatures). Nevertheless, if there is a numerous shareholder base (perhaps if there have been a number of seed funding rounds or a crowdfunding round) that may make attaining the required approval thresholds much less simple. In the event you fall into the latter category, having a transparent communication plan with shareholders (and being on prime of practical issues, reminiscent of being aware of their availability at key occasions) is necessary.
Before approaching shareholders, be sure that buyers, agree that you could disclose the proposed transaction, as businesses typically have confidentiality obligations to the buyers beneath the heads of terms signed with them.
Negotiating the term sheet
The first document startups can be requested to sign up connection with a Series A round is a term sheet. Sometimes, the time period sheet will handle the valuation of the company, the entire funding commitment and the important thing authorized phrases of the funding.
Regardless that term sheets are usually said to be ‘non-binding’ (save for provisions reminiscent of confidentiality and exclusivity), don’t signal and not using a correct assessment. The time period sheet will type the idea of the binding long-form documents you finally will enter. Although ‘non-binding’, it is going to be very troublesome (and you possibly can lose your investor in consequence) should you attempt to retreat from any ‘agreed’ positions at a later stage. There’s also plenty of terminology and market apply approaches it is advisable to perceive properly (resembling liquidation preferences and anti-dilution ratchets), which may have a cloth financial impact on the company, and you will want to reside with for some time.
In consequence, until you’re skilled in VC fundraising processes, to be able to understand every little thing in the time period sheet (and what might have been excluded or is lacking) you must get hold of advice from a VC specialist advisor before signing.
Lastly, and this is not only a sales pitch, in addition to the above, it is helpful to interact advisors – particularly, accountants and legal professionals – early. There is a wealth of expertise and market information out there. Having the fitting help will assist you to navigate the Series A funding course of whereas additionally greatest getting ready you for what continues to be to return.
Written by Ken Wilkinson, associate director at Osborne Clarke