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DIGIT Deal Roundup Column | January 2021

David Paul

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Deal Roundup

Despite it being the first month of the year, January still saw deals, partnerships and investment from Scottish firms, including TechForce, SoConnect and The Data Lab.

Deals and Partnerships

TechForce

Techforce

Northeast cybersecurity specialist TechForce has secured contracts worth up to £370,000 over recent months, building upon recent momentum and growth.

The announcement follows the Aberdeen-based company’s listing in the highly competitive G-Cloud 12 framework for the second consecutive year.

Through this framework, TechForce has agreed on a two-year deal, with the option of two additional 12-month extensions, to provide cybersecurity awareness training – via its premium partnership with KnowBe4 – to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Two similar agreements, both awarded on an initial one-year basis, will allow TechForce to protect critical data from rising online threats for other national organisations.

Managing director Jai Aenugu commented: “For TechForce to have been awarded a place in this prestigious framework for the second year in a row is a proud moment for me and the rest of the team. Being part of G-Cloud, alongside many established businesses that we looked up to when establishing a start-up in Aberdeen, has been a significant achievement for the business.

“Our first three contracts, awarded since first joining the initiative in 2019, have all come about during our current financial year – after several months of hard work. Especially this year, it has been extremely welcome to have some positive news to share and allows us to look to the future with some optimism.

“The business is continuing to progress and develop, while the opportunity to tender for, and win, important contracts like these allows the whole team to continue to test our abilities and keep improving what we do.

“Most importantly, we have been able to provide a solution that matches the customers’ requirements and I’m pleased that we have been able to deliver that service to a consistently high level to date. It gives our business a genuine confidence boost as we look to extend our services across the whole of the UK.”

To read the full article, click here.


The Data Lab and the BBC

The Data Lab

A new partnership between The Data Lab, the BBC and the University of Glasgow is set to explore how voice assistant technology can become a socially engaging conversational experience.

In June 2020, the BBC launched its first voice technology assistant, dubbed ‘Beeb’. The national broadcaster hopes the new collaboration will enable it to stay at the forefront of media innovation and enhance audience experience.

Made possible by The Data Lab, the partnership will see scientists from the University of Glasgow’s GRILL Lab share its research with the BBC on how to advance voice assistant technology.

Commenting on the partnership, Dr Dalton said: “I’m excited to be partnering with the BBC and The Data Lab on this ambitious project.

“The BBC is a leader and innovator in Voice and AI media and its archive of content is one of the world’s richest and most widely trusted.

“My team at the University’s GRILL Lab and I are excited to research the future of virtual assistants capable of engaging in social interactions that allow people to discover and engage with that diverse content in fundamentally new ways.”

Chris Dix, head of architecture at BBC, said: “We’ve recently unveiled a first version of our voice assistant, Beeb, and have been exploring the exciting space of conversational AI for three years.

“This new collaboration with The Data Lab and the University of Glasgow gives us an additional way to build our long-term-view of what’s possible in this space.”

Dix added: “We’re particularly interested to explore and help advance cutting-edge research relating to social and task-based conversation, helping us build a truly socially engaging conversational experience that ensures people get the most value from the BBC.”

Gillian Docherty, CEO of The Data Lab, said: “Conversational AI represents a fascinating and essential evolution for voice assistants. The implications for user experiences and accessibility are far-reaching and it’s fantastic to see Scotland at the forefront of artificial intelligence research once again.

“We’re delighted to be supporting the project and to have facilitated the academic partnership between the BBC and the University of Glasgow.”

To read the full article, click here.


SoConnect and IT Centric

SoConnect

Borders-based SoConnect acquired IT Centric last month, an IT and telecoms services business serving corporate clients in Edinburgh and across Central Scotland.

The acquisition will add around 80 SMEs to SoConnect’s customer base, which now totals over 500 across the UK. The combined group has a headcount of 38, supported by a nationwide network of over 200 engineers, and is forecast to report revenue of more than £5 million in its next financial year.

Commenting on the IT Centric acquisition, Campbell Fraser said: “The acquisition of ITC further increases the broad range of services SoConnect brings to our customers and enables customers to benefit from a seamless and integrated service for all their IT, internet and telecomms needs.

“This acquisition further strengthens our cloud, cybersecurity and hosted services, and we are now even better placed to support UK-wide SME’s remote workforces in the wake of Covid-19 and what will be the new ways of working.”

In December 2019, SoConnect secured a bolt-on deal with Netopa, one of Edinburgh’s leading IT managed service providers, and SoConnect Founder and CEO Campbell Fraser is not ruling out further growth by acquisition over the next twelve to eighteen months.

Fraser commented: “Having successfully integrated Netopa in 2020, we look forward to another smooth integration over the next few months and are excited to welcome Gordon, David and the team.

“As with the Netopa acquisition, we are in a position of real financial strength including with around 80 per cent of our contracted revenue being recurring and we have again self-funded the acquisition.”

Gordon Sayers, IT Centric’s Founder, added: “I look forward to helping to drive the combined value of the business alongside Campbell and the leadership team at SoConnect.

“In common with Campbell, we share the vision around providing great value market-leading IT managed services, internet and communication services with best of class customer support.”

To read the full article, click here.


Scottish Tech Army and GCU

Scottish Tech army

The Scottish Tech Army has announced a partnership with one of Scotland’s top universities to support the nation’s flourishing tech sector.

Working in partnership with Glasgow Caledonian University and with support from the Scottish Funding Council, the Scottish Tech Army is to provide 30 scholarships aimed at boosting career opportunities.

The funded Software Development Flexible Learning Opportunity is set to start on January 19th and is designed to build depth of knowledge in programming, network and cloud computing, software engineering, maths for computing and database development.

In all, the scholarships will cover the tuition fees of up to six modules in IT Software Development.

Once all modules are completed, students will be awarded a 120 credit Certificate of Higher Education in Computing from GCU, which is equivalent to completion of the first year of a BSc Software Development for Business programme at GCU.

Fiona Stewart-Knight, Assistant Vice Principal Business Partnerships at Glasgow Caledonian University said: “We are delighted to announce that GCU has developed a strategic partnership with Scottish Tech Army.

“We want to mobilise talent and bridge qualifications and skills gaps at a time when there is a more challenging employment landscape and a struggling economy that has been materially impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Stewart-Knight added: “This pioneering project will enable successful candidates to substantially advance their software development knowledge, practice and qualifications through online study with GCU at first-year degree level while also benefitting from industrial mentor support and tech challenge integration from the Scottish Tech Army.”

Alistair Forbes, Founding Director and CEO of the Scottish Tech Army, commented: “We believe that this initiative is an excellent example of the innovative partnership working that has been a really positive development as organisations across Scotland respond to the challenges that were caused by the pandemic.

“We have seen at first hand the challenges that many people in the tech sector in Scotland, particularly those in the early stages of their careers, have been facing as a result of the economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The gap between the world of education and training and the world of work has definitely widened and it is a core part of our mission to help bridge that gap. That is why we were delighted to have the opportunity to work with GCU on this programme and to promote it to the volunteers within the Scottish Tech Army and beyond.”

To read the full article, click here.


Sure-Net

Stuart Little launched Sure-Net in January, a Digital Transformation Consultancy business that will work with organisations to review and develop their digital strategy and ensure cloud and software technologies deliver transformation within their business.

As CEO and Senior Consultant at Sure-Net, Little is well placed to launch a start-up having previously been a founder at Provista UK Ltd which was launched in 2006 and was acquired by PCM in 2018.

PCM was then acquired by Insight in 2019 and, after successful integration of the Provista business, Little departed the firm in September 2020.

Commenting on Sure-Net, Little said: “Having a technical background and successfully built and managed my own business I know the challenges organisations are facing. When I was thinking of what to do next in my career, I wanted to use my own experience to help other organisations and give a personable service tailored to their needs.

“Although some may think it is a strange time to launch a business, I believe this is the perfect time as Sure-Net services are required now more than ever before.

“The last year has witnessed massive disruption and technology is vital in enabling business to survive by changing working practices, business process and deployment of new ways to successfully operate. While some organisations have adapted well there are still many businesses trailing and needing help.

“Sure-Net aim to work as a trusted advisor with clients to define their strategy, we can also introduce cloud and software solutions providers from our Eco-System of trusted partners. Many transformation projects go wrong with solutions not delivered in line with business process or technology not adopted due to lack of training. Sure-Net aim to stay involved with our clients to ensure the ongoing success of their strategy.

“I am really enjoying leading my own business again and looking forward to working directly with clients as we have exciting growth plans for Sure-Net”


Digital Sports Arena

Digital Sports Arena

Digital Sports Arena has secured a publishing contract with Playstack for its latest game, GameDayLive.

The title is the world’s first real-time, player versus player soccer management team game for mobile devices.

GameDayLive was developed by Digital Sports Arena (DSA) alongside Hyper Luminal Games, and is set to launch globally in 2021.

Digital Sports Arena boasts a BAFTA award-winning team of games industry executives who previously developed the Championship Manager mobile franchise for Square Enix.

Globally, the mobile games market was valued at $77 billion in 2020 and is set to grow rapidly to over $100 billion by 2023.

Sean Tracey, Chairman of Digital Sports Arena, said the deal is a “significant milestone” for the Dundee company.

“DSA is excited to have its first developed game signed up by the London-based international gaming publishers Playstack, specialists in mobile handheld games,” he commented.

“We look forward to working on this exciting collaboration in 2021 and the opportunity of bringing the game to the mobile gaming marketplace. Special thanks go to our development team and Hyper Luminal for helping to achieve this significant milestone,” Tracey added.

Harvey Elliott, Founder and CEO of Playstack said: “We are thrilled to be working with Digital Sports Arena and their innovative new football management game – GameDayLive.

“Playstack is constantly on the lookout for new games that can cut through in the busy app stores and truly engage players, and we are confident that GameDayLive has all of the right ingredients for success.”

Kevin Grainger of Eos Advisory, one of Digital Sports Arena’s investors, said the publishing deal marks an exciting new stage in the DSA’s journey.

“DSA was the first investment Eos made as a new angel syndicate back in 2015. Whilst our investment focus has now evolved into early stage ‘deep science’, Eos had belief in DSA and their vision for a new type of casual football management game from the start,” he said.

“As seed investors, we have supported DSA over the past few years and are delighted that they have signed this publishing deal with Playstack.”

To read the full article, click here.


iOpt and BT

iOpt

Glasgow tech startup iOpt announced in January that it would be working with telecommunications major BT to help customers reach ‘net zero’ climate targets.

iOpt will use its Internet of Things (IoT) platform to enable smart buildings, with a focus on improving the quality of social housing for local councils.

iOpt’s solution can assist councils with social regeneration and deliver improved health and wellbeing outcomes for tenants. iOpt’s preventative approach allows for energy efficiency improvements, meaning less risk of fuel poverty for tenants.

Further benefits for councils include lower preventative maintenance costs and cutting down unnecessary travel to fix issues, reducing carbon emissions.

BT will provide the network connectivity and manage the installation of the IoT sensors, while supporting iOpt in growing their customer base. It will also help iOpt accelerate their growth by offering their products to local councils across the UK who are looking to adopt environmental monitoring and smart building solutions.

Working with Silicon Valley-based company Plug and Play, iOpt is one of two startups BT has selected to develop ideas via its Green Tech Innovation Platform, announced last year. The other company selected is Everimpact, a Paris-based startup specialising in climate monitoring.

iOpt Managing Director Dane Ralston said: “At iOpt we are delighted to be working alongside BT on their Green Technology Innovation Platform. We always look to work with value-add partners and BT is clearly one of the leaders in connectivity infrastructure which is critical to delivering the potential value we envisage in smart cities and local authorities.

“Since our introduction, through Plug and Play, it’s clear we have many shared values and despite the obvious size difference in the two organisations there are many synergies and benefits to both parties.”

The successful scaleups – the first in a series of green innovation partnerships which will be fostered by BT – were unveiled at the company’s ‘Towards Net Zero’ virtual showcase.

As part of the transition to a low carbon business model, BT recently announced that its network, offices, and shops worldwide were now powered by 100% renewable electricity, underpinning its commitment to become a net zero carbon emissions business by 2045.

Director of BT’s Enterprise business in Scotland Alan Lees said: “As the world looks to recover from the current health and economic crisis caused by Covid-19, we have an opportunity to accelerate the transition to a greener society, working in partnership with government, business and society as they look at how they need to adapt and change their business models in the evolving digital world.

“We also appreciate that BT can’t do this alone, with our track record in helping to incubate innovative start-ups/scale ups, such as iOpt, we look forward to bringing the best of our innovative ecosystem to support local councils on their journey towards Net Zero.”

Over the next few months, the scale-ups will be working with BT to run proof of concepts with local councils and other organisations. BT’s ambition is to further expand this approach to green innovation by working with more start-up/scale ups and across more customers and business segments, for example BT is already exploring opportunities for collaboration within health sector.

To read the full article, click here.


Google and Fitbit

fitbit

Tech giant Google has completed its $2.1 billion acquisition of fitness firm Fitbit after the initial purchase of the firm in November 2019.

Google says the deal now puts them in line with rivals after falling behind in the smartwatch market.

In dual statements, the companies confirmed the deal, with hardware SVP Rick Osterloh saying in a post on a Google blog that the company had “entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Fitbit,” and that the deal was chance to “introduce Made by Google wearable devices into the market”.

Following a recent four-month investigation by the European Commission, Google agreed that it would not use health and location data from Fitbit devices for advertising.

In a statement online, Fitbit co-founder James Park said that the trust of Fitbit users would “continue to be paramount,” and that the firm would “maintain strong data privacy and security protections, giving you control of your data and staying transparent about what we collect and why”.

Park continued: “Google will continue to protect Fitbit users’ privacy and has made a series of binding commitments with global regulators, confirming that Fitbit users’ health and wellness data won’t be used for Google ads and this data will be kept separate from other Google ad data.”

To read the full article, click here.


Smarter Grid Solutions and QUEST Project

SGS

Smarter Grid Solutions (SGS) will help free up network capacity for more than 2 GW of clean energy assets in the UK as part of the QUEST project.

SGS will work as the Active Network Management partner on the project and provide its Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS) software. This will help create a fully coordinated, overarching system to manage voltages and balance centralised and decentralised energy control systems.

SGS Executive Director Graham Ault said: “This is the start of an important relationship that will see us work with key partners to deliver this groundbreaking integrated control system to optimise and coordinate network and low carbon technology operations.

“There are a number of core features of this project that are crucial for the development of an efficient, clean and secure electricity system, from interoperability between customer equipment, all the way to the UK’s system operation and coordination across several different sources of network and customer flexibility.

“For this project, we are providing the digital solutions essential to enable the large scale adoption of clean energy in the UK, and globally, in the coming decade.”

The project received £8 million through the Network Innovation Competition (NIC). Once complete, it is hoped QUEST will help save the country over £250 million.

The company will work with Electricity North West, National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) and Schneider Electric to deliver the project.

Head of Network Innovation at Electricity North West Dan Randles said: “The QUEST project is important for us as it further develops distribution network voltage control in new and innovative ways.

“It has the potential to support the management of increasingly complex distribution networks as we move further to whole system solutions and as our daily lives and energy consumption habits change.

Andrew Wainwright from National Grid ESO added: “Developing a voltage management and fully coordinated control system which can be scaled and replicated marks a significant step for the industry in achieving net zero carbon emissions targets.

It is important that we continue to innovate and create new solutions to future-proof the electricity system. QUEST will further the ability of the whole electricity system to quickly and efficiently deploy low carbon technologies at the scale required to solve climate challenges.”

To read the full article, click here.


Funding and Investment

RAB-Microfluidics

RAB-Microfluidics

A Scottish R&D company developing cutting-edge microfluidic technology that solves oil analysis problems has secured a £1.24-million investment round led by Eos Advisory.

Aberdeen-based RAB-Microfluidics said the investment round, which also includes funding from Newable Ventures, Scottish Enterprise and existing investors, will enable it to expand its team and embark on a new phase of growth.

Commenting on the investment, RAB-Microfluidics CEO and Founder Dr Rotimi Alabi said: “RAB Microfluidics has identified that businesses who own and operate lubricated heavy machinery have a significant challenge around how the conditions which ensure the reliability of such machines are monitored.

“We are revolutionising oil testing and analysis services by making conventional laboratory procedures mobile, rapid and routine. We do this by delivering oil analysis more than one thousand times faster and around ten times cheaper than the current approach that is based on sending oil samples to laboratories.”

Eos Advisory’s Managing Partner, Andrew McNeill, said: “RAB-Microfluidics is one of the most exciting early stage Scottish technology companies in the energy sector and we’re pleased to have brought together such a strong set of investors to support Rotimi and his team through their next phase of growth.”

Jan Robertson, Interim Director, Scottish Enterprise, added: “RAB-Microfluidics is a significant early-stage technology company with high growth potential that has much to offer a wide range of industries globally.

“We’ve been working closely with the company in recent years to help it fully commercialise its cutting-edge microfluidic technology. We are pleased to be able to continue our support by participating in this latest funding round and look forward to seeing the company go from strength to strength.”

To read the full article, click here.


Royal Bank of Scotland

Royal Bank of Scotland

Royal Bank of Scotland has announced it will invest an additional £100 million in funding to support female Scottish entrepreneurs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Funding for female entrepreneurs will be made available over the next four years, the bank confirmed, and will help businesses across the country to scale and grow.

This latest announcement follows an earlier pledge to support female entrepreneurship. In January 2020, RBS announced a £1 billion programme in response to findings in the Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship – the “Rose Review”.

Since its launch in January 2020, the funding programme experienced enormous demand. In response, an additional £1 billion of debt funding has been made available, with £100 million of funding targeted specifically at Scottish companies.

The Rose Review highlighted a concerning lack of support for female entrepreneurs across the UK. According to the Review, the single biggest issue holding back many female entrepreneurs was access to funding.

Traditionally, women are less likely to take on debt than male-led businesses, which can have an adverse impact on their ability to scale and grow.

Commenting on the funding package, RBS Chief Executive Alison Rose said: “All of us, from ministers to employers, have a duty to ensure that further pain isn’t felt disproportionately by women and that anyone who retains an ambition to start or grow a business is helped with targeted and innovative assistance.

“We’re determined to play our part and I’m pleased to confirm that we are now able to launch a second tranche of funding to continue and extend our support to female entrepreneurs and business owners.”

Rose continued: “As we build a purpose-led bank that champions the potential of people, families and businesses up and down the country, we are committed to supporting the UK’s recovery from the crisis.

“However, if women find themselves at even more of a professional disadvantage on the other side of this crisis, then we’ll be attempting to build an economic recovery whilst ignoring a huge area of potential.”

Small Business Minister and Co-Chair of the Rose Review Board, Paul Scully, added: “It is fantastic to see a large company like NatWest doubling its support for female-led businesses to £2bn, giving a lifeline to thousands of companies as we build back better from coronavirus.”

To read the full article, click here


Manus Neurodynamica

Manus

Edinburgh MedTech company Manus Neurodynamica has closed a £1.2 million funding round to support the launch of its digital pen which provides an early warning of Parkinson’s disease.

Following the investment, Manus revealed it will commence the roll-out of its NeuroMotor Pen later this year. Initially, the firm said it will focus on the UK and Benelux markets while also progressing work to secure regulatory approval to start selling in US.

Investors in the round included the North East Innovation Fund, supported by the European Regional Development Fund and managed by Northstar Ventures, SIS Ventures and Old College Capital, the University of Edinburgh’s venture fund.

To date, the company has secured £5 million in funding, including a £750,000 financing round in May last year.

Commenting on the funding round, Zietsma said: “2021 looks set to be an extremely busy year for Manus.

“Having spent more than 10 years developing, trialling and refining our first product, we can finally look forward to seeing our NeuroMotor Pens implemented more broadly and making a real difference to the lives of people living with Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions”

Rob Halliday, Fund Manager at SIS Ventures added: “Manus is one of Scotland’s most promising early-stage medtech companies, with the potential to make a huge impact.

“With its disruptive technology, mission-led approach, and ambitious management team, Manus is exactly the kind of business we look to invest in at SIS Ventures.”

Rick Charnley, Investment Manager, Northstar Ventures commented: “Having originally been involved with the company via a previous investment used to develop the initial prototype, we’ve been impressed with the team’s enhanced mission and are delighted to support the Company further.”

To read the full article, click here.


Prewired and Creative Informatics

Prewired

Youth programming club Prewired has secured funding from Creative Informatics to help the long-running Edinburgh group move online.

Before the pandemic, Prewired sessions took place at CodeBase in Edinburgh. The funding will help the social enterprise embark on online learning for young people across Edinburgh, with plans to expand nationwide in Scotland in due course.

The Creative Informatics funding is also being used to adapt the Prewired Summer Hack, previously offered as a week-long team-based event for young people of secondary school age, to an online format held over several months.

Prewired co-founder Freda O’Byrne commented: “We’re thankful for the support from Creative Informatics to help us through a challenging phase, enabling our team to continue to work with our amazing community of young people, mentors and partners.

“Prewired has always been about encouraging our participants to engage with programming and providing an environment in which they can safely engage with like-minded peers, while having access to mentoring from academic and industry circles.

“While we look forward to gathering again in a physical space, the online format will allow us to take Prewired further and wider.”

Resident Entrepreneur at Prewired Regina Vereker said: “We are excited to be using the funding to develop online resources for young people to learn coding, design and other digital skills, while building a digital community so that they can engage with each other and share knowledge.

“One aspect we are particularly looking forward to is the ‘Long Thin Summer Hack’, which will be a three-month long activity where teams design and develop their own digital projects. It’s a great experience for the young people that take part, giving them an early taste of what both a further education and a career in digital technology can look like.

“The Summer Hack has always been a fun and engaging part of Prewired’s activities, so to be able to hold it again in a new format during these challenging times is fantastic.

“We’re keen for people to visit the Prewired site and sign up to be kept up to date with more information.”

Ewan Klein, Professor Emeritus of Language Technology at University of Edinburgh and Prewired co-founder, said: “In the days before Covid-19, our weekly sessions not just provided a great environment for young people working together, but also acted as a demo for visitors from schools, the third sector and tech companies.

“They could see in real life how we do things, exchange ideas and ways of learning and understand our goals and ethos of self-directed learning.

“While an online version of Prewired won’t provide the same easy interactions, we are hoping that it will allow us to connect to a wider and more diverse community of young people across the city, and also to collaborate with other fantastic youth organisations to create new opportunities for digital-based team projects.”

To read the full article, click here.


The Mobility as a Service Investment Fund

Maas

One million pounds in funding has been made available to stimulate innovation in public transport tech solutions.

The Mobility as a Service (MaaS) Investment Fund, which aims to support Scotland’s green recovery and make public transport more efficient and easier to use, has launched its second funding round this week.

The funding by the Scottish Government aims to foster creativity in the sector and grow the evidence base for the global MaaS concept, helping to deliver solutions which are tailored for communities across Scotland.

Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson said: “The Scottish Government sees great potential in the future of MaaS solutions and an opportunity for Scotland to be at the forefront of developments.

“That’s why we committed through our Programme for Government in 2018 to establish the Mobility as a Service Investment Fund.”

Matheson added: “Much has changed since 2018, but as we think about the urgent need for a green recovery while we build back from the Covid-19 pandemic, the potential of MaaS solutions in Scottish transport is perhaps more important than ever before.”

Matheson said MaaS applications can “directly support” the Scottish Government’s vision for more sustainable transport across the country. Similarly, improvements to efficiency and the streamlining of public transport could play a key role in helping the nation tackle climate change.

Dr Alastair McInroy, CEO of Technology Scotland, said the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for innovation in public transport.

He said: “These solutions will play a crucial role in re-building passenger confidence in our shared transport assets, something that is absolutely essential if we are to meet our aims of a more sustainable transport network over the coming years.

“With this in mind we are delighted to see the continuation of the Scottish Government’s MaaS Investment Fund programme through the launch of Round 2 today.

“We have been hugely encouraged by the level of interest already shown by potential project leads and we are excited to see how Round 2 projects will augment and compliment those supported through Round 1.”

To read the full article, click here.

David Paul

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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