Levelling Up: venture capital perspectives

Key players in the venture capital (VC) community share their views on the Government’s Levelling Up strategy, and the role that VC firms can play in it.

Earlier this year, the UK Government announced plans to use venture capital as a vehicle to accelerate its Levelling Up agenda. The Treasury Select Committee launched an investigation into whether start-ups can access the capital they need to scale up, as well as the effectiveness of tax incentives like the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) in driving investment into UK start-ups.

On the back of this, GBI sister publication Real Deals reached out to the VC community to find out how they feel about the strategy. The general consensus was that while the Levelling Up agenda is a good start in theory, there’s more the Government can and should be doing to fuel businesses at all stages.

Sarah Barber, CEO of Jenson Funding Partners, says the fact that VC is being included as part of the Levelling Up agenda is a positive and reassuring sign that the industry is finally being recognised as an engine for real growth: “There’s so many incentives and so many schemes, and while these can be very difficult to access, the fact that it’s being discussed and the Government is driving these conversations should be recognised as an important starting point.”


At the heart of the Levelling Up agenda is the desire to break down barriers in access to finance across the UK, ensuring that funding is more equally distributed to founders in underserved regions. As it stands, the golden triangle — London, Cambridge and Oxford – are attracting the lion’s share of investment.

Barry Downes, managing partner and co-founder at Sure Valley Ventures, tells Real Deals that there has been a push for VC firms to look beyond these areas: “Levelling Up is important to us as our goal is to tap into investment across the country. There’s clusters of high-tech activity throughout the country. The immersive technologies sub-sector, for example, has clusters in Brighton, Bristol, Leeds, Sheffield, Belfast and Liverpool. Being on the ground within the community helps to build trust with founders, as they can see we’re not just taking the train from London all the time.”

Barber adds that Levelling Up isn’t just about reaching geographically underrepresented areas, but getting funding to underserved communities too. “The amount of underrepresented groups all over the country is still huge and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.”


Others argue that the Levelling Up agenda does not go far enough. As one VC told Real Deals: “The Levelling Up agenda is just another example of the Government paying lip service to the problem.”

A common criticism is that the early stage sector continues to be overlooked by Government Levelling Up initiatives. Speaking on this, Barber says: “If the Government is truly going to look at Levelling Up, they really need to focus much more on the early early stage. A lot of the incentives that exist tend to be at a later stage. SME is such a broad definition that when you’re talking about rounds between £2m and £5m in a regional fund, where are you going to find those businesses? You really need to get into the early stage — even earlier than the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS).”

Levelling Up isn’t an immediate solution to fixing the investment divide, but VC professionals are hopeful things are on the up, Real Deals has found. With the practical implications of Brexit, changing governments and geopolitical uncertainty, however, just how genuine and real the promises of Levelling Up are is yet to be seen.

To read more on this topic, including views from other investors on how funding could be more equally distributed to founders in underserved regions, check out the full version of this article over at Real Deals