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DIGIT Deal Roundup Column | April 2021

David Paul

,

deal roundup

April 2021 was a bumper month for investment and deals. This month’s edition sees news for firms such as IBioIC, BioCaptiva,  Manus Neurodynamica and Snappy Shopper.

Funding and Investment

Ten Bio

Ten Bio

Dundee University tech spin-out Ten Bio gained more than £900,000 to aid the ‘transformation’ of pharmaceutical and cosmetic product testing.

The tech firm’s funding round was led by TRICAPITAL, with matched funding from Scottish Enterprise.

Funding will be used to commercialise its human skin culture system, Ten Bio says, which provides an alternative to animal testing.

Additionally, the money will also enable it to continue the roll-out of its service business and to develop further product offerings.

Commenting on the funding round, Moray Martin, CEO of TRICAPITAL, said: “TRICAP is delighted to be supporting the excellent Ten Bio team as they transition from the laboratory into the commercial world.

“Ten Bio’s in vitro science and technology offers a reliable and credible alternative to some usage of animal testing and thus more accurate testing of products en route to market for both pharma/biotech and cosmetic companies.

“This is an innovative company with an exciting commercial future that we are honoured to be sharing with them.”

Company founder Dr Robyn Hickerson said: “The response to our technology from major dermatology and cosmetics companies has already been incredible.

“They have been waiting years for a solution like TenSkinTM, which provides a reliable, consistent way of testing their products in an ethical manner.”

To read the full article, click here.


QuickBlock

Scottish startup QuickBlock has received over £250,000 in seed funding that will help the company develop its rapid-assembly building blocks.

The investment from Equity Gap and Scottish Enterprise will help the Glasgow-based company grow its 100% recycled plastic products in new markets. In particular, the company is considering global market opportunities within agriculture, humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

In addition, the company will use the funds to create four skilled jobs, including securing the long-term appointment of its interim CEO, Andrew Vincent. Other new positions include head of sales, sales executive and graduate-level marketing and product designer.

Commenting on the funding, QuickBlock Chairman Tom Thomson said: “Our investors’ commitment validates and supports our ambition to make QuickBlock one of Scotland’s major business successes. We are now recruiting for a further three new members of staff and ramping up output as the product gains appeal in diverse markets.”

QuickBlock CEO Andrew Vincent added: “We have an innovative, sustainable, market-ready product and, despite a challenging year with Covid-19, we’ve gained traction across a number of sectors. This investment will allow us to respond to this growing demand, build our sales team and scale up at pace over the next year. Longer-term, we have a bold and ambitious vision to enable people all over the world to build a greener future with QuickBlock.”

Caitlyn Hughes, Relationship Manager at Equity Gap, said: “This innovative new building technology will help meet the challenges faced by a variety of sectors where speed, reusability and sustainability are priorities.

“Products like QuickBlock can enable a greener future and put Scotland at the forefront of the technologies that will support the country’s drive to net zero. This funding will allow the company to expand the team, increase focus on sales and marketing, and deliver new product improvements.”

To read the full article, click here.


PlayerData

PlayerData

Edinburgh-based PlayerData has completed a $2.3 million (£1.67m) series A investment round led by Hiro Capital.

The funding round, which saw former Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy participate, will support the firms’ ongoing growth plans as it looks to expand internationally.

This latest announcement marks the second successful fundraise for PlayerData in the last year. In May 2020, the firm confirmed it had secured £750,000 in funding from a host of investors.

Long-term, PlayerData hopes to expand the applications of its wearable tech across multiple sports and tap into new global markets.

Commenting on the investment, co-founder and CEO Roy Hotrabhvanon said: “Our mission is to bring fine-grained data and insight to clubs across team sports, helping them improve player performance and avoid injury.

“We leverage our platform and data to generate biometric insights applicable at any level – from competitive grassroots to professional. Our ultimate goal is to implement cutting-edge insights from pioneering wearables that are applicable to any team in any discipline at any level.

“As an investment partner, Hiro Capital shares this commitment to our mission.”

Cherry Freeman, co-founding partner at Hiro, said: “PlayerData ticks all of our key boxes: a huge total available market with over 3 million grassroots clubs; a deep moat built on shared player data, machine learning and highly actionable predictive algorithms; compelling customer network effects; and a really impressive yet humble founding team.”

Luke Alvarez, Managing Partner at Hiro added: “In a year when lockdown accelerated digital adoption and kept us all out of the gym, companies like Nurvv, FitXR, Zwift and Peloton helped people stay fit, healthy, and biomechanically self-aware.

“2020 super-charged connected fitness and PlayerData is our latest exciting investment in this accelerating macro trend.”

To read the full article, click here.


Stormcloud Games and Chroma Ventures

Dundee games studio Stormcloud Games has received a seven-figure investment from Chroma Ventures, the investment arm of 4JStudios.

The new investment will allow the studio to start developing its latest game ideas. According to Stormcloud founder Frank Arnot, the company will need to grow its dozen-strong team by around 50% over the next year as development progresses.

Arnot said: “Given the challenges we’ve faced in the past year with the pandemic, it feels particularly good to be part of a wider community of games developers working in similar genres. To be doing so with Chris and Paddy’s support – both financially and practically – is a real bonus.

“Having known each other for years, I think there’s a natural affinity and understanding of what we each bring to the working relationship. I trust and value their opinions – which is why we started talking about this in the first place – and they trust in our team’s ability to do the work and to do it in the right way.”

Chroma Ventures Principal Paddy Burns said: “We’ve known Frank and the Stormcloud team for many years now and have followed their recent successes closely. Stormcloud has excelled in producing family-friendly games that everyone loves to play. When Frank shared their latest new games ideas with us, we decided that we wanted to help enable him and his team to develop them.

“What sets Stormcloud apart is the depth of experience in the team, many of whom have been making games for nearly 30 years. They know instinctively what works and what doesn’t, and they make original content in a style that is distinctly their own. We’re delighted to add Stormcloud to the Chroma Ventures portfolio.”

As the investment arm of games developer 4J Studios, which developed Minecraft for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo games consoles, Chroma Ventures aims to fund early-stage and established businesses with high-growth potential, particularly data-led businesses and those developing and deploying innovative technology.

Stormcloud Games joins a Chroma Ventures portfolio which includes another Dundee-based indie games studio in Puny Astronaut, Blippar- a leading augmented reality (AR) technology company, cupboard stored ready meal provider Parsley Box, and commercial insurance distribution and data platform Broker Insights.

To read the full article, click here.


Current Health

Current Health

Scottish medtech firm Current Health secured $43 million (£31m) in funding as part of a Series B funding round in April.

The investment, led by Northpond Ventures with additional financing from LRVHealth, OSF Healthcare and existing investors, comes amid an exciting period of growth for the firm.

Edinburgh-founded Current Health recently reported 3000% year-on-year revenue, making them one of the fastest-growing healthcare companies. This latest funding round also marks the third sizable fundraiser for the medtech firm in as many years.

In December 2019, Current raised $11.5 million in a Series A round led by MMC Ventures while a 2018 round spearheaded by ADV saw the company raise $8 million.

Current said the latest investment will enable it to expand “on a global scale” and meet growing demand.

Commenting on the funding round, CEO and Co-founder Chris McCann said: “In the next five years, we’ll see a majority of healthcare services delivered in a patient’s home, with the hospital reserved for intensive care, trauma, and surgery.

“To make this shift, healthcare providers must move away from point solutions and develop system-wide strategies to deliver care at home.

“We’ve built Current Health to serve as the ‘mission control’ for organizations to transition healthcare from the hospital to the home and meet patients where they are.”

Andrea Jackson, Director at Northpond Ventures, will join Current Health’s board of director alongside Tripp Peake, General Partner at LRVHealth.

Commenting on the funding, Jackson said: “It’s rare to see a company successfully execute across both healthcare delivery and drug delivery – this is what makes Current Health so special.

“As healthcare moves into the home, pharmaceutical companies are developing new models that go beyond the pill and enable greater delivery at home with fewer side effects at lower cost.

“Current Health’s proven track record of delivering across both pharma and health systems makes them the perfect company to bridge this gap.”

To read the full article, click here.


Par Equity

Edinburgh-based investment group Par Equity has experienced a record-breaking year, deploying over £17 million of capital between March 2020 and March 2021, up 48% on the same period in the previous year.

The group was the lead investor on 75% of the transactions, with its portfolio of companies raising a further £26m from third-party investors.

Par Equity’s current portfolio of 40 companies includes the likes of Current Health (Edinburgh and Boston), Cumulus (Belfast), Nova Pangea Technologies (Middlesbrough), Integrated Graphene (Stirling) and Novosound (Glasgow).

Paul Munn, Managing Partner at Par Equity, said: “We know what is needed to take a company from its infancy and turn it into a success story. Our role is enabling the ongoing provision of capital and expertise to these fast growth tech companies.

“In order to build global champions in the North of the UK, Par will be steadfast in our support of our portfolio”.

Par successfully led eight investments in March this year, including a £5m Series A round into Cyan Forensics. The company is an Edinburgh-based provider of technology to law enforcement agencies and social media companies, which identifies and blocks harmful digital content such as child pornography and terrorism.

For its latest investment, Par invested a further £3m into Current Health, as part of its £31m Series B funding. Par has supported Current Health through several rounds of funding, bringing its total investment in the group to over £7m since 2016.

Andrew Noble, Partner at Par Equity, added: “We recognise the challenges that the pandemic has brought to many people across the UK, so it’s especially rewarding to be creating jobs through our investment activities. Employment within our portfolio companies increased from a total of 650 people to 885 in a year.”

To read the full article, click here.


IBioIC

UK-based Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) awarded 15 new grants to fund PhD projects at biotechnology companies in April, committing £11 million to future green biotechnology skills, since the inception in 2014.

A range of startups, SMEs, and large companies will share a combined package of £2.8 million from IBioIC and the UK-wide Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The funding will allow pioneering research projects to employ the skills of PhD students over a four-year study programme.

Ian Archer, technical director at IBioIC, said: “The industrial biotechnology community is growing at pace alongside the UK-wide drive for sustainability, and our collaborative training partnerships rightly aim to bring together industry and academia to support commercial development.”

“The programme is carefully designed to help students enter the world of work, with commercial and business development modules that go beyond academic training to ensure students are industry-ready. We also endeavour to support students individually with a focus on personal development and wellbeing built into the programme which is quite different to traditional PhD studies.”

“The latest awards represent a significant milestone for the programme, with the combined project value now exceeding £11 million. Once again, we had an overwhelmingly positive response from the industry to our latest call for projects, with a range of exciting areas of research that can underpin significant steps towards building a more sustainable and circular economy.”

Among the latest set of projects is a circular bioeconomy initiative with the University of Edinburgh and IndiNature, an Edinburgh-based sustainable construction materials manufacturer. The company has secured £104,000 for a doctoral research project, which will explore the use of agricultural waste as a feedstock for making novel materials to bind crop-based fibres together to make circular, low-carbon building insulation.

Scott Simpson, CEO of IndiNature, said: “There is a growing demand for natural, plastic-free products that can be used to improve the sustainability of our built environment and we are turning that into a reality using locally grown crops and bio-based materials.”

“Having the support of a PhD student will be invaluable as we aim to scale up our lab-based research and we are looking forward to working closely with future talent who will no doubt offer a fresh perspective. As well as the environmental benefit of our products, we are committed to making a positive impact on the communities we operate in, including support for the next generation of biotechnology experts.”


Firstbase

SaaS company Firstbase secured $13 million (approx £9.3 million) in funding in a Series A round in April, led by Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from B Capital Group and Alpaca VC.

The new funding will fuel the company’s rapid growth plans through hiring, product development, and increased customer deployment. The company says it also intends to increase integration with HR and collaboration software partners and update its customer experience to quickly convert its 10,000+ waitlisted organisations

Chris Herd, Co-founder, and CEO of Firstbase, commented: “Most organisations underestimate the complexity and cost of going remote. Typically, HR, IT, and facilities teams are involved in getting a single employee set up with hardware, access, and security.

“With so many people involved, mistakes are often made, costs are incurred and time is wasted. Our solution removes the hassle and friction from the remote setup and promises a better experience for everyone – emotionally, logistically, and financially. The same is true on the other end, when an employee leaves, we take the headache out of collecting, tracking, and redeploying the equipment.”

David Ulevitch, General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, added: “With a permanent shift in attitudes toward remote and hybrid work, employees and companies are more reliant on their equipment and workspace to stay connected and productive than ever before.

“Firstbase is the critical infrastructure that will power the distributed workforce. Employees get the setup they need to stay effective working from home and employers to have a centralized view and management system for all equipment. Firstbase is really leading the charge into the future of work.”


BioCaptiva

BioCaptiva

Scottish bio-tech firm BioCaptiva raised over £1 million in seed funding to help develop a ground-breaking “liquid biopsy” device.

The spin-out from the University of Edinburgh, says its novel biopsy device could revolutionise the early diagnosis and monitoring of cancers.

BioCaptiva raised the £1-million investment from Edinburgh-based business angel investment syndicate, Archangels, as well as Scottish Enterprise.

To prepare the company for this next stage in its development, BioCaptiva has also appointed Dr Frank Armstrong FRCPE as non-executive chairman and Dr Stephen Little as a non-executive director.

The seed investment will enable BioCaptiva to in-license its technology and carry out its first trials to prove its safe use in humans. BioCaptiva has been launched with the support of Edinburgh Innovations, the University of Edinburgh’s commercialisation service.

Should the technology prove successful, BioCaptiva plans to scale up its technology ahead of regulatory clinical trials, scheduled for completion during 2024.

Jeremy Wheeler, CEO of BioCaptiva, commented: “The BioCollector is a disruptive technology which will be transformational for liquid biopsy testing.

“We are confident that this platform technology can make a significant impact in this important area and, ultimately, enable cancers to be detected more quickly and accurately, enabling patients to receive precision cancer treatment as early as possible.”

Dr Sarah Hardy, Director, Head of New Investments at Archangels, added: “BioCaptiva has the potential to provide pharma companies and clinicians with high levels of cfDNA from individual patients that could revolutionise the way some cancers are detected.

“This has the potential to vastly increase the sensitivity and applicability of liquid biopsy for detection of cancerous tumours which are often diagnosed too late to enable specific treatment options to improve outcomes.”

Professor Tim Aitman, Director, Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine, University of Edinburgh, said: “I’m delighted that after several years of work with colleagues in Edinburgh, we will now progress towards first-in-human trials. BioCollector will provide a step change in the capabilities of liquid biopsy for cancer detection and diagnosis.

“We are excited to be moving our device into this market with its huge potential for advances in the care of patients with cancer.”

To read the full article, click here.


Level E Research

Level E Research, which specialises in artificial intelligence-powered investment solutions, secured investment from a group of private investors, including leading figures in the investment management industry.

The funding boost will be used to bring on new staff and continue investing in research, according to Founder and Chief Executive, Dr Sonia Schulenberg.

Commenting on the funding round, she said: “This very successful fundraising backed by well-known industry leaders is a huge vote of confidence in our technology and business model, enabling us to scale up our business development efforts as well as continue to invest in cutting edge research and attract the most talented people.

“Our hedge fund clients have been quick to realise the benefits that our unique machine learning platform can provide, and we are in discussions with asset managers who are keen to integrate our AI into their investment process or seeking to launch the next generation of AI-driven funds.”

Nicola Anderson, CEO of FinTech Scotland, said: “I am delighted to hear that Level E Research has secured a significant amount of seed funding.

“This is a testament to the strength of its innovation and capability and will lead to the creation of more highly skilled jobs in Scotland.”

Anderson added: “The fact that it is mainly Scottish backers who are investing in Sonia’s vision and leadership, supporting a woman fintech founder, also demonstrates the strength of Scotland’s commitment to fintech, diversity and inclusion.”

To read the full article, click here.


Manus Neurodynamica

Manus Neurodynamica, a developer of technologies for neuromotor assessment, has received £600,000 grant funding.

The funding boost from Innovate UK will be used to optimise and validate Manus’ NeuroMotor Pen product as part of a project over the next two years.

Over the next two years, Manus will carry out the project to optimise and validate NMP for the screening of dementias.

Commenting on the grant funding Manus CEO Rutger Zietsma said: “We are extremely pleased to be working at the forefront of this technology, aiming to provide results at primary care level, to help streamline the care pathway and ensure all patients will receive a timely diagnosis and supported earlier to develop long-term cognition and positive mental habits.

“This two-year project will help determine and validate the NMP for screening of dementias, as we set to roll out our NMP later this year, initially applied in diagnosing Parkinson’s in the UK and Benelux markets, while also progressing work to secure regulatory approval to start selling in US.”

To read the full article, click here.


GIGGED.AI

Google and Facebook AI technology Digital Hiring Platform

A Scottish tech start-up has gained funding to create an AI-powered digital hiring platform to simplify staff hiring.

Glasgow-based GIGGED.AI says it is investing further in the development of its talent platform after gaining the grant through Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund.

Chairman of GIGGED.AI John Brodie said: “The future of work and the gig economy are hot topics right now and GIGGED.AI is an innovative product with huge growth potential.

“The product is a digital talent platform powered by AI that allows clients to create a statement of work in real time then match it to the best gig talent in the UK. The platform also offers the growing number of gig workers in the UK a great way to work on exciting digital projects.

“Innovate UK and The Data Lab have been hugely supportive of the project and we are excited to launch. This is one of the most exciting startups in Scotland with great things ahead in 2021 and beyond.”

Commenting on the grant, Adam Turner, external funding service lead at The Data Lab, said: “As we recover from the pandemic there will be fundamental shifts in the labour market, including companies adopting global employee bases, meaning the demand for top talent will only increase.

“It’s great to see GIGGED.AI tools leveraging data and AI to make completing the often-confusing statement of work process easy and intuitive, before matching seamlessly to on-demand talent.

To read the full article, click here.


Candidate.ID

Glasgow-based recruitment software developer Candidate.ID received £700,000 of funding from investment group Blackfinch last month.

Blackfinch previously invested an initial £630,000 in Candidate.ID in April last year. The new investment will further allow Candidate.ID to develop its revenue growth plans along with the machine learning behind its solution.

CEO at Candidate.ID Adam Gordon noted that the company that Blackfinch’s input and guidance had helped the company as it grew its customer base and revenue.

The company received around £1.6 million of VC investment across 2019 and 2020, enabling considerable growth in market traction.

Ventures Director at Blackfinch Reuben Wilcock said: “Recruitment has seen significant disruption in recent years as technology solutions automate processes, increasing productivity.

“We chose to invest in Candidate.ID because we believe in the team’s vision for automated talent recruitment and a more positive experience for job seekers.

“We were also impressed with the recently re-launched platform and how the company has already secured global traction.”

The investment in Candidate.ID had brought the total number of deals Blackfinch Ventures has made this year to 12, worth over £11 million, ahead of the tax-year-end deadline.

The move has significantly increased the number of technology and tech-enabled companies within Blackfinch’s portfolio.

In addition, the company has raised £10.4m through Blackfinch’s EIS Ventures Portfolio, which invests in innovative startup and early-stage technology companies.

A further £5.8m was raised through its Spring Venture Capital Trust (VCT), which invests primarily in companies at the start of their growth journey.

Wilcock added: “The latest round of investments for Blackfinch Ventures is a true testament to the dedication of the team, all of whom have worked tirelessly over recent months to complete on such a significant number of deals.

“Similarly, the total of funds raised is reflective of a real confidence from both new and existing clients in our commitment, as an investment group, to cementing lasting relationships with exciting, disruptive businesses that create products and platforms that address real world needs.”

To read the full article, click here.

 


Altair Medical

Altair Medical

Scottish digital tech firm Altair Medical has secured £2.25m in funding in a pre-series A funding round.

Altair will now use the funding to continue the development of its respiratory monitoring tech, which uses AI to detect and alert medical professionals to adverse events from a range of breathing problems.

The hope is for the wearable tech to prevent early deaths and improve patient outcomes, which is particularly relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Commenting on the funding round, Altair’s CEO, Dr Bruce Henderson, said: “From my work as a forensic medical examiner, I witnessed a large number of preventable deaths from patients with respiratory conditions.

“This inspired me to build up a team of specialists to develop the technology, which is now undergoing clinical trials in a range of respiratory conditions.

“We see huge potential for our device across a wide range of patients. We are delighted to have secured the backing of a syndicate of investors, which allows us to further prove the device and launch it in the UK, US and other countries in the near future.”

The firm’s original funding target has been significantly oversubscribed, with confidence in the potential of the technology further boosted with the awarding of the Breakthrough Medical Device designation from the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

Altair Medical’s investor syndicate was led by Alba Equity and includes Equity Gap, Intuitive Investment Group plc (IIG), London and Scottish Investment Partners and Scottish Enterprise.

John Duncan of Alba Equity commented: “We are delighted to support Altair with this investment, alongside a strong syndicate of investor groups.

“Altair are developing technology which is already demonstrating its potential to help save lives in ongoing clinical trials and this investment will allow the company to bring this to the market, offering significant benefits to a large number of patients.”

To read the full article, click here.


National Robotarium

telexistence technologies

Heriot-Watt University’s National Robotarium announced a funding package for the development of telexistence technologies.

Robotics software company Cyberselves will lead the project alongside the National Robotarium, to develop tools allowing robots to replace humans in hazardous underwater environments.

An £800,000 funding pot will be shared with 11 other projects in a programme managed by the UK Government’s Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA).

Telexistence tech finds ways to physically remove humans from dangerous situations such as nuclear decommissioning and bomb disposal by using a robot as a surrogate self.

The latest funding will allow for a human pilot to experience underwater depths through touch, motion, vibration and temperature feedback without risk.

Commenting on the funding news, Cyberselves’ co-founder and CTO, Daniel Camilleri said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for Cyberselves to draw together many exciting new technologies and help realise the true potential of telepresence and robotics for working alongside humans and keeping us safe by helping us to do the jobs that place us at risk.

“That we can do this with partners that are neighbours here in Scotland and the North of England is a testament to the strength of innovative, cutting-edge talent that’s here, right on our doorstep.”

Professor Yvan Petillot, from the National Robotarium, said: “As a world-leading facility that promotes removing humans from hazardous work environments, this collaboration will draw upon the world-class talent of the staff at Heriot-Watt University in marine robotics and computer vision.

“We will accelerate research from laboratory to market, paving the way for the UK to take a leadership role in telexistence technologies.

“Our academic team will integrate new solutions for underwater telepresence and manipulation on small to medium remotely-operated underwater vehicles for remote intervention.”

Emily Tithecott, DASA associate delivery manager, said: “This competition gives us a real buzz, we are seeing more government departments teaming together to fund innovations and this ensures many different sectors benefit from the adapted technologies.

“The funded projects will develop ideas in the latest remote operating, including: kinematic mapping, virtual reality, haptics, robotics, and telepresence.”

To read the full article, click here.


Snappy Shopper

The former head of Sainsbury’s has bought a stake in Dundee-based grocery shopping app Snappy Shopper.

The investment was made during the online shopping platform’s recent Series A fundraising, which raised £12 million for the company.

In addition, Justin King, who was CEO of Sainsbury’s from 2004 to 2014, will join the Snappy Group as a non-executive director in the role of senior adviser once the fundraising is completed.

While the exact amount King has invested in the company is unknown, it has been reported as being in the six figures. Depending on the company’s share performance, King will hold a 1-5% stake in the group. Based on the latest investment round, the company is valued at £50-60 million.

The company said that the latest investment will enable it to continue expanding its platforms.

“I have been hugely impressed by the Snappy Group’s affordable solution, leadership team and rapid growth,” King said.

“The company is championing the needs of businesses in their local community. Its proprietary technology provides local businesses with an affordable delivery solution that enables them to compete in this fast-changing market segment. This not only caters to the trend for top-up shopping but also an increasing desire by consumers to access and support local enterprises.

“This is an exciting and pivotal time for the business and I believe that I will be able to add significant value. I look forward to working with the management team as the business continues its expansion and grows its market share further within the thriving UK convenience market and beyond.”

To read the full article, click here.

 


Sofant Technologies

Edinburgh-based Sofant Technologies has gained £740,000 in an oversubscribed funding round led by EMV Capital.

5G and satellite antenna developer Sofant has built on last year’s £2.3m pre-series A round. Participation in the round included key existing investors, such as Kelvin Capital and the Scottish Investment Bank.

The company says it intends to use the money to expand its team as it accelerates its system integration with satellite network operators.

Since the 2020 investment round, Sofant has gained support from global manufacturers and development partners. Additionally, the firm has recently hired a CFO to support the scale-up of commercial activities within the business.

Commenting on the news, Sofant Technologies CEO David Wither said: “Our engineering team continues to make significant progress on the development of our core technology platform.

“We have also made great progress in the development of an ecosystem of corporate partners who will play key roles in the commercialization of Sofant’s disruptive, low power antenna technology.

“This top-up investment will help the company finalize several initiatives ahead of our upcoming series A funding round.”

Dr Ilian Iliev, Managing Director of EMV Capital also commented: “Since our initial investment, we have seen the Sofant team make rapid progress in this strategically vital technology for the UK’s telecoms sector.

“In the aftermath of Covid-19, supply chain consolidation and strategic reliability have become a key priority for Western governments. Sofant is well-positioned to provide this homegrown, reliable partner in building safe, reliable and fast connectivity systems.”

To read the full article, click here.


Exscientia

Exscientia, a spin-out from the University of Dundee, completed a $225 million Series D funding round in April.

Led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2i, the Series D funding round was also joined by previous investors in Exscientia, including Novo Holdings and funds managed by Blackrock.

The latest funding boost follows a successful Series C round last summer which saw the pharmatech company raise $100 million.

Eric Chen, Managing Partner of SoftBank Investment Advisers, commented: “We believe Exscientia’s innovative use of AI to discover and design better quality drugs with greater efficiency has the potential to create important medicines faster than ever before.

“With the convergence of technology and biology, drug discovery is rapidly evolving in ways that will reshape the industry. The Exscientia team have been leaders in AI-based drug discovery since the field’s inception and we believe they will continue shaping its future.”

Funding from the investment round will be used to expand Exscientia’s drug discovery platform and advance the company’s proprietary pipeline through clinical testing.

Other investors in the Series D include Mubadala Investment Company, Farallon Capital, Casdin Capital, GT Healthcare Capital, Marshall Wace, Pivotal bioVenture Partners, Laurion Capital, Hongkou and Bristol-Myers Squibb

SoftBank announced it will also provide an additional $300 million equity commitment that can be drawn at the firm’s discretion.

Andrew Hopkins, CEO of Exscientia said: “All of our investors share Exscientia’s vision to discover better drugs, faster, through AI and automation. Our patient-first AI platform has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to precision design drugs that address patients’ needs.

“With the Series D completed, the quality and depth of our shareholder base allows us the freedom to continue to scale both our platform and pipeline.

To read the full article, click here.


Deals and Partnerships

New College Lanarkshire and Microsoft

New College Lanarkshire (NCL) has teamed up with Microsoft to give students, businesses and local communities the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in the digital economy.

A Shared Goals Agreement between the two organisations – which was signed by NCL’s Principal Professor Christopher Moore and Microsoft’s Vice President, Anthony Salcito – will help equip students with cutting-edge IT skills such as artificial intelligence (AI), and give them direct access to Microsoft experts.

Microsoft and NCL will also work together to deliver free training in cloud computing to businesses across Scotland, and upskill people who have become unemployed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, potentially saving them hundreds of pounds.

The Shared Goals Agreement will give NCL access to even more resources that can be used more widely across the college, such as Microsoft AI Business School, a non-technical website that highlights the numerous uses and benefits of artificial intelligence. Students will be provided with additional cloud space, free practice exams and exam vouchers. NCL staff will benefit from direct access to and support from Microsoft’s education experts.

The two organisations also aim to assist businesses to recover post-Covid by training their staff in all the Azure Fundamentals courses, which teach basic cloud computing concepts that will help future-proof their business.

As part of the agreement, NCL is also planning to deliver training opportunities in cloud computing to unemployed people to increase their chances of securing jobs in the IT sector. Charlie Johnstone, NCL’s Curriculum and Quality Leader for Computing, Film & TV, has also been invited to participate in the pilot for the Microsoft Learn for Educators Ambassador programme, which gives him access to Microsoft experts and resources from across the world. At this stage there are only five ambassadors globally.

Charlie said: “The IT world is going through as fast an evolution as it ever has done. Instead of investing in hardware, organisations are now buying space in ‘the cloud’. There is massive demand for cloud computing skills, and I am proud to say that NCL is at the forefront of this in the UK when it comes to providing our students with these skills. This agreement with Microsoft will help us enhance our reputation even further.

He added: “Artificial intelligence and data analytics can bring huge benefits – for example, I’ve recently heard of someone with diabetes who used AI and data analytics to create his own diet and exercise based treatment. After just eight weeks, he was able to stop taking the medication he’d been on for 20 years. AI really opens up a world of exciting possibilities.”

Professor Christopher Moore, Principal of New College Lanarkshire added: “By 2025, it is expected that over 149 million new technology jobs will become available in areas such as software development, cloud, data, artificial intelligence and security. It is vital that we ensure our students have the talent and training to support these needs and fuel economic future growth.

“Through this agreement with Microsoft, we will make technology a core part of our curriculum, equipping our students with the advanced skills and industry-recognised certifications that will give them a competitive advantage as candidates for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Microsoft’s Vice President, Anthony Salcito, said: “Microsoft is proud to be collaborating with New College Lanarkshire to empower and educate students to thrive in the digital economy. Through our shared goals agreement, we are committed to working collaboratively to promote and share the advantages of digital skills within the community to help students learn and grow and develop their talents to support their future employment.


IGS and Madar Farms

A new vertical farming partnership is set to enter the UAE market as leading systems vendors IGS signs a partnership deal with AgTech R&D experts and growers Madar Farms.

Emirati company Madar Farms has already developed a range of premium quality indoor-grown crops to supply into the local UAE retail market and this deal will allow it to scale its operations.

The deal is the first to introduce the IGS indoor growing systems to the UAE and will help move forward Madar Farms’ vision to create sustainable food supply channels for a growing population while reducing demands on scarce water supplies. With five Growth Towers initially planned, each standing at six metres high, this offers a growing space of up to 1500m2 and the ability to produce up to 30 tonnes of crop per annum.

Madar Farms has selected the IGS plug-and-play vertical farming platform after rigorous competitive market assessment to significantly enhance the quality and quantity of produce it can supply to businesses and leading retailers across the region. Initially, commercially sold produce will include a range of premium leafy greens and herbs, which will be enhanced by other crop varieties in the near future.

IGS CEO, David Farquhar, commented: “In the UAE and wider GCC region, there has never been a more pressing need to identify and develop sustainable food supply chains, securing local resources and reducing the reliance on imports. We are delighted to announce this deal and to be working with Madar Farms, which is an organisation perfectly aligned with our ambition to bring innovative new technology and approaches to growing in the GCC region and beyond.”

“As the population in the UAE continues to grow and there’s more focus on sustainability, the new IGS system will help to meet this increasing demand and give UAE consumers more options to enjoy the best quality fresh locally-grown produce,” commented Abdulaziz AlMulla, Madar Farms Founder and CEO.

He added: “This is a very exciting time for both organisations and reinforces the need for precision-engineered vertical farming systems and the part they can play in feeding the expanding populations of the countries in the GCC.”


Criton, HotelREZ and Best Loved Hotels

Award-winning hospitality tech provider Criton has partnered with HotelREZ Hotels & Resorts, to include Best Loved Hotels, to facilitate the adoption of mobile technology in the hospitality sector, following a record year for contactless services demand.

The partnership with Criton will enable the thousands of HotelREZ and Best Loved member hotels to discover the benefits of a mobile-first approach and will facilitate the adoption of customisable hotel apps to offer contactless services, increase guest spending and reduce costs.

Julie Grieve, Founder and CEO of Criton said: “I am truly delighted to partner with HotelREZ, to include Best Loved Hotels, and I am looking forward to working more closely with their teams to simplify the digital transformation process that many hotels are going through.

“The pandemic has accelerated the process that had already started a few years ago and mobile technology now plays a vital role in supporting social distancing and giving guests access to services at the touch of a button. I am proud that our platform has been helping hoteliers increase profitability while enhancing the guest experience with features like food ordering and mobile check-in.”

Mark Lewis, CEO and owner of HotelREZ Hotels & Resorts, said:

“We are delighted to partner with Criton and their guest engagement and integrations platform. The pandemic has had a catalytic effect on the adoption of mobile technology in the hospitality sector, with contactless services supporting behavioural change in travel. We believe Criton will enable our members to rationalise their approach, adapt their traditional SOP’s, stay engaged and drive vital incremental income”.


The University of Edinburgh and FDB

The University of Edinburgh is partnering with FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies UK (FDB) on a five-year research project to develop cost-effective antibody-based medicines.

State-of-the-art analytical tools and engineering biology approaches will be used to enable cost-effective manufacturing of biological drugs. Biological drugs based on recombinant DNA technology, which brings together genetic material from different sources, have transformed the treatment of life-limiting diseases including cancer, haemophilia and rheumatoid arthritis.

Commenting on the partnership, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Tapping into the expertise of some our finest scientists and researchers, including at Teesside’s FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies and the University of Edinburgh, this state-of-the-art collaboration will seek to accelerate the development of biological drugs to help treat those with life-limiting diseases such as cancer.

“This is part of our efforts to put the funding and structures in place to ensure we build back better through innovation, drive local economic growth and cement the UK’s status as a science superpower.”

The University of Edinburgh has led a three-university partnership with FDB since 2018. That partnership and its successful application for Prosperity Partnership funding have been supported by Edinburgh Innovations, the university’s commercialisation service.

Susan Rosser, Professor of Synthetic Biology at the University of Edinburgh and Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies, who is leading the academic team in the collaboration, said: “The award of this grant unlocks the power of new technologies we have developed and applies them to this key industry challenge.

“The aim is to better understand and improve one of the key cell-based manufacturing platforms of biopharmaceuticals. Ultimately it will mean that treatments and vaccines used by many millions of people worldwide will be easier and cheaper to manufacture.”

Andy Topping, Chief Scientific Officer at FDB, said: “We are delighted with the partnership we have with the University of Edinburgh and it is aligned with our core purpose to advance tomorrow’s medicines.

“We are a supporter of great science in the United Kingdom. This is an exciting project that will allow us to understand, model and ultimately design CHO cells to be more efficient.”

Dr George Baxter, CEO of Edinburgh Innovations, added: “This major funding award shows the leading position of Edinburgh and our partners Manchester and York as successful collaborators with businesses and other organisations.

“Only by working together can academic researchers and commercial businesses both maximise the impact of their work, for mutual benefit and common goals.”

To read the full article, click here.


Microsoft and Nuance Communications

Microsoft announced plans in April to acquire AI speech software firm Nuance Communications in a deal worth around $16 billion.

The deal is expected to close later in 2021 and will see Nuance Chief Executive Mark Benjamin stay on at the firm.

Microsoft said the acquisition will build on an existing partnership with Nuance and further expand its reach into healthcare, with the tech giant having recently accelerated efforts to provide “industry-specific cloud offerings” to customers and partners.

“By augmenting the Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare with Nuance’s solutions, as well as the benefit of Nuance’s expertise and relationships with EHR systems providers, Microsoft will be better able to empower healthcare providers through the power of ambient clinical intelligence,” the firm said in a statement.

In a statement, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella commented: “Nuance provides the AI layer at the healthcare point of delivery and is a pioneer in the real-world application of enterprise AI.

“AI is technology’s most important priority, and healthcare is its most urgent application. Together, with our partner ecosystem, we will put advanced AI solutions into the hands of professionals everywhere to drive better decision-making and create more meaningful connections, as we accelerate growth of Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare and Nuance.”

Mark Benjamin, Chief Executive of Nuance, added: “Over the past three years, Nuance has streamlined its portfolio to focus on the healthcare and enterprise AI segments, where there has been accelerated demand for advanced conversational AI and ambient solutions.

“To seize this opportunity, we need the right platform to bring focus and global scale to our customers and partners.”

Once complete, the Nuance Communications deal will represent Microsoft’s second-largest acquisition behind its $26bn deal for LinkedIn five years ago.

The deal is also the second significant move by the company in the space of a year. In September 2020, Microsoft announced a $7.5bn deal for video game developer Zenimax studios and was rumoured to be priming for a charge at online chat platform, Discord.

To read the full article, click here.


pureLiFi

 

Edinburgh-based tech company pureLiFi will supply the US Army with its optical wireless communication system, Kitefin, under a $4.2 million deal.

The deal with the United States Army Europe and Africa is the world’s first large scale deployment of LiFi. The deployment consists of thousands of certified office and field-deployable LiFi units in real tactical and strategic environments.

US Army Europe and Africa Chief Technology Officer Andrew Foreman said: “Including optical wireless in the commander’s toolbox is imperative to the survival of communications, command and control systems and, more importantly, soldiers.

“Leadership within the Department of Defense are at a major transitional crossroads for communications and mission command systems and must make a critical decision.”

The deal comes on the back of pureLiFi’s recent £18 million series B investment to take LiFi mainstream. In 2019, pureLiFi launched gigabit components designed for integration into mobile phones and consumer electronics.

CEO of pureLiFi Alistair Banham said: “This largest real-world deployment of LiFi with the US Army Europe and Africa is a testament to the benefits that LiFi can offer and the technology’s usability.

“If one of the most significant and advanced defence organisations in the world can rely on LiFi for the most critical of communications, LiFi can offer unprecedented benefits to the consumer. LiFi, like so many technologies before it, is on a classic journey of adoption in Defense to wide-spread acceptance in the consumer market and eventually LiFi in everyone’s home

“Since offering our gigabit components to the market, we have developed some very innovative proof of concept integrations with some of the world’s largest consumer electronic and mobile phone brands. We are closer than ever to seeing consumers having LiFi in their homes and their pockets.”

To read the full article, click here.

David Paul

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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