startup

5 essential tax tips for entrepreneurial tech companies – webinar

thingsDescription: In this 45 minute webinar, Steve Livingston, founder of innovation tax specialists – ip tax solutions, walks entrepreneurs / founders of UK technology and digital companies through 5 vital tax planning opportunities that are often overlooked – potentially losing out on £100,000’s of cash tax savings!

These 5 essential tax tips are based on UK Government tax incentives that have been enacted to help and support tech and digital companies just like yours…

This free webinar aims to provide participants with an awareness to be able to move forward in exploring these cash saving (and potentially raising) opportunities within your business.

You should ideally be the founder, CEO, CFO of a UK based technology, digital or creative company to get the most out of it.

Date & Time: Thu, May 7th, 2015 at 1:00 pm BST

Registration

Please register for the above meeting by visiting this link: http://iptaxsolutions.enterthemeeting.com/m/FQZFF9B3

Once you have registered, we will send you the information you need to join the webinar.

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5 Tips on Applying for SEIS / EIS HMRC Advance Assurance

Having prepared and filed too many to mention (!), here are a 5 tips on applying for SEIS / EIS HMRC advance assurance:

1. Don’t leave it too late! HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) are generally pretty good in turning around applications within 30 days but it can peak to 6 weeks around key tax deadlines e.g. 31 Jan self assessment tax return filing date and 5 April end of personal tax year.

2. Use the form that HMRC provide for you but you may wish to accompany the form with a covering letter, as there’s not much room to disclose any additional matters that might be relevant. Don’t forget, this is a tax clearance document and therefore, HMRC will reserve the right to withdraw an approval if it later transpires that you didn’t disclose all of the facts. You have been warned!

3. The advance assurance application process is not mandatory but is well advised for two principal reasons: i) most investors will insist on evidence of HMRC approval for their own peace of mind before parting with their investment cheque [update: it is now a requirement that you include the names and addresses of prospective investors in your application]. ii) it gets you onto HMRC’s radar for the second stage which is to complete and file forms SEIS1 / EIS1 which is necessary for the investors to be able to claim the tax relief. If you haven’t applied for advance assurance, HMRC generally ask all of the sorts of questions that would have been covered in the advance assurance application in any case.

4. If you foresee that you will be seeking to raise both EIS cash after a SEIS round then apply for both within a single advance assurance application. [Update: the most recent version of the HMRC form now more easily allows for the two boxes to be ticked}

5. Take care if you are a software company and will be generating revenues from licence fee income (as most will). You will be relying on a carve-out from an otherwise non-qualifying ‘excluded activity’ – in receiving royalty or licence fee income – which states that you can qualify as a SEIS / EIS company only if the whole, or greater part, of the underlying intellectual property that generates the revenues is created by your company.

I hope you find these tips useful. If you need more, you could subscribe for this free SEIS/EIS course (below) and/or you could reach out for specialist assistance here.

Two common R&D tax credit stumbling blocks for start-ups

Solar cell technology based on organic materials

Picture the scenario: a new technology startup. The founders invested £250,000 into the development of some new technology. The company is burning through the cash at a rate of knots and so they’re looking forward to recouping a chunk of it by claiming R&D tax credits under the ‘R&D tax credit scheme’ – something they’d heard about somewhere not long ago… In their minds, the tax credit had already been ear-marked for the next phase of work.

But two HUGE (yet surprisingly common) issues were about to put a hole through the R&D tax claim:

  1. Most of the costs were subcontracted to third party developers. This is fine in principle but under the R&D tax incentive rules such costs are restricted to 65% of the costs incurred (where the subcontractor is unconnected). The logic here is to eliminate the ‘profit’ element made by the subcontractor on the R&D work to get closer to an employee scenario. So here, in one swoop, almost half of the qualifying R&D costs and therefore claim had gone…!
  2. The company’s accounting period ended on 31 March 2012 and, for periods ending before or on this date, any R&D tax credit is capped by the PAYE / NIC suffered by the company in the period. This company had no employees (they’d subcontracted out all of the work) and had paid themselves no salary so there was £nil PAYE liability and therefore £nil repayable R&D tax credit. If the accounting period had ended just one day later, the company would have fallen within revised rules whereby the PAYE / NIC cap falls away. Ouch.

Of course, we should not lose sight of the fundamental issue of whether the company’s activities qualify for R&D tax purposes in the first place? If so, the company could still get a good result overall (a significant enhanced loss carried forward in the 31 March 2012 period end to offset against future trading profits and a potential repayable tax credit on qualifying activities and costs incurred in its next period ended 31 March 2013 and onwards) – just not perhaps as good as the founders had understood from the outset.

Fortunately, given the relaxation in the rules for accounting periods ending after 31 March 2012, the PAYE cap is no longer a problem – although it can still bite for retrospective claims (which can be made until 31 March 2014).

This is often a problem with tax incentives – there are almost always traps for the unwary…

Image: BASF – The Chemical Company via Compfight

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SEIS | Need to know facts for startups

SEIS Need to know tips for startups from Business N2K on Vimeo.

A short 5 min overview of the Seed EIS tax incentive and need to know facts and tips for startup founders.

Remember, SEIS requires a subscription for shares – loans do not work.

Look forward to your feedback and experience of using the scheme in the comments section below.

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Has your company missed out on EMI too?

Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 20.00.45Enterprise Management Incentive share option schemes (or ‘EMI’ for short) have long been a useful tool for entrepreneurial fast growing companies that wish to both tie-in key employees and incentivise them tax efficiently with the promise of jam tomorrow in the form of a slice of the share equity.

The peculiar thing as evidenced from the chart above is the apparent lack of take-up by start-ups and SMEs – even ignoring the flat-lining in recent years which could be attributed to the general market malay – in that only approx 7,500 companies have an EMI scheme across the entire UK…! Which begs the question:

Is your company missing out on an EMI share option scheme?

Before going any further, its worth having a brief recap on the key tax benefits of an EMI share option scheme for qualifying companies:

  • No income tax or NIC cost on grant or exercise of the EMI options
  • Growth in shares under EMI option subject to capital gains tax (CGT) rather than dreaded income tax (45% anyone?!)
  • Potential for Entrepreneur’s Relief for EMI option holders even though they may ultimately hold less than the normal required 5% shareholding plus the 12 months accruing from grant of the share option (a MASSIVE recent change)
  •  Corporation tax deduction for the company on exit in most cases.

Admittedly the entrepreneur’s relief relaxations (which I have long banged on about!) are fairly recent changes; but still, the benefits are plain to see, compared to say unapproved share options which normally have income tax and NIC written all over them…!!!

Let’s not forget that for cash-strapped start-ups and early stage companies, the ability to give highly valued employees a stake in the company with no cost outlay is a huge deal especially in the current economic climate – also, note how the company can get a tax deduction (on the increase in value between the exercise price and market value) even though the company has not incurred an expense as such!

There is also flexibility as to how and when employees can exercise the EMI share options  e.g. with some being structured as ‘exit only’ options (ie the EMI options vest only minutes before a sale of the company) and /or performance criteria can be included to keep the relevant employees on their toes!

So why poor take up for EMI share schemes in the UK?

Here’s my take from experience of talking to entrepreneurs about structuring tax efficient employee remuneration planning and EMI’s in particular:

  1. Unawareness of the scheme – sad but true, many accountants have not advised their clients that such a mechanism exists to incentivise their employees tax efficiently for both themselves and the employing company. 
  2. Too complex & costly – this is normally a misconception. Okay, the rules can be cumbersome in parts and there are some strict eligibility requirements but if you work with advisers who have implemented EMI option schemes before, this should be a problem. The costs should be far outweighed by the savings – oh, and  our professional costs for setting up EMIs are tax deductible!
  3. Bad experience in a ‘previous life’ – this can be an issue where unrealistic expectations are set when the option scheme is set-up and things don’t materialise as expected e.g. no exit occurs within the expected time-frame or if it does, the gains for the EMI optionholders turn out to be fairly paltry compared to the vision painted at the outset. Sometimes the very employees who suffered at the hands of a badly communicated EMI scheme set-up are now at the helm of their own company and are understandably fearful of inflicting the same disappointment on their own team. Managed well, this should not be an issue but it does come up…
  4. No clear exit plan – EMI’s are designed for entrepreneurial fast growing companies and, although a company can’t have an immediate sale on the cards when it sets up the scheme, it needs to have a time-frame and clear action plan for how it will allow its employees to realise the value they hold in the paper that will turn into shares. Like point 3, we’re down to managing expectations…

What’s your experience of EMI option schemes (good and bad)?

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What is SEIS?

SEIS: Startup term I wish I understood but was afraid to ask!

Here is a brief overview of the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme from a company founder’s perspective.

Armed with more knowledge about this fantastic UK tax incentive aimed at start ups and early stage growth companies, hopefully we can get more impetus behind this government scheme and more backing for promising new companies.

If you need any specific advice, please contact me.

Or try our SEIS DIY Kit.

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How to ignite the tech startup scene in Manchester

I’m here at the latest instalment of Techcelerate’s series of events for tech and digital startups in the Manchester and NW area.

Martin Bryant, Managing Editor of ReadWriteWeb, kicked off the evening with an extension to his recent TEDx Manchester talk on getting traction in the tech scene in Manchester. Having visited various tech hubs across the UK and the vibrant European start up scene, Martin was left wondering:

“With the strong sense of industrial history in Manchester, why don’t we have a vibrant startup tech scene here?”

Martyn set up a Facebook group to glean views and followed up with a blog post to further stoke interest. Feedback affirmed his initial prognosis – support networks are fragmented and disparate. Lots of startups want help but don’t know where to go.

A lively debate ensued with much consensus around the view that there are plenty of success stories that have emanated from Manchester e.g Laterooms. Its just that new and more established tech businesses circulating at the moment get very little air time (than they might in say London or across the European startup scene).

My own view is that we need a hub. In fact I think we need two. One physical and one virtual.

First, we need a physical venue where startups can congregate, work, collaborate, share ideas, whine, celebrate and work through all the pleasure and pains that go into building a business. Manoj Ranaweera has done a great job in setting up Techcelerate and the Tech centre in Manchester city centre (where I am right now for this event). Madlab is also a great initiative too.

A question I am grappling with is whether it should really be for startups to lead in terms of establishing where they want to congregate. I don’t think this can be led (although Daresbury, the Sharp Project and perhaps the Tech centre may disprove this!). To me, a hub needs to grow organically to have a real chance of success. An example might be where a business grows fast, becoming successful and then opens its doors to new fledging startups who wish to congregate around the buzz. From there a hub can grow.

Secondly, I think we need much more online air-time to sing the praises of our early stage startups and growing businesses. To profile them. Highlight events. Provide a platform for the businesses to showcase their products, ideas and solutions. I suppose a Techcrunch but specially targeted at Manchester and the NW. (I would be happy to toss my hat into the ring to assist with this).

As Martyn noted, it feels like we are on the brink of something exciting that is about to explode in Manchester. What are your views on what needs to happen to support tomorrow’s businesses in Manchester?

EIS Funding Catch

A key requirement of EIS (Enterprise Investment Scheme) relief is that the funds invested are ’employed’ within the investee business within the requisite time. The current requirement is that 100% of the funds must be invested within 2 years in the qualifying trade.

But how can a company ensure that it can demonstrate that it has fulfilled this requirement?

It is commonly advised that companies maintain a separate bank account for the EIS funds received. This way the company can maintain a record of both the timing and nature of the expenditure to which the EIS funds have been employed. There has never been a problem with EIS funds being used for working capital requirements – in fact, advisers have often recommended that funds be utilised for working capital requirements in priority to other funds if there was a risk that the funds might not otherwise be invested in time – however, a recent court case has added a layer of complexity to this commonly accepted advice.

The recent Skye Inns case was decided against the taxpayer on the grounds that a proportion of the funds was not invested within the required time limit. This was despite the fact that a separate bank account was maintained. The company was faced with a difficult decision in that a particular investment fell through shortly before the time limit for investment of the EIS funds was set to expire. The company therefore tried to argue that the funds had (largely) been utilised in servicing working capital demands instead. The appeal court decided, however, that the ongoing trading income of the investee business should be considered for servicing working capital in priority to any EIS funds. On this basis, HM Revenue & Customs won the appeal and the EIS relief was denied for the taxpayer.

It is key therefore that EIS subscription monies are earmarked in the relevant period for a specific current or future trading requirement rather than simply dipping into the EIS account, as necessary, and relying on a first in / first out (FIFO) basis to favour EIS funds over subsequent trading income. As ever, the paper trail will be key in ensuring that relief is not denied.

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Don’t forget National Insurance (NIC) holidays for business startups

The National Insurance numbercard issued by th...

Image via Wikipedia

If your UK business start-up was set up on or after 22 June 2010 then you may be eligible for a 12 month holiday from employer’s national insurance contributions – normally payable at a rate of 13.8% on employees’ and directors salaries in most cases.

This incentive, aimed at boosting the number of business startups in certain areas (like the north west), has been around for over a year now but many new businesses still seem to overlook it.

We are busy saving new businesses up to £50,000 so it is well worth looking into further if you think it might apply to your new business. Drop me a line if you would like to enroll for this NIC holiday or if you would like to ask any specific questions.

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5 tips for securing funding – Bill Morrow: Angels Den

Bill Morrow, founder of the Angel Network, outlines 5 top tips for entrepreneurs seeking funding from VCs:

  1. Make sure you can explain your business quickly and succinctly. If it takes you more than 5 minutes, then you’ve yet to get it nailed. Back to the drawing-board for you!
  2. Outline the pain that your product or service will solve.
  3. Explain how your business will solve this pain.
  4. Enthuse investors with the opportunity for growth and how you will achieve this – how will your business scale to achieve the 5x + return on investment for your investors?
  5. Set out clearly how you will spend the money that you are requesting.

Morrow also explains how it helps for entrepreneurs to “humanise” interactions with potential investors, where possible. If you can build rapport by indulging in a bit of chit-chat about the cricket or football etc then this helps build relationships beyond business.  After all, you may have to work with each other over a number of years, so its important that you can get on outside of business-talk.

Good advice. Listen to this podcast in full over at Smallbiz pod.

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