Sometimes it seems that a stock market listing is reserved for mature companies with large market capitalization, but that's a persistent misconception. As a sufficient number of young tech companies have proven, a listing is not only achievable but even advisable.

A thought-out business plan is good - but one with money is even better!

The usual suspects when it comes to the financing of companies and projects are friends, family and fools ("FFFs"), business angels, venture capitalists, private equity funds, financial institutions, family offices, etc. Crowdfunding is particularly suited to innovative companies and should not be overlooked.

Entrepreneurs confirm that it's currently not easy to find sufficient financing to grow their innovative (tech) companies. A number of initiatives have been taken, however, to assist them. First, there are Belgian measures, such as tax relief or rebates, intended to encourage private individuals to participate in the capital of start-ups or to finance such companies. Two examples are the tax shelter for start-ups[1] and the win-win loan.[2] At the European level, we have the SME Instrument,[3] on the basis of which companies that meet certain criteria can receive subsidies for innovative projects. The advantage of such subsidies is that they need not be paid back and that entrepreneurs can avoid dilution since no new shares need be issued in exchange for the funds. It's money for nothing!

While such initiatives are a welcome development, given their limitations (such as caps) as well as the applicable conditions and requirements, they are in most cases insufficient to implement and finance the business plan of an innovative growth company. So it's back to the drawing board.

Listings are all too often overlooked by young companies. Two earlier posts highlighted the advantages and a few points of interest of a NASDAQ listing for European companies (see post I / post II). However, innovative companies and entrepreneurs need not cross the Atlantic to search for money; they can raise funds on Euronext, too. Euronext's initiatives to support innovative growth companies, both listed Small & Mid Caps and growth companies considering a listing on a Euronext market in the short to medium term (+/- three years), are worth mentioning.

EnterNext

EnterNext is a subsidiary of Euronext which offers support, services and training to small and medium-sized companies, specifically aimed at financing and the role Euronext's capital markets can play. In addition, EnterNext also offers a larger marketing platform to SMEs with market capitalization under €1 billion, including companies in the B and C compartments of Euronext's or Alternext's regulated markets.

EnterNext is not a separate regulated market like Euronext or a Multilateral Trading Facility (MTF) such as Alternext and the Free Market. Rather EnterNext aims to strengthen cooperation between entrepreneurs, the management of SMEs, investors, the financial sector and a large number of professional service providers such as financial advisors, lawyers, auditors, communication advisors, etc.

EnterNext not only focuses on supporting listed Small & Mid Caps but also assists growth companies throughout the often troublesome pre-IPO stage. EnterNext took three initiatives to support innovative SMEs.

Three EnterNext initiatives

Each year, the Tech 40 label is awarded to 40 innovative European Small & Mid Cap tech companies listed on the Euronext markets in Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and Lisbon. In addition to admission to Euronext's Tech 40 index, the label allows its recipients to participate in events and road shows.

Moreover, EnterNext has entered into an agreement with Morningstar to report on 330 Small & Mid Cap companies listed on the aforementioned Euronext markets. A substantial percentage (almost half!) of these companies had not previously been covered by analysts. Morningstar's reporting increases the visibility of the entire tech sector and may lead to greater investor confidence or at least a clearer image with investors.

The third EnterNext initiative is the TechShare programme, which was created to assist fast-growing European tech companies as they move towards an IPO and listing on a Euronext market.

Sharing is caring

TechShare's aim is to immerse a select number of tech companies in the world of capital markets by means of on-site sessions, workshops led by experts and thorough individual coaching by lawyers, company auditors and communications consultants. The idea is to provide directors and managers with a better understanding of the role and functioning of then financial markets so that they are better prepared to assess the prospects and opportunities afforded by a stock market listing and take in a timely manner the necessary steps to achieve this goal.

Companies that wish to participate in the TechShare programme are selected based on their innovative nature and performance and are mostly active in sectors such as digital technology, life sciences, and telecoms and communications. The twelve-month programme consists not only of training and coaching but also networking with other tech entrepreneurs and is centred on exchanging knowledge and experience. It's sharing, sharing, sharing! News and articles for tech entrepreneurs regularly appear in Tech Corner.

EnterNext's success

At the time of its IPO, Bone Therapeutics raised EUR 37.03 million on Euronext and now has market capitalization of just over EUR 100 million. Based on this example, it would appear that significant market capitalization is not necessary in order to be listed on the Brussels stock exchange. Likewise, Witbe's market launch should be mentioned; this company raised EUR 15.43 million on Alternext Paris, enabling it to achieve market capitalization of just over EUR 37 million. In other words, EnterNext lives up to its reputation as a facilitator for IPOs and secondary offerings.

Meanwhile around 750 Small & Mid Cap EnterNext companies have been listed on Euronext's (regulated) markets in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Portugal. According to Euronext's figures, 40 Small & Mid Cap tech companies have been listed on Euronext markets since January 2014, raising EUR 880 million in IPOs and an additional EUR 1.7 billion through secondary offerings.[4]

Alain Baetens, Head of Listing with Euronext Belgium (+32 (0)2 620 15 20, abaetens@euronext.com) confirms that at present various projects are ongoing at Euronext aimed at repositioning Alternext and the Free Market in Brussels and enabling even more cost-effective listing on an MTF. Innovative companies with market capitalization of only EUR 20 million or less (for example, EUR 5 million) will in the future be able to be listed on an MTF. Professional investors will play a more important role in such listings and, insofar as the Free Market is concerned, the possibility of a listing without the obligation to publish a prospectus is being examined. There's definitely more to come.

The purpose of this post is not to cause innovative entrepreneurs to take rash decisions in favour of listing on Euronext or elsewhere but rather to debunk the persistent misconception that stock market listings are reserved for comparatively mature companies with large market capitalizations. The aforementioned examples prove the opposite. In the words of Joris Noreillie (CFO of neoScores): "Thanks to the TechShare programme, we were able to get a really concrete understanding of what funding possibilities could potentially open up at a later stage. It's always a good idea to start structuring your company as if one day you’ll be public. And the sooner you implement this, the better. Thanks to this programme, we know where to start and where we want to get to. Investing some time in attending this programme can pay off greatly!"[5]