This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.
A Northern Stars 2017 winner, Leeds-based Synap recently secured a six-figure investment deal to take its online education platform into new directions.
The round was led by Yorkshire-based funding and investment group Venturian, in addition to other backers, and will see the company continue developing its technology for new sectors. The multiple-choice quiz platform uses machine learning and spaced repetition techniques to help more than 5,000 students revise topics such as law and medicine daily.
It was developed by CEO James Gupta and CTO Omair Vaiyani while studying medicine at Leeds University. Instead of pursuing careers in their chosen field, the co-founders chose to work on Synap full-time after graduating.
Gupta believes that, while investment is always difficult to find, startups in the region can give themselves the best chance by making themselves visible to investors and key stakeholders through networking.
We spoke to Gupta to find out more.
Why did you raise the funding round?
James Gupta: We’re getting more interest from corporates, partners and universities. The platform’s pretty much ready to take some of those clients on and we’ve been delivering some really successful projects.
However, we thought that a funding round now – especially with some of the experience that Venturian and other board members are bringing – would give us an opportunity to develop new features that organisations and larger clients are going to be looking for.
We also have some interesting opportunities coming up over the course of the next year, so we want to make sure we’re hitting those properly. We’re also looking to go to various international events in the states and across Europe.
What considerations did you make before accepting it?
Synap is in an interesting position where we’re a profitable company. I’m trying to make sure that we’re not raising money just for the sake of doing it – that’s a trap you can fall into quite easily in a startup, especially when you’re dealing with big London and US competitors who it seems are going onto big Series F rounds, that kind of thing.
“Finding investment is always difficult, but if you have a good business plan and manage to find people who are experienced in your sector, then I wouldn’t say you would have to go further afield.”
How did you go about securing the funding?
We met Venturian at Leeds Digital Festival a couple of years ago and have been talking on and off ever since. We looked at various ways of getting the funding, and ultimately we decided that we wanted relatively hands-on investors based in either Yorkshire or the North given our pedigree and where we’ve come from. We’ve been meeting Venturian regularly over the last 18 months or so, helping to shape up the business.
Do you have any advice for startups looking for funding in the region?
It’s definitely there – there are people who may not consider themselves angel investors or even be familiar with the term, but there’s lots of very successful tech and more traditional businesses in Yorkshire. I think it’s a case of raising awareness, both of the startups who are here and the fact that angel investment is a thing. There are many people who feel a good kinship and would love the opportunity to give something back, especially if it has a potential return for them or they can come in and offer advice.
It’s all about the networking, then
It is – even when we raised on Crowdcube a few years ago, we found that the vast majority of that campaign’s funding came on the back of events and face-to-face interaction – the platform just made the process more manageable. We did look quite strongly at doing a second round on Crowdcube as we really liked the that process – I wouldn’t rule out a potential future fundraise and still recommend it to a lot of people.
Since we raised on Crowdcube, we’ve built up a network and participated in things put on by Tech North. We meet with our non-executive director Stuart Clarke at the Platform coworking space, where we end up bumping into a lot of people.
Finding investment is always difficult, but if you have a good business plan and manage to find people who are experienced in your sector, then I wouldn’t say you would have to go further afield. There are more investors in London, but there are also more startups competing for money so overall I think it works out about the same.
You partnered with mytaxi Ireland last year. How is the B2B side of your business evolving?
When Omair and I were about to leave university, we were getting interest from potential corporate and institutional clients who were asking if they could buy Synap in bulk for their employees. We held off from doing that until the last couple of months until we had the support in place to deliver that effectively. And now we’ve found that we have this great scalable technology platform that we can white label and set up new environments in a very short amount of time.
We can also offer custom analytics, content creation and advice for people looking to set all of that up. We’re still figuring out what the best markets for this are, but we’re getting interest from everyone – from financial services through to education, healthcare, and transport. That’s in addition to any sort of either heavily regulated environment or areas where there’s an ongoing need for staff training.
How is your Northern Stars journey going?
It’s been good – Tech North has put on a whole bunch of events for us. We met Minister for Digital Margot James and had a really positive roundtable about the opportunities and challenges faced by Northern businesses. That included how smaller companies can get more involved in Government procurements and what we can offer to that sector, so we’re building up relationships on that side of things.
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