Charity, finance, retail - all sectors are facing massive, disruptive change. The finalists for the Growing Business Awards "Digital Champion" category are causing that transformation. Which one will most change their market - and the world?
The world's first equity crowdfunding platform was introduced to the world in February 2011 by founders Darren Westlake and Luke Lang. Thanks to Crowdcube, small companies can access seed investments from the general public. The platform connects "armchair dragons" to entrepreneurs seeking angel finance. This model is already disrupting – maybe even democratising – the funding landscape, with the help of smartly applied digital tools and innovative thinking.
Leveraging the potential of the crowd, Crowdcube has pooled both small and significant investments, such as £75,000 for bodycare business Bubble & Balm. While it's free for entrepreneurs to ask for funding on the site, Crowdcube takes a five per cent cut of each successful fund-raising. If a project fails to reach the predetermined target, money is returned to investors.
The platform is an example of new investment styles: transparent, and open to anyone. The target investor is anyone with a disposable income. With us all suddenly able to become hobby angel investors, Crowdcube is taking on the challenge of solving the clunky supply-and-demand issue in the funding landscape.
Some 30 per cent of donations to charities are made through digital channels. People contacted through social media sites account for 35 per cent of charities' overall audience, but only three per cent of online donations come through Facebook, and none via Twitter.
Clearly, the potential of online revenue is not being maximised. At the same time, charities are struggling. Everyclick is the technology company behind Give as you Live, the platform that turns online purchases into a steady flow of funds for good causes in the UK. It allows online shoppers to raise money for any of the country's 220,000 registered charities – at no extra cost to them.
With the annual UK spend being £52bn, the ultimate goal of Everyclick and Give as you Live is to raise an additional £1bn for UK causes year-on-year. Big-up to Polly Gower's business for using the best of the web - immediacy and convenience - to take charity fundraising a step up the digital ladder.
“The modern financial system is anything but modern. It’s slow, complacent and failing businesses and investors alike. So we’re changing it.” Brave words on Funding Circle's website. But so far, the two-year-old business is keeping its promise. Funding Circle is an online marketplace for fast finance without middlemen or long processes. Instead, it’s an open exchange with detailed real-time information.
It all follows an auction principle: deposit your money in an online marketplace, or borrow in the auction. Sellers want the highest interest rate they can achieve, while borrowers aim for the lowest rate. You can even sell your money to different risk bands of borrowers. Creditworthiness is key in the process, with in-depth checks carried out on each business applying for a loan.
Funding Circle itself has investors vying to get involved, and only last month raised £10m from investors including Index Ventures and Union Square Ventures. The interest is understandable: this is an exciting business that understands that speed, transparency, and convenience are the future of finance.
Everyone's eyes are on the high street. Who can compete with the convenience of online shopping? A few bright entrepreneurs are making the most out of the new digital possibilities, and turning retail on its head.
Made.com, the self-proclaimed “furniture revolution”, allows users to buy products directly from the manufacturer – without warehouses, without physical stores. The business only manufactures what's ordered. The money that's saved on the middlemen is reflected in the price; and consumers get the experience of a direct connection with the designers who make their furniture. There is plenty of information about the product, the designer, the place of manufacture, the process, and even the method of delivery from where the product will be made.
The platform is a wonderful example of how to use the web to make a market more personal, more connected, and more cost-efficient. Made.com is trailblazing the world of e-retail, and everyone is watching.
Founded by a group of IFAs in 2006, in anticipation of changes in the retail financial services sector, business platform Nucleus Financial has brought an innovative solution to a stale market and, indeed, aims to create a wholly new market.
Nucleus Financial puts IFAs in charge of client investments at, essentially, the click of a button, making the process faster and more manageable. Its platform allows it to combine a given number of clients' portfolios into a single account, which is manageable online. It is, they say, a unique approach.
Now a thriving community of more than 130 IFA businesses, Nucleus has established itself as a force for change in retail financial services – a market that doesn't exactly have a reputation for being innovative. With Nucleus's fresh approach, the sector may be on the move.
Shutl is on a mission to tackle the biggest obstacle between online retail and the consumer: delivery.
Shutl delivers online purchases at the double, operating 24/7 in 50-plus towns across the UK. They conveniently connect couriers with retailers, enabling delivery that's much faster than the norm – the average Shutl delivery time is 73 minutes and 54 seconds, to be precise. Alternatively, buyers can choose a one-hour delivery window, on the same day or any day. This makes delivery, the last interaction between retailer and customer in the buying process, suddenly accessible and convenient.
Solving the biggest challenge facing online retailers today is a big ambition, and Shutl is the first and only company worldwide to tackle it at such a scale. The retail delivery vertical in the UK is worth around £2.5bn per annum to Shutl – the opportunity worlwide is significant.
The winners of the 2012 Growing Business Awards, hosted by Real Business and the CBI, will be announced at the fabulous awards ceremony, hosted by Steve Cram, on November 27, 2012, at the London Marriott Grosvenor Square.