In a nutshell: Sprk is an online lender to SMEs who are engaged in research, development and innovation. Sprk solves the cashflow requirements of SMEs providing advanced funding against their innovation.
Companies in the seed to Series D space typically find it difficult to access debt markets and finance their companies through equity or equity linked instruments. Sprk enables businesses to hold onto more of their equity for longer, reducing cash burn, or innovate and get to market sooner and invest more.
Amar: Research and development tax credits and funding are a significant element in most early stage companies that I work with, and Sprk provides solutions for both of these. Dom has a great wealth of experience in finance and funding for SMEs from his previous firms. It’s great to see him leave the corporate world and launch his own business. I am happy to give him a boost as he starts out and in return, Dom has already helped fund the growth of one of Argella’s clients which has been invaluable.
Amar: Can you tell us about your background and how you became a founder?
Dom: My background was in engineering and then accountancy before joining the City and working mainly in credit markets. Post financial crisis, it was clear that the fintech and non-bank lending sector was growing, but needed institutional capital to expand. With some ex-Goldman colleagues we started a fintech consultancy and capital raising business called Capital-B – and through this, I was approached by Funding Circle to raise capital for them.
Covid-19 meant working with the British Business Bank to ensure non-bank lenders had access to the Government loan schemes, ultimately sourcing over £4 billion of capital for UK SMEs. It was clear that there was a funding gap in the market for early stage growth companies, many of which were loss making, and some even pre-revenue. That’s where the concept of Sprk Capital came from – we created the business to provide an innovative source of debt finance to companies where others were not lending.
Amar: What do you most enjoy about being an entrepreneur?
Dom: In most traditional roles you get experience of a few bespoke areas that you end up specialising in, but you have to think broader in the role of an entrepreneur. The challenges of dealing with everything from setting up a payroll provider through to negotiating a funding facility means that every day you’re learning something which you may not have experienced before.
Amar: What keeps you motivated?
Dom: There is a lack of finance provided to SMEs in the UK that are engaged in research, development and innovation. For me, the ability to fund these businesses and see them grow, hiring and investing in some of the most cutting edge projects, is fascinating.
Amar: What do you worry about when it comes to work?
Dom: You constantly worry about the strategic direction of the business and how to keep a high growth rate, whilst balancing that with the right team. I’m constantly aware of the responsibilities that I hold for both shareholders as a custodian of their capital and to staff and their families.
Amar: What’s your biggest business learning?
Dom: You have to have self belief, but not at the expense of taking others opinions into account.
Amar: What advice would you give new and aspiring entrepreneurs?
Dom: Find people that you trust to give you impartial advice as you embark on the journey of building a business. It’s easy to convince yourself that you’re right, but that can be fatal! Make time for family and friends, you are managing your business and that can be all-encompassing. Find time for yourself to think and relax, you’ll make better long term decisions.
Amar: Tell us something people don’t know about you…
Dom: Apart from the crazy house with three children, two dogs, three cats and the current responsibility of babysitting a gecko, I’m a keen pilot, having got my licence in my late teens.
Amar: Who has inspired you through your journey and why?
Dom: Marty was my first mentor in the City, working with him through the US subprime crisis. His ability to make decisions under pressure taught me vast amounts about how to deal with markets and people.
Amar: What is the most important quality to possess as a leader?
Dom: Trust. Ensuring that your employees, investors, customers and partners trust you means that you’re putting them at the centre of your thinking as you build the business.
Amar: What would your dream job be if time, resources and location were no barrier?
Dom: Definitely a Formula One driver, a far removed role from my current role of driving children to clubs and parties on the weekend!
Amar: Have there been any positives to come out of the upheaval of the last two years for you or your business?
Dom: Within the past few years, I believe that we have identified a sector of the SME population which is underserved by traditional lenders. The path to growth for the UK has to be through innovation, and Sprk will be there to finance it.
Amar: Who would play you in a film of your life?
Dom: Probably Tom Cruise (a feature of every movie I watched growing up). I think my daughter would prefer Harry Styles though, especially if she got the opportunity to meet him!