UK small business equity investment declined 11% in 2022 driven by a downturn in market conditions in second half of the year, as ongoing market challenges continue into 2023

Press release 15 June 2023

  • Following a record year in 2021, the number of investment deals fell in 2022 by 7% to around 2,700, with the total investment value declining 11% to £16.7 billion.
  • University spinouts raised the highest amount of equity finance on record, totalling 12% of all UK equity investment during the year.
  • The UK has scaled a number of technology sectors through its VC ecosystem, with life sciences one of the largest deeptech sectors.
  • While the Bank’s overall share of equity finance fell slightly in 2022, it remains more likely to invest in tech companies and university spinouts than the wider market.

The total value of equity investment in the UK’s small businesses declined by 11% to £16.7 billion in 2022, driven by a downturn in market conditions, reveals the British Business Bank’s annual Small Business Equity Tracker, published today. The total number of deals also saw a modest decline of 7%, falling from 2,912 in 2021 to 2,702, the first annual drop in equity deal volumes since the Beauhurst data series began in 2011.

2022 proved to be a year of two halves for small business equity investment, with record levels of finance raised over the first two quarters of the year, followed by a 47% decline in total investment during the second half. This decline reflected concern about the overvaluation of deals, and the effects of higher inflation and rising interest rates.

However, there are still some bright spots that can be drawn from this year’s report, in particular levels of investment in university spinouts and breakthrough technology sectors. While it is still too early to tell the full scale of the downturn in investment, the UK’s broad and advanced equity finance markets are well placed to support recovery.

Louis Taylor CEO, British Business Bank

The downturn reflects venture capital (VC) fund managers reducing their dealmaking activity and focusing more on business fundamentals, to compensate for the rapid capital deployment in previous months.

Growth stage investment declined by 25% to £8.2 billion in 2022 and was 54% lower comparing the first and second halves of the year. A key reason for this has been the lack of exit opportunities via trade sales or public listings, causing investors to avoid larger deals as they attempt to preserve their capital.

This overall trend has continued into the first three months of 2023, during which £2.2 billion was raised by UK small businesses – a 28% drop in investment value compared with the last quarter of 2022.

A record year for university spinouts

University spinouts received 12% of total equity investment in 2022, at a value of £2 billion. The average deal size for university spinouts was £8.9 million which was 33% higher than the wider market. Of all equity deals in the UK in this year, 8% were in university spinouts, totalling 226 deals. The creation of spinout companies is an important avenue through which founders and universities can commercialise cutting edge academic research. The development and increasing financing of these spinouts highlight the important role they play in creating high growth, innovative companies in the UK.

By institution, the highest number of spinout deals in 2022 belonged to the University of Cambridge, with 33 deals. The University of Oxford ranked second with 31 deals and the University of Edinburgh third with 15. Spinouts from either Cambridge or Oxford raised £12.7 million on average across 192 deals between 2020-2022.

Key strengths and opportunities for the UK in clean tech, life sciences and nanotech

While tech companies continue to receive the majority of UK equity finance, overall investment value in the sector fell by 11% in 2022. Certain sub-sectors still experienced investment growth during the year, despite the decline in overall small business equity finance. The cleantech sub-sector in particular bucked the trend of the wider market, with equity investment in this area increasing by over 50% to £0.9 billion.

Being home to a number of world-class universities and the leading VC market in Europe, the UK has scaled a number of technology sectors through its VC ecosystem. Looking at total VC investment and the UK’s share of the global market, British Business Bank analysis finds that the UK performs well across fintech, SaaS (software as a service), life sciences and AI, with life sciences as one of the UK’s largest sectors within the broader deep tech category.

Looking ahead, given rapid progress globally in the research, development and commercialisation of breakthrough technologies, there are also a number of future opportunities for the UK VC ecosystem. For example, British Business Bank analysis shows that the UK may be able to benefit from its leading position in some sectors, such as nanotechnology, and could benefit from greater investment in other areas, like space technology.

British Business Bank more likely to support tech and university spinouts

Between 2020 and 2022, British Business Bank’s equity programmes supported 13% of all equity deals and provided 15% of all total investment. This represents a slight decrease from the previous 2019-2021 period, driven by the growth stage of the market, in which there were some large investments during the first half of 2022 without involvement from the Bank. However, the proportion of equity deals and investment supported by the Bank was 9% and 13% respectively in 2016-18, showing that its current market share remains higher than historical levels.

Overall, the Bank remains more likely to invest in tech businesses than the wider equity market, with 48% of Bank-supported deals in the sector, compared to 42% across the overall market, in 2020-22. Furthermore, 12% of all Bank-supported deals were for university spinouts, compared to 9% of wider market deals. Additionally, an increasing proportion of Bank-supported deals are funding diverse teams, with 26% of deals going to companies with at least one female founder, highlighting the Bank’s commitment to supporting an innovative and diverse VC ecosystem.

Notes to editors

About the British Business Bank

The British Business Bank is the UK government’s economic development bank. Established in November 2014, its mission is to drive sustainable growth and prosperity across the UK and to enable the transition to a net zero economy, by improving access to finance for smaller businesses. Its remit is to design, deliver and efficiently manage UK-wide smaller business access to finance programmes for the UK government.

The British Business Bank’s core programmes support over £12.2 billion1  of finance to more than 96,000 smaller businesses2 .

As well as increasing the supply and diversity of finance for UK smaller businesses through its programmes, the Bank works to raise awareness of finance options available to smaller businesses. The British Business Bank Finance Hub provides independent and impartial information to businesses about finance options, featuring short films, expert guides, checklists and articles from finance providers to help make their application a success.

The British Business Bank is also responsible for administering the government’s three Coronavirus loan schemes and its Future Fund, together responsible for delivering £80.4 billion in finance to 1.67 million businesses. These schemes are now closed to new applications.

British Business Bank plc is a public limited company registered in England and Wales, registration number 08616013, registered office at Steel City House, West Street, Sheffield, S1 2GQ. Wholly owned by HM government, the Bank and its subsidiaries are not banking institutions and do not operate as such. They are not authorised or regulated by the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) or the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). A complete legal structure chart for the group can be found at the British Business Bank.

  • 1

    Figures as at end March 2022

  • 2

    Figures as at end March 2022