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The Employee Equity Survey was run for biotech companies to enable them to benchmark equity distribution and the size of share option pools.

In response to requests from our clients, we set up and ran a survey of biotech companies, to ascertain what levels of equity in a company were being allocated and to whom. We couldn’t find data from any other similar surveys so the idea behind it was to gather data and then present it back to the companies that responded to the survey.

On December 14, 2020 we held a webinar for the Biotech community to present the results of the first Employee Equity Survey that Confluence Tax has run. You can download the slide deck on which the webinar was based below. At a later date we will also make the webinar available to anyone who missed the event or who is interested in benchmarking their company and employees in terms of equity shared.

Year-on-year we will repeat the survey, building up longitudinal data to give a more rounded picture of the biotech equity scene. We used SurveyMonkey to gather data and emailed clients with the link to the short survey. Everything was gathered confidentially and all data presented anonymously.

There was a lot of interest and we had a good portion of our client base respond. As a first attempt, the questions were not perfect, but it was a good starting point and one from which we could learn from and adapt for the next survey in 2021.

At this juncture we have to put in a plea: PLEASE CONTRIBUTE to the survey next year!

The more data we have the more accurate the outcomes we can draw from it. The vast majority of biotech companies utilise employee equity schemes (EMI being the most common) – but how do you know what is the industry standard? How much of the company should you offer as an option pool? Who is included in an EMI scheme, all employees or just the top brass? What equity split is appropriate for a biotech CEO or CSO?

This is what we set out to discover. What did we find? Well, some interesting and unexpected outcomes, along with some good indicators of benchmark equity splits and early days trends. If the answers aren’t to your liking, make sure you take part next year to build up the data set.

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In summary, here’s what was notable from the survey results.

In the analysis, the data was split by funding round as a natural way of grouping the results. Respondents were split across Seed/Pre-series A, Series A, Series B, Series C, NASDAQ listed and AIM companies.

  • Option pool size was larger with the earlier-stage companies, with some as high as 15-25% – the message here is get your equity early! By the time you get to NASDAQ/AIM stage the option pool is much lower at 5-10%.
  • Use of EMI option schemes was higher in the earlier-stage companies, and tailed off when they reached NASDAQ listing. This will reflect the size limits of EMI companies, they must have gross assets below c£30m. AIM companies were more generous and 100% of our respondents used schemes when at AIM stage.
  • Most companies used nominal value exercise strike price up to around Series B then this tailed off. Once listed your exercise price is set by the market. So agree nominal value with HMRC while you still meet the conditions.
  • Holdings for senior company roles showed some ‘interesting’ results! For example, our respondents indicated that their CEOs in many situations received none to very little equity – 5% being the highest – as part of their package. This was a surprise as, anecdotally, talking to clients, the situation was reported as CEOs commonly holding much larger equity stakes in their biotech companies. It will be interesting to follow this up with next year’s BEESurvey to see if the data fleshes out the picture more fully.
  • CFOs were even worse off, according to the responses given, with a 2% equity holding being cited as the highest amount, and only a handful of companies reported that CFOs received any equity.
  • CSOs fared slightly better, with the responses indicating that some received up to 5% holding, although a 0% was reported overall in NASDAQ companies.
  • Only Series B companies upward reported having CMO positions, of which the maximum holding was 2% and NASDAQ and AIM companies reporting a 0% holding overall.
  • The majority of companies, up to and including Series C, reported a 4-year vesting period as standard. Both NASDAQ and AIM companies came in at 3 years, so the message from us is to push for 3 years as the industry standard vesting period.

Download the slide deck

If you have any questions on this year’s Biotech Employee Equity Survey please email hello@confluencetax.com

We welcome your thoughts on the questions to include in a 2021 survey – we had to take a best guess approach for the first survey so please do let us know what you want to hear about next year. Email us on the above details.

Most importantly, please do take part next year!

To find out more about employee schemes/EMI options for biotech firms, visit https://www.confluencetax.com/employee-schemes/

About CT Team

The tax advisors to biotechnology and technology companies