How winning investment from Worth Capital made my business idea a reality

Claire Burrows, founder of footwear brand Air & Grace, explains why winning SEIS seed funding from Worth Capital was “life changing”…

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  • Henry Williams

Founder: Claire Burrows
Company: Air & Grace
Website: www.airandgracelondon.com
Description: Women’s footwear brand

After 20 years spent working in the footwear industry, Claire Burrows felt there was a gap in the market for a shoe brand that would enable comfort and fashion to co-exist:

“When people thought about comfort shoes they thought about them not being stylish at all”, she explains, “we are all busy, we all run around town and we want something we can wear that feels good, but also looks good”.

With this, Burrows launched Air & Grace – the footwear brand that makes “beautiful shoes for busy feet”. The company’s patent pending Tender Loving Air® technology uses three layers of memory foam cushioning, hidden in the sole, to provide comfort without sacrificing on style.

However, as footwear is “a competitive market” and although Burrows asserts that there are certainly “a lot of women out there who need shoes”, Burrows knew she was going to need some help getting her business off the ground.

At the time of entering the Worth Capital competition, Burrows had a sample show collection and a prototype of the brand’s proprietary technology, but she says funding was the final piece of the puzzle to “take it from a concept to a reality”.

“It’s such an expensive business to start”, remarks Burrows, “there’s minimum quantities involved with factories, a lot of tooling costs and there was just no way I was going to be able to fund that on my own so I had to get external investment”.

Luckily the entrepreneur chanced upon an advert in the Metro for Worth Capital’s Retail Foundation Fund competition.

Discussing the competition process, Burrows says: “The first stage was to write 150 words about why your business was great and I was quite confident at the time. I thought: ‘well now’s not the time to be shy’ so I went in quite bullish”.

And it seems this was the right strategy: “It caught their attention luckily and I got through to the next round, which was a conversation with the guys from Worth over the phone”.

After impressing again, Burrows made it through to the final stage of the competition – a Dragons' Den-style pitch-off in front of a panel with “no PowerPoint presentations allowed” and some “very tough questions”.

While Burrows confesses that “pitching isn’t something that comes naturally”, the entrepreneur's performance and novel business proposition won Air & Grace the £150,000 top prize and a host of business support from Worth Capital to put the business plan into action.

“It was a really tough year, I’ll make no secret of that”, Burrows reveals: “When you’re a really small start-up and you’re trying to make yourself heard in factories that produce big quantities for big brands then it’s tough – but the guys from Worth were really good at helping me through that, keeping my spirits up and supporting me really”.

Today, the biggest challenge faced by Air & Grace is just “keeping bestsellers in stock”. With most of the company’s shoe sales coming from pre-orders, customers are prepared to order in advance and wait for their shoes.

Thanks to the £150,000 funding from Worth Capital, supported by word of mouth marketing, social media and “lots of support from bloggers, influencers” and customers, Air & Grace has enjoyed growth of 250% over the last year with a 250% growth forecast for 2017.

On her business success to date, Burrows says: “We’ve been really lucky that at the moment the initial investment […] has basically enabled us to get this far. Because we’ve been doing well, everything gets reinvested and that’s enabled us to keep growing, launching new styles and to be able to market the business effectively”.

“I’m actually putting together plans at the moment working with my bank looking at how we’re going to finance that [next stage of] growth”.

For Burrows, entering Worth Capital’s Retail Foundation Fund competition was “life changing”: “I would not have been able to do what I’ve done without that investment.

“I would have got it somehow, but how long that would have taken and where it would have come from I don’t know. For me it worked out fantastically well and I’m kind of a walking talking advert for it”.

Are you looking to give your business a funding boost? Startups.co.uk has partnered with Worth Capital to launch The Start-Up Series. Every month, one early-stage UK company has the chance to win £150,000 SEIS equity seed investment.

Want to follow in Air & Grace's footsteps? Apply to win £150,000 here.

Henry Williams

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