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What we’ve learnt in 2020 – the year that changed everything

What we’ve learnt in 2020 – the year that changed everything

David Mott, Founder Partner, Oxford Capital

Looking back at 2020, it’s difficult to put into words how much has shifted.  This time last year we were only just hearing whispers about Covid, little did we know that it would have such a profound effect on both our personal and professional lives.

And while so much has changed, one thing has remained constant at Oxford Capital – our passion and drive for managing our portfolio and seeking new opportunities to invest in the best of UK early stage technology companies.

So, in a year in which change accelerated quicker than any of us could have imagined – what have we learnt?

1. Founders are resilient

Throughout the turbulence of this year, I’ve been constantly impressed by the resilience that our founders have shown.  Running and growing a startup is tough enough without dealing with a global pandemic but they have been quick to adapt – from finding new routes to fundraise to shifting the focus of their businesses to meet the changing needs of consumers and businesses.

2. UK tech companies are capitalising on the pace of change

This year has really reinforced the role that startups, and particularly tech companies play in facilitating change and accelerating this within a sector.  We have seen this with a number of our own companies, particularly within the digital health sector.  For example, HelloSelf offers a mental health app which was a hugely important resource to individuals and companies navigating their way through the pandemic.  Our portfolio company, Push Doctor provides video GP consultations and quickly adapted to the shift in how we all engage with healthcare professionals.  In just 3 weeks, video consultations went from representing 3% of UK appointments to 90%.

3. Startups can thrive in a crisis

Not only have many of our companies survived the crisis and found new ways to innovate, but they have also seen significant growth over the past year.  For example, Artfinder (online art marketplace) has reported a significant rise in people buying art for their homes during lockdown.  It recorded its best sales quarter in its seven year history, sales in Q3 2020 were up over 160% on the previous year.

Savings and investing app, Moneybox hit some significant milestones in 2020 and now has over £1bn of Assets under Management.  It completed a £30m Series C funding round, raising an additional £7m through crowdfunding in just two days.  This proved to be the second most popular round in Crowdcube’s history.

4. Backing startups is more important than ever for the economy

In looking at the broader environment this year, it’s been very difficult to predict how the economy will fare and which sectors will flourish.  However, one thing remains clear, early stage companies are the lifeblood of the UK economy and have continued to feed growth this year.  Analysis provided by Sifted highlights that the number of people employed across Europe in tech startups has risen 43% in the last four years, which means the sector is the fastest growing and most resilient job creation engine.

5. Future of work…and its rapid evolution

The evolution of our working lives isn’t a new topic and pre-pandemic a huge amount was changing from the increase in flexible working patterns to companies embracing new technologies to facilitate creativity.  However, the pace of change has accelerated hugely in 2020 as we were all forced to work from home.

Within our own team, we have found that adopting a hybrid working model has become the ‘new normal’ and is something we will continue to embrace post pandemic.  But it has also meant we’ve had to completely adapt how we engage with our portfolio companies.  Our business has always relied on building face to face relationships – from being able to engage one on one with founders to having challenging conversations in a board meeting.  We’ve adapted our communication styles to suit video calls but we’re definitely looking forward to being able to engage with people in person again – nothing quite beats face to face contact.

What does this mean for conducting business in 2021?

It’s the time of year where we all reflect on what the past 12 months has thrown at us and while there’s no doubt 2020 has been challenging, it’s also taught us a huge amount.  We’re going into 2021 with new ideas, a fresh perspective and a real hunger to work with our portfolio companies and find new opportunities to invest in early stage companies.  Here’s to whatever next year will bring!

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