The OD Issue 2 - page 20

The entrepreneurial career of Lucius Cary (OD 1960) began with a struggle to fund his own new
restaurant in the 1970s. Today, as a venture capitalist for technology businesses, he has helped
a host of start-ups to get off the ground. Lucius was awarded an OBE for Services to Business in
2003. He spoke to The OD about his enterprising career trajectory.
In 1972 not only were hamburgers a
rarity in the UK, so were those who were
prepared to invest in them. When Lucius
Cary opened an American Hamburger
restaurant, ‘Carys’ in Bristol, he could
not raise the £27,000 capital to fund the
business from conventional sources.
Eventually, after placing an advertisement
in the
Financial Times
, he found four
individuals who today would be called
‘business angels’, although the term was
unknown 40 years ago. The investors’ faith
was soon repaid: “At the first restaurant I
did everything myself, cooking, waiting
at table,” says Lucius. “By 1974 there was
sufficient profit to open a second restaurant
and by 1978 there were three - and fifty
people employed.”
“Brilliant scientists
have often never filled
in a VAT return, or
negotiated with an
American distributor.”
“In 1972 no one knew
what a hamburger was.
I had to give away 10,000
so they could find out.”
“When a technology start-up
is successful, the returns
can be 20 or 30 times the
original investment.”
Investment Science
Lucius ran the VCR for 17 years, then sold
his shares though remained as chairman
until 2003. In the 1980s he saw that while
the magazine was good at raising capital for
‘ordinary’ commercial businesses, it was
much less good at raising funds for
engineers and scientists. Investors
did not understand the science
and perceived the risks to be
too high.
So Lucius sold his
restaurants and started a third
enterprise, Oxford Technology
Management Ltd. (OTM) in
1983. Now his main business,
OTM provides capital,
typically around £100,000,
to start-up and early stage
technology businesses within 60
miles of Oxford. More than 100
such investments have been made
through ten separate funds, the
latest of which is the £30m Oxford
Technology Enterprise Capital Fund.
The reason for the geographical
constraint is that OTM seeks to help
businesses through the earliest stages
of their development. Many such are
located in and around Oxford and Lucius
likes to be closely involved with them.
Reflecting on his own difficulty in
acquiring that initial capital sum, Lucius
realised that what was needed was a
mechanism for getting ideas directly onto
the desks of individual investors. This was
his second business: the
Venture Capital
(VCR), founded in 1978. Sold on
subscription to the newly-recognised
community of business angels, the
magazine highlighted entrepreneurs
and the enterprises for which they were
seeking funding.
The end of the 70s saw Margaret
Thatcher rise to power and with her came
a change of climate for entrepreneurism
the UK. “She used to invite me to meet
her Chancellors,” Lucius remembers.
“I provided input to the various schemes
to encourage new businesses: The Business
Start-Up Scheme, The Loan Guarantee
Scheme, The Business Expansion Scheme
and so on.”
Lucius modestly declares that he has
‘probably made more bad investments
than anyone else in England’. Failure brings
loss but when investments are successful
the returns can be high and the rewards
significant. He has become good friends
with many in whom he has invested; about
10 have become millionaires - and turned
into investors themselves.
Lucius lives in Oxfordshire with his wife
Joanna and his four JOD children.
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