Thursday 22nd April 2021
Home Weekly Business<br />E-newsletter ebusiness weekly news 22/03/2021

Surge in venture capital investment in Norwich-based tech firms

The volume of venture capital investment in Norwich-based businesses rose four-fold last year to £33 million, up from £8.3 million in 2019, reinforcing the city’s growing reputation as an attractive location for tech companies. Tim Robinson, chief operating officer at Tech East, said: “This is a great indicator of the potential and skills we have in Norwich and recognised by VC investors and will support the financial prosperity of the region and country as we bounce back from restrictions.” Norwich-based healthtech company e-Surgery was one of ten early-stage winners of a recent nationwide ‘scaleup’ competition, Rising Stars. Meanwhile, a Norwich-based start up company, Glyconics, won a government grant for a study on low-cost diabetic screening and was named as one of: “80 standout European start-up pioneers driving seismic change in the post-pandemic world.”

The annual Tech Nation Report, also showed that Cambridge – which attracted £217 million of venture capital investment in 2020 - ranked among the top five cities for VC investment in the country, alongside London, Oxford, Bristol and Edinburgh. Meanwhile, tech initial public offerings to raise funds on stock markets gathered pace in 2020, with double the capital raised compared to 2018. The report says the UK appears to be “pulling away” from European tech hubs, Germany and France in terms of investment. One new tech unicorn - a private start-up valued at over $1 billion - has been created in the East of England so far in 2021; Cambridge-based Kymab. Gerard Grech, chief executive, Tech Nation, said: “These are truly exciting times for UK tech. The successes of the past decade have shown what the UK is capable of when policy foresight, investment and a diverse and ambitious pool of talent come together. By continuing to set our sights high, the next decade promises to be the most innovative yet."

Good reception for region's businesses for Project Gigabit

Cambridgeshire and Essex are to be among the first counties to benefit from Project Gigabit, a £5 billion government initiative unveiled last week to provide fast reliable broadband across the UK. In total, the scheme will involve an extra £210m to help those with slow speeds and £110m to connect up to 7,000 rural GP surgeries, libraries and schools. Richard Tunniclife, CBI East of England director, said: “Business looks forward to a rapid and successful rollout of Project Gigabit and welcomes the transformational impact it can have on communities in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk.”

Lloyd Felton, chief executive of County Broadband, which is building full-fibre infrastructure across rural East Anglia, said: “We welcome the government’s flagship ‘Project Gigabit’ to turbocharge the rollout of future-ready full-fibre broadband – including in East Anglia where we’re already making great strides to build world-class digital infrastructure to allow thousands of rural homes and businesses to adapt and thrive post-pandemic. We’re confident of seeing continued enthusiasm among private investors to keep pace with rising demand."


Workspace design specialist builds for the future following MBO

Cambridge-based COEL, an innovative office design and fit-out specialist, has completed a management buyout under a new leadership team which is set to continue building the company’s growth. PEM Corporate Finance acted as lead adviser on the MBO which sees experienced board members taking control of the company from majority shareholders Neil Cook, who stays on the board focusing on networking and sales and Dan Brown, who fully exits. COEL, whose clients include Bidwells, Jagex, and Raspberry Pi, has its origins as a drylining subcontractor, founded by Neil Cook as Cambridge Partitions in 1986. It moved into office interiors so Cambridge Office Environments Limited (COEL) was born and has over time added other complimentary service lines, such as a heating and plumbing, office furniture, commercial relocation, storage services, and property maintenance. Group CEO Alistair Rumbelow said: “The new team will galvanise COEL's position as a market leader in providing property services, workplace design and innovation. I’m grateful to the team at PEM Corporate Finance for their insight in structuring the deal, helping us to align the interests of all those involved at COEL, and guiding us through the process.” The MBO process was led by Philip Olagunju, director at PEM Corporate Finance and supported by Ned Brown and Lake Falconer with legal support from Birketts and Taylor Vinters.

Photo: The new COEL board outside King's College, Cambridge.

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Biotech merger and fund-raising links Cambridge and Edinburgh firms

Cambridge-based Axol Bioscience and Edinburgh-based CENSO Biotechnologies have agreed to merge and launch a fundraising round of over £3.8 million led by Calculus Capital and Par Equity. The new entity will become a leading provider in the iPSC-based neuroscience, immune cell, and cardiac modeling for drug discovery and screening markets. Axol Bioscience’s investors include Dr Jonathan Milner and EIS fund manager, Calculus Capital. The new funds will be used to grow the business and acquire talent. Liam Taylor, CEO Axol, said: “Axol has experienced a rapid increase in demand for their iPSC-based products and services over the last three years. Merging with CENSO immediately and significantly grows our scientific team and breadth of expertise. That, and the addition of two sites for iPSC-derived cell line manufacturing and custom service work, will increase our production capacity and future-proof our organization to ensure demand can continue to be met with the short lead times and quality that our customers depend on.”

Recycling group plans to invest and recruit as processed metal shipments rise

Suffolk-based waste and recycling group Sackers is planning to invest in growing its export and processing business and recruit more apprentices after seeing a 17 per cent increase in the volume of containers of processed metal being shipped through Felixstowe over the last quarter. The firm plans to take on another 10 per cent of its’ workforce in apprenticeships. It is recruiting six new candidates in all areas of the business from finance, weighbridge, procurement, engineering and yard roles. Managing director David Dodds said: “We are just all working at 100 per cent and we need to start planning for the future growth of the business and succession planning. We have had some real success stories with some of our staff starting at a junior level and working their way up through the business and have become part of the family.”

Overseeing the apprenticeship courses and recruitment, HR & comms manager Helen Crapnell said: “We have had a good experience with apprenticeships so want to continue with them but on a larger scale. There are openings in all areas of the business to suit most people. The volume of work will go up and if we nurture the right talent they will develop with our growth plans.”

Photo: Oscar Palmieri and Kris Rose

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Insurance group takes space in landmark Ipswich office development

The ground floor of The Maltings, a landmark office development in Ipswich’s business district in Princes Street, has been let to Miller Insurance Services on a five-year lease let by Penn Commercial. Miller will be moving to its own bespoke premises in The Maltings from the Willis Towers Watson Building in the town’s Friars Street. The ground floor of The Maltings  covers around 4,570 sq ft and comes with seven parking spaces, access to shared showers and a cycle shed. Vanessa Penn, managing director of Penn Commercial, said: “This deal means that The Maltings is now 75 per cent let and demonstrates that there is still demand for high-quality offices in the post-Covid era. The trend will be that companies will require more fun, innovative office space and The Maltings provides just that kind of environment.”

See Profile Penn Commercial

First land sale at major Cambs housing site

The first new homes at the former Waterbeach barracks and airfield site in Cambridgeshire have moved forward with the selection of Stonebond Properties as the development partner for the first gateway parcel. The deal was agreed by agents Bidwells and Savills for master planner Urban&Civic, which is delivering the scheme for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation. The developer has secured 4.3 acres of land for the gateway parcel, which will deliver around 88 homes of the 1,600 planned for phase one, 28 of which will be for affordable housing. The first phase also includes a primary school and other amenities. Urban&Civic secured outline planning permission for a total of 6,500 homes and associated facilities on the 716-acre site – in the western half of the larger Waterbeach new town development – in 2019. Richard Janes of Savills Cambridge said: “Supported by a robust housing market there continues to be a strong appetite for land in the East of England – especially in well-connected areas such as Cambridgeshire which link up so well with the rest of the UK.”

Funds for ‘eco-friendly’ development in Bury

Bury-based M&D Developments has secured a £3.7 million funding package via the Lloyds Bank Clean Growth Finance Initiative to develop of a new ‘eco-friendly' apartment building in the Suffolk town. The £9 million project will see Blomfield House converted from previously-vacant NHS office space into 15 energy-efficient homes in a 17,935 sq ft development that is expected to complete in April 2022.

Law firm acts on primary care deal

Ipswich-based solicitors has Prettys has acted for the shareholders of primary care developer Apollo Capital Projects Development on its multi-million pound sale to Assura plc, a national group in the sector. The deal will see the Assura team grow to 11 specialist surveyors and extend its development pipeline by an initial eight schemes with a capital spend of £50 million. John Dryburgh, who was Apollo’s largest shareholder and chief executive, said: “We were pleased to have Prettys support and experience to negotiate an agreement which works for both parties and allows our business to continue to grow and flourish under a new brand name."

Freight company expands in Great Yarmouth

Norfolk-based Freightforce Distribution has completed the purchase of a new million-pound site in Great Yarmouth, with plans to create more business and jobs in the region, with advice from law firm Birketts. The expansion on the new site, which is on a former caravan facility on the North River Road Industrial Estate, comes as Freightforce has seen demand increase for storage in recent years as customers look for a complete logistics service. The purchase will also strengthen the firm's own national distribution network and create space to expand the Palletforce network. Birketts partner Melissa Loucas said: “Freightforce’s expansion in Great Yarmouth is testament to the quality of their business and the strength of our region’s freight economy. Businesses across our region and nationwide use our commercial property team for their real estate acquisitions; in turn, our lawyers work with colleagues across the firm to ensure every aspect of a major transaction such as this is handled smoothly."

Photo: Freightforce directors Nick Jolley and Martin Halliday.

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Suffolk nursery sold

Oakland Hall Day Nursery at Sproughton near Ipswich, which provides childcare for up to 49 children aged from three months old, has been sold. The nursery was brought to market to allow its previous owners Alastair and Gillian Dovey, to pursue other business ventures, and has been bought by a first-time buyer husband and wife duo. Sophie Willcox, director at Christie & Co, who handled the sale, said: “It is a really special nursery that we unsurprisingly saw a lot of interest on."

New head of corporate and commercial at law firm

Ellisons Solicitors has promoted Paul Forsyth (right) to head of it corporate and commercial department. In a 12 year career, he has wide experience of transactional work and specialises in corporate finance, sales and acquisitions of private companies and tax driven group re-organisations. He is also known for expertise in transactions with an insolvency angle and regularly acts for administrators and liquidators alongside Ellisons’ insolvency and debt recovery team. He regularly works on deals valued at £1- 50 million.  Paul Forsyth joined Ellisons in October 2010 as an assistant solicitor in the corporate and commercial team before being promoted to partner in 2016. He has been ranked in the Legal 500 in successive years as a Next Generation Lawyer and in 2019 - alongside commercial property partner Ross Wiltshire - led the firm to open a new office in Chelmsford. Elliosns managing partner Guy Longhurst said: “This is a much-deserved promotion and I know he will continue his tenacious and client-first approach in his future work with his team.”

Cambridge venues launch new facilities ahead of business meetings restart

Meet Cambridge, the official conference and events bureau, has announced new facilities across its venue portfolio, ready for when face-to-face meetings can resume. Cambridge will also see a series of additions in the hotel sector this year including The Graduate, Turing Locke Aparthotel and Hyatt Centric Hotel as well as The Fellows House Cambridge, Curio Collection by Hilton.

At Homerton College, a new North Wing comprises an auditorium with retractable seating for 105 people, together with 18 en-suite guest bedrooms. The construction of a new dining hall to seat 300 people is scheduled for completion at the end of 2021. Meanwhile, an extensive update and redesign of the dining hall and other spaces in St Catharine’s College is the focus for its Central Spaces project. King’s College has unveiled a new look for its Old Garden Hostel building which includes a full refurbishment and extensions to the north and west elevations and the addition of a third floor providing 40 extra bedrooms. Elsewhere, the Forum Building has been given a new purpose at Jesus College, housing a professional kitchen and dining rooms whilst a two-year kitchen redevelopment project is underway and a major kitchen refurbishment has been completed at Gonville & Caius College. For smaller meetings, Wesley House will be offering two newly-refurbished meeting rooms, suitable for 10-12 people, board room style. Elsewhere, the Hilton Cambridge City Centre is also about to unveil a new look for its Isaac Newton Suite. Judith Sloane, manager at Meet Cambridge said: “It is hugely encouraging to see the investment that venues are making to upgrade and improve their facilities at this time, strengthening the unique experience Cambridge can deliver to organisers and delegates…”

Photo: St Catherine's College New Hall and Central Spaces Project

Record event enquiries after ‘roadmap’ announcement

Wyboston Lakes Resort, the major venue west of Cambridge, saw a record number of event enquiries worth £1.2m in the third week after roadmap and strong indications that interest in booking meetings, events and training is building momentum. In the three weeks since the  roadmap announcement, Wyboston has eceived 96 enquiries for new events worth almost £1.8m. Most enquiries are for 2021. Christine Gomez, director of revenue at Wyboston Lakes Resort, said: “We have received a wonderful mix of enquiries for all types of business and social events. This shows growing confidence among corporate and consumer event organisers as well as the desire to get back to face-to-face gatherings, to network and celebrate together, which we have all missed.”

Fundraising for specialist nurse reaches milestone

A campaign to raise funds for a Mesothelioma UK nurse specialist in Norfolk or Suffolk reached a milestone this week when the fund exceeded £20,000. Historic exposure to the banned substance asbestos can cause mesothelioma, a form of cancer which often proves fatal and kills sufferers in a short period from diagnosis. The Anglia Asbestos Disease Support Group, made up of patients, carers, supporters and volunteers alongside Brian Wallis, ambassador for Mesothelioma UK and representatives of Ashtons Legal, embarked on a fundraising campaign back in 2019 to employ a specialist nurse in either Norfolk or Suffolk.  The law firm acts for many clients whose historic exposure to asbestos caused irreversible damage to their lungs and ultimately their death.

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Cambridge company achieves customer service accolade and helps children's charity

Cambridge-based Domino UK has been re-accredited with ServiceMark from The Institute of Customer Service – a national standard which recognises achievement in customer service and its commitment to uphold standards - and has also been helping to raise funds for an international children’s charity. Gino Pistilli (right), general manager, Domino UK said: “I’m extremely proud of our team and it’s very pleasing to see The Institute of Customer Service recognises the work we have done, and continue to do, to improve the service we provide. We measure our performance regularly through surveys which help us understand the effectiveness of our customer service strategy and guide us on where we need to prioritise further improvements.”

Domino UK also took the opportunity to help one of its designated charities – SOS Children’s Villages – by incentivising staff to complete a survey with the offer of a donation for every completed form. This initiative raised £410, match-funded by the company’s Group Charity Committee, to give a total of £820 for the charity which provides care for families, young people and children.