Successfully Raising Capital: An Entrepreneur’s Experience
This article appears in the September 2020 edition of the Center for Advanced Entrepreneurship Newsletter
By: Shari Costantini, CEO of Avant Healthcare
Since founding Avant Healthcare Professionals in 2003, I have raised capital from a variety of sources. The initial capital investment was from an angel investor, followed by private equity investment in 2007. The company had several offerings of subordinated debt. In December 2017, I recapitalized the business and brought in a strategic investor.
There are many great resources available to help guide you in your decision-making related to raising capital on a step-by-step basis. Is venture capital (VC), private equity (PE), debt investment, or a combination best for your business? How much money will you need? What are the pros and cons of the various sources of capital? For purposes of this article, I will share my journey and lessons learned in funding Avant.
My initial business plan for Avant was to build a company that could scale and create value for the investors. Realizing that I would raise outside capital, creating a service organization that could achieve a high valuation was crucial. Only 1% of staffing companies surpass $100M in revenue, so using that as a guide, I wanted to grow a $50M business with higher than average gross and net margins. My original plan reached that revenue goal in only six years. The reality is that revenue milestone took 13 years to achieve, as a 7-year immigrant visa backlog for international nurses necessitated repositioning the business to diversify from nurse staffing to allied – physical and occupational therapy staffing.
With Avant, we created a differentiated scalable international healthcare staffing business with significantly higher than average margins. Our diversified global recruitment footprint includes clinicians from 60+ countries. We developed unique cultural and clinical transitions programs that are valued by both the clinicians we recruit from around the world and the clients with staff here in the US.
Create a Network
If you are considering fundraising, create a network of advisors and resources. Orlando has a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem that has strengthened over the past 10 to 15 years. The Entrepreneurs Alliance of Orlando, a newly formed 501c3 and the Center for Advanced Entrepreneurship at the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College, are just two of many resources that can help you grow your network.
Your network can be a sounding board, and a resource for contacts and experience. Pitch your business plan and fundraising ideas to your network. The more people you connect with, the more you will learn and grow.
You will need experienced legal advice. I was fortunate to have excellent legal advice through all my fundraisings. The counsel I used was identified through my network of friends, business and community contacts. The lawyer that represented my interest in the 2017 transaction was a referral from an entrepreneur I met at a Crummer event in 2011. An investment banker depending on the size of the capital raise is another critical advisor.
Finding the right investment partner is critical. Start with your local network and expand from there. I suggest identifying investors that currently or have previously invested in an industry closely related to your business. These investors can quickly understand your value proposition since they know the industry at some level. They also can assess the return and risk factors of investing in the industry. They can connect you with their network and add value in other ways, such as personal experience. The angel investor in Avant was an immigrant who became a nurse and started a per-diem healthcare staffing business, so the opportunity to invest in Avant had personal significance. Our PE investor was identified through my former COO’s network and was interested in expanding into the healthcare industry. Our strategic partner is a company I have known for many years.
Change is the only constant in business. The business plan for Avant in 2003 was only a road map, and there have been many detours. You need investor(s) that will support the business during challenging times, as well as the boom years. Start early enough in your fundraising efforts so you can develop relationships with potential investors and truly get to know them. If you raise capital from VC or PE, identify which partner you would be working with most closely after the investment closes. Find about their track record with their portfolio companies. Get references from leaders of portfolio companies.
Ongoing investor relationship
Prioritize building and maintaining the relationship with your investor(s). You will likely add a board of directors if you raise VC or PE investment. During challenging times, over-communicate with your investors/board. When we had to reposition the business or cash flow was tight, we added board calls to keep everyone appraised and to get the board’s feedback and advice. Your investor(s) must trust that you will keep them informed. Having a trusting relationship will pay dividends.
Preparing for the next transaction
If you decide to fund your business with VC or PE capital, you know there will be at least two transactions. This should not change the decisions you make in growing your company. There undoubtedly will be changes in your business, and how you respond will be part of your story for the next transaction. You should continue expanding your network, making connections, and sharing your successes through local, regional, and national recognition programs. Avant has been listed on the Inc. 5000 list six times since 2012. Each time the company is recognized, I receive outreach from PE firms throughout the US. We were very thoughtful in how we positioned the business from the beginning, assembling a high performing team that understands the goal of value creation with sustained growth of a differentiated, high margin company.
For more information about Avant Healthcare Professionals, please click here.
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