Having been turned down repeatedly by his bank, which he says isn’t interested in “potential or the risk that goes with it”, Norfolk entrepreneur Simon Middleton is raising a total of almost half a million pounds for his Shackleton brand manufacturing business which embraces musical instruments, clothing and beer.
In the autumn of 2013 Middleton ran a Kickstarter campaign which raised £48,000 to enable him to set-up Britain’s first banjo factory in more than 60 years.
Three of the original Kickstarter backers who had pledged £300 pounds for a banjo, subsequently offered to become angel investors, bringing the total funds raised by the project to over £100,000.
Now Middleton has extended the Shackleton brand, inspired by the great Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, and he is repeating the double-barreled funding approach, but this time with much higher stakes and bigger ambitions.
Middleton explained: “We proved the demand for a very high quality, handmade British musical instrument at an attainable price, and we’ve shipped two hundred of our Shackleton banjos to customers all over the world.
“But things are now getting really interesting because we realised that a large proportion of our customers were drawn to us by the combination of British quality and the Shackleton story, rather than by banjos per se. So we have produced a range of Shackleton beers, and Shackleton knitwear which I designed from photographs of the explorer’s own sweaters.
“And now we are designing a complete range of very high quality clothing based on photographs of Shackleton and his men on the Antarctic ice a hundred years ago,” Middleton added.
To achieve that ambition requires serious money, so this time around we launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign and a search for angel equity funding at the same time.
The Kickstarter campaign is aiming to raise £30,000 and the campaign has helped to win over angel investors who to date have another £250,000 in equity funding, with other angels also planning to get involved.
“In addition to that we have other investors seriously considering the offer, so we hope to end up with a funding package of between four hundred and five hundred thousand, from this combined funding community” said Middleton.
The Shackleton brand, which manufacturers exclusively in Britain, runs its own banjo factory in Norwich, but contracts other products to other British factories.
“Our sweaters are knitted in Leicestershire from British wool. Our beers are brewed in Brentwood, Essex by a family craft brewer. Our new clothing range will most likely be made in traditional garment factories in London or the North of England. And our boots and shoes will similarly be produced in traditional British factories.”
The entrepreneur believes it’s the combination of the made-in-Britain commitment and the romance of the Shackleton story that has appealed equally to equity investors and Kickstarter backers.
“There is a resurgence in British making and people are prepared to back it. And I know the power of a great brand story: and Shackleton is definitely one of those,” said Middleton.
“Some people have asked me why we didn’t borrow the money we needed. But the simple answer is that banks won’t lend substantial funds to companies who haven’t yet reached beak-even. We’re two years from that point but our potential is huge. Banks don’t believe in potential and the risks that go with it, so entrepreneurs have to think outside the bank-lending model. We’ve managed to find passionate over three hundred supporters across two campaigns on Kickstarter, plus a dozen or so equally passionate angel investors who use their hearts as well as their heads,” said Middleton.