Building a business isn’t just about finance. Successful founders recognise the gaps in their skill set and understand the importance of bringing in team members who complement where they themselves might be lacking. To complete a successful management team, you will need to draw on advisers and board members that may include industry experts, investors and ex-CEOs who have the wisdom to support you when you need help most.

Creating the right culture early on is often overlooked. Having the correct culture can be key to the spin-out achieving its strategic objectives, making a place where all team members, employees and board members feel valued for the contribution they make.

Team and culture then feed back into fundraising. CEOs can often find themselves in an unending cycle of fundraising, where the next fundraise starts almost as soon as the last one finishes. Spin-outs will want to avoid this; you will want to spend as much time as you can building up the company. To reduce the time spin-outs spend fundraising, we help our spin-out teams build all aspects of their business so that when it’s time to go and meet investors again they are ready and the fundraise is as quick and efficient as possible.

Building the team and board for growth

When creating a team, you need to focus on five key questions:

  • What are the key gaps you need to fill and by when to achieve your goals?
  • What are the essential skills and experience needed to fill those gaps?
  • Do you find those people yourself or do you hire recruiters to find them?
  • What type of culture do you want to establish in your team?
  • Is there a network of mentors and advisers that you can draw on for advice and support to complement your team?
building team
Key hires and how to approach recruitment

When founders first head out to test the market, they will gather market intelligence from numerous sources such as trade shows, business meetings with potential customers/collaborators as well as pitches to a range of interested parties. You will recognise from these conversations that your team is not complete and that you need to plug the gap with new expertise.

The first team members you recruit will be critical as they will establish and embed your company’s culture. These new team members can act as “magnets” for hiring others to scale your team; their reputation is so strong that other people want to come and work alongside them. As your team grows you will need to work out how you can retain your best people, so having a recruitment strategy where people want, and are incentivised, to stay for the long-term is crucial to the spin-out’s eventual success.

How to look for board members & find the right balance of skills

If you have worked within government for most of your career so far, you may not have ever attended a full board meeting before. The best board meetings, which usually happen every 6-8 weeks in early-stage spin-outs, have a mixture of voices representing knowledge of the market, technology, business fundamentals and ‘battle-hardened’ experience, which produce quality debate but are also chaired well, so that strategic decisions are made efficiently and effectively.

An effective director will:

  • Work collectively
  • Provide leadership
  • Be able to deal constructively with occasionally blurred and overlapping roles
  • Be able to think strategically
  • Focus on the company’s mission and make decisions prioritising it
  • Risk-manage effectively
  • Complement the skills of others
  • Have a personality and attitude which fits with the culture of the company

Not all your advisers need to join your board. Mentoring is a key element to the spin-out process and it helps to have someone with relevant experience, who is not directly involved with the company, with whom you can discuss ideas and any matters that may arise.


Grants are often provided by the government or the third sector to accelerate innovation and technology in the UK economy.

As this type of financing is non-dilutive and does not need to be paid back, it has significant advantages over other types of financing in the earlier stage of the spin-out venture. Grants can often help to reach key business milestones that make it more viable for the spin-out to attract other sources of finance. The types of spin-outs we support — high potential IP with the potential for wider societal impact — are well placed to benefit from grants. However, grants are typically competitive and are not guaranteed.

Below is selection of sources of public grant finance from which Ploughshare spin-outs have benefitted:


Innovate UK

Funding can be provided for businesses with specific areas of innovation interest. Innovate UK provides support in finding the right partners, accessing the right expertise and equipment and connecting with follow-on investors.

Funding amount: Up to millions

Find out more


JHUB looks for near market-ready technology and is specialised in cutting edge military-based technology. They provide funding to accelerate a pilot for the business which will culminate in a presentation to the UK Stratcom innovation board.

Funding amount: N/A

Find out more

Defence And Security Accelerator (DASA)

DASA offers two types of funding: the open call and themed competitions. The open call will welcome innovation that addresses defence and security challenges, whilst themed competitions offer funding for areas of specific government interest at the time.

Funding amount: N/A

Find out more

Goverment’s Knowledge Assets Initiative

This fund aimed at government departments and partner organisations solely for public sector knowledge assets. There are three bands of funding: the explore grant up to £25,000, the expand grant up to £100,000 and the extend grant up to £250,000.

Funding amount: Up to £250,000

Find out more

National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR)

The NIHR programme funds researcher-identified topic areas covering health, public health and social care research.

Funding amount: No limit dependent on programme

Find out more


Whilst strategy focuses on collective action and decision making, business culture focuses on unspoken behaviour, mindsets and social patterns as well as overall diversity and inclusion — a key value for Ploughshare overall.

By investing in culture, employees feel valued and have a sense of growth opportunity, resulting in better team collaboration and productivity. Culture is often created by the actions and behaviours of senior leaders within the business and, therefore, the founders will play a key role in shaping this. For more information on different business cultures and which may be best suited for the business, see the further resources section.

Investor readiness

Your goal as a spin-out should always be to fundraise as quickly as possible. Even when completed quickly it can often be a time-consuming stressful process.

Furthermore, once you complete your first fundraise, you will feel like you need a holiday but you realise that the hard work has only just begun. Therefore, being prepared as a company is important so you can maximise the time building value once the money is in the bank.

Timing is key. You should always start fundraising when you have at least 9 months of ’runway’ — the amount of time you have before your money runs out — and you should target at least 18 months of funding once you receive the investment. Therefore, you will need to plan carefully the resources you need and what you will achieve with them. What you achieve will need to be enough to convince investors to invest again.

Things you will need to get right

There are a few simple rules to follow when preparing to meet with investors:

  • Make sure you know your audience: carry out some background research on your investor before you meet them. They see lots of deals, so aligning your pitch to their interests can only help you.
  • Have a simple, clear pitch: explain why you have a great product with a demo if you can. Explain why you are the right team to build it and be clear about what your finance needs are and where the money will get you to.
  • Listen carefully to what the investor says and try to connect with them. Investors are more likely to invest in you if they like you as a team and feel they can add value to your company. Once they have invested in you, if you build a relationship with them, you will be more likely to get follow-on funding.

Once you secure funding, adaptations will be made to the shareholders’ agreement and these modifications will reflect what the investors need. These new conditions will likely cover:

  • Warranties: founders will often be asked to warrant that the claims they make about their technology are true, so don’t exaggerate what you have.
  • Consent matters: investors may ask for consultation on certain decisions and will ask for the power to veto certain issues so they can protect the money they have invested in you.
  • Information: investors will want to see certain pieces of information, such as how the company is spending its money.
  • Restrictive covenants: should you choose to leave the company, this will prevent you from going to work for a rival for a certain amount of time afterwards.
  • Good and bad leaver conditions: these are the terms under which someone who wants, or needs, to leave the company can do so.
Helping you get it right

Non-Executive Director training
Whether you are a founder joining a start-up for the first time or an experienced executive, any gaps in knowledge can be filled by the training we provide for new directors. This training covers the responsibilities of a director, what the key legal requirements are, and how you can responsibly monitor the company’s progress to ensure you successfully fulfil your role as a director.

Introduction to wider public sector funding and non-equity diluting funding streams
A big part of what we do is working with our contacts in the public sector to identify and help to create new ‘power-up’ funding streams for our innovations and spin-outs. We work with our network of stakeholders across government to identify and win funding for innovations that have the potential to create impact on a large scale. We do this by holding regular reviews with stakeholders in which we cover the breadth of new technologies emerging from our projects, their maturity and what funding is needed to accelerate their impact.
We have a structured governance process through which public sector money is invested responsibly; spin-outs are usually required to pitch to the Ploughshare Board (which is made up of a broad range of internal and external expertise) and need to meet a high standard to obtain this money. Commercialisation Managers work with spin-out teams to ensure that they present a good investment case.

Marketing support
Once the spin-out strategy and founding team is formed, marketing the spin-out and approaching key potential customers is a vital step for early growth. In the early stages of the spin-out, there will be little budget for any costly marketing and PR activities. Spin-outs will predominantly need to rely on networks to market their business and our wider network can play a key role in the promotion of the spin-out’s unique technology and its wider impact on society.
In the first instance, Ploughshare will create a press release and, for spin-outs who opt for PAF funding, a portion of this can be used to support selected marketing activities. The spin-out will also have access to our network of advisers and PR professionals. At this stage, the founders may also want to attend targeted conferences and reach out to customers, as well as developing a more robust marketing strategy. We may already have potential customers within our network and so targeted introductions can be made to support the beginning of the sales process.

Investor readiness & pitch training
We work alongside teams to help them plan for their next fundraise, helping them to determine how much to aim for, when they will need it, and what the pitch should contain.

Negotiating deal terms and reviewing investor agreements
When a heads of terms sheet is provided by an investor, we will help the team review the terms, provide advice on what to negotiate on and how, and support them in those negotiations where necessary.

IP strategy support on arising IP
As spin-out teams develop their technology into a product technology improvements or new inventions, which may require patent protection, are likely to emerge. Maintaining a growing patent portfolio in multiple territories needs careful thought and planning. Patenting can be very expensive, so sensible strategic decisions need to be made on the most effective way to spend the spin-out’s money. We work alongside the teams to decide how best to support them and provide advice on where to focus resources.

Introduction to investor networks, investor engagement and fundraising
Once teams are ready to hit the investment market, we will help to make introductions to investors and support their fundraising activity.

Bid and grant writing
Ploughshare is happy to support spin-out teams prepare the documents they need for funding applications, from reviewing bids up to actively contributing to the draft.

Further recruitment of key personnel
As spin-outs continue to grow, new hires will be necessary. We will work with the team to identify gaps and look within our network to fill them.

“Ploughshare’s support for our spinouts doesn’t end once the company has incorporated. Our aim is to provide as much support as we can through strategic advice on the Board, identifying business contacts and, where relevant, further funding to help the company grow.”

Noel Botha – VP Commercialisation

Case study — Esroe

Mission and strategy

Esroe, a spin-out from Dstl, has developed breakthrough micro-ESM (Electronic Support Measures) sensor technology to automatically identify and track radar signals. Current equipment is heavy and bulky, but this technology is low-cost, resilient and lightweight, meaning it can be carried on

Ploughshare’s help:

With the MOD being a key potential client of Esroe, Ploughshare used its network within the MOD to help the team identify key stakeholders. To secure their support, Esroe had to showcase their technology working in the field but to do this they needed investment. We helped Esroe identify potential sources of funding and helped the team prepare and practise the pitch which, ultimately, secured the funding.

Spin-out impact:

Now funded, Esroe has the potential to save many lives with civil applications, including safety at sea, protection of fisheries and detecting smugglers. If successful, Esroe has the potential to vastly reduce the cost of ESM for the MOD and create many new UK jobs.



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