A Middlesbrough start-up which could revolutionise the way companies price their products has raised £650,000 from NPIF – Mercia Equity Finance, which is managed by Mercia and is part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, and private investors.

Bubo.AI’s platform uses artificial intelligence (AI)  to analyse customers’ behaviour to understand what they are willing to pay, then recommends the optimum price to sales staff. The company also supports sales staff to avoid them giving unnecessary discounts.

The platform, which is designed for wholesalers and distributors such as builders’ merchants and food services, allows them to base their prices on customer value rather than cost or other methods, yielding on average a 3 per cent increase in profit.

Bubo.AI has been co-founded by serial entrepreneur Alan Timothy and Polish data analyst Marcin Lisowski who had previously worked together to create a pricing system for a global autoparts supplier.  After failing to find a solution on the market that satisfied their need, they decided to build one themselves. As a result, the company increased profits by almost £2m in just six months.

The two men joined forces with leading AI expert Professor Huseyin Seker of Staffordshire University, and ex-Microsoft marketing veteran David Shell to develop their ideas and create an off-the-shelf solution. Bubo.AI, which was launched in 2019, is now used by clients including Tarmac, while the company has partnered with Teesside University and other institutions to promote the use of AI in pricing. The funding will allow the firm to scale its operations rapidly across Europe and North America.

Alan Timothy, who is CEO of Bubo.AI and who is also founder of software firm i-snapshot, says: “Pricing has previously appeared like a dark art, and traditional approaches are problematic and not very effective. Trying to price match with competitors can lead to price erosion, especially in a downturn, while sales staff often resort to discounting to meet targets.

“Now for the first time our solution means companies can use customer value-based pricing, which could be key for them to recover revenue and build a roadmap to profitability in the post-Covid world.”

Simon Crabtree, Investment Manager at Mercia added: “Research shows that smart pricing is the most effective way to increase profits. However getting it right is difficult, especially for big distributors or wholesalers with many different products and branches. Bubo.AI could help companies to revolutionise their approach to pricing and transform their profitability.”

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “Bubo.AI is a great example of an amazing digital company that’s gone from strength to strength right here in Middlesbrough and just goes to show just how much digital talent Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool has to offer. Our tech and digital firms are helping our businesses, and those across the country, with the problems they face with practical, innovative systems that allow them to get more business done. This will be even more important as we begin to focus on economic recovery following the coronavirus pandemic.

“I wholeheartedly support our innovators, job creators and entrepreneurs, and thanks to the money invested via NPIF, Bubo.AI can continue its successful growth across the globe.”

Sean Hutchinson, Senior Investment Manager at the British Business Bank said: “It’s great to see high-growth companies like Bubo.AI in Teesside using NPIF funding to accelerate their growth globally. As a new software platform, Bubo.AI has the potential to boost regional and economic prosperity which is exactly what NPIF set out to do.”

The Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.



SockMonkey Studios, a Middlesbrough-based games developer, has secured £250,000 from NPIF – Mercia Equity Finance, which is managed by Mercia and part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, to launch its first original game.

SockMonkey is set to bring Fish Tanks to market this summer. It will be available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC and mobile phone platforms.

SockMonkey was founded in 2013 by Darren Cuthbert and Bob Makin. They were later joined by Darren Falcus, who co-founded Optimus Software – one of the first video game studios on Teesside which was later sold to US publishing giant Acclaim Entertainment.

SockMonkey has seen rapid growth in recent years and increased headcount by 50 per cent in 2019. Its recent projects include adapting the popular PC game Deliver Us The Moon for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, as well as developing the Nintendo Switch version of Prison Architect.

The award-winning studio, which currently employs 18 staff, plans to create a dozen new jobs by the end of this year, and almost triple its staff numbers to 50 by 2021 to support growing demand.

As well as the investment, SockMonkey will also receive practical support from Mercia’s games expert Ron Ashtiani, the former CEO and now Chair of Sumo Group’s Atomhawk business.

Bob Makin, CEO, said: “Having created many hits for other games companies, we are excited to now be launching our first original title later this year, and have additional games already at the prototype stage. With the next generation of video games consoles due to be released by the end of 2020, there’s no better time to create the region’s first ‘superstudio’, putting SockMonkey – and the wider Tees Valley games development community – on the map. This funding, along with Mercia’s knowledge of the games industry, will help us to do that.”

Simon Crabtree of Mercia said: “SockMonkey is a successful studio with a talented and ambitious team. Developing its own games will allow it to benefit from ongoing royalities and add value to the business. With the gaming sector continuing to grow rapidly, it bodes well for the future of the company and the Teesside games industry.”

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “SockMonkey has played a key part in Middlesbrough’s vibrant digital and creative sector for years, and the latest welcome news of the launch of their first original game is set to drive its growth even further.

“Thanks to money invested via NPIF, SockMonkey is going from strength to strength. As well as creating real jobs for local people, it’s another example of businesses in Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool going global with their products, showing our expertise on the world stage.”

Sean Hutchinson, Senior Investment Manager at the British Business Bank, said: “It’s fantastic to see a northern business establishing itself within the thriving gaming sector with its first original title. The NPIF investment will help SockMonkey realise its growth ambitions and create new, highly-skills jobs in the Teeside region. We are proud to work with Mercia and our other fund managers – particularly during this time – to encourage growing businesses to prosper.”

The Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.

Mercia‘s Head of Sales and Private Investor Relations, Dr. Paul Mattick joins Business Development Manager Russell Fryer, who present all aspects of the client journey when you choose to recommend Mercia’s EIS Fund, covering your clients’ journey.

Topics for discussion were:

  • Digital signing a pre-populated application form
  • Our Investor Centre provides all our reporting, including valuations
  • Investor Centre hosts all digital tax certificates
  • Clear communications, routed through the adviser wherever possibleThey also described the process for advisers, including:
  • Independent reviews
  • Adviser fees and net investment calculations
  • Our policy of adviser first communications
  • Access to our Investor Centre reporting for each of your clients

The latest reviews for Allebridge and Martin Churchill’s Tax Efficient Review have been published for Mercia‘s EIS Funds.

 Score 86/100 | Quote from Allenbridge EIS Review December 2019

The Manager distinguishes itself from others in several ways: a UK-wide geographic presence, primarily focused on the Midlands, Northern England, and Scotland; a “Complete Capital Solution”, whereby investments made by the Manager can potentially benefit from the PLC providing later-stage follow-on funding; and an online “Investor Centre” portal which provides individuals with a useful range of downloadable fund-related information and documentation”.

CTA Investment review

Score 87/100 | Quote from Tax Efficient Review issue 395 May 2020 

“Over the years, Mercia has developed a number of government-backed regional funds such as the Rising Stars Growth Fund and the Coalfields

Growth fund, which, when taken together, give Mercia a large regional presence. They also give Mercia a large amount of additional deal flow and co-investment opportunities as well. The real change for Mercia, however, was the acquisition of the Northern VCTs in late 2019. This has given Mercia a seat at the largest VCT managers table, and allows for a demonstrable route of
follow-on funding from successful companies arising out of the Mercia EIS Fund and their regional early-stage funds”.

CTA Investment review

Mercia EIS Funds:

•Mercia group has c.£300m and over £5m EIS to invest
•Diverse portfolios reduce single company risk
•Already focused on sectors which are doing well
•Valuations are becoming keener, especially in the regions
•We continue to invest in portfolio companies and some new deals
•Failures are expected within our strategy, and so are big returns
•Investing well at the bottom of the cycle can increase returns
•Fully digital EIS application process.

Find out more about Mercia EIS Funds and the investment team

Join Mercia Fund Principal Ian Wilson as he chats to the experienced business leader, Diane Cheesebrough.

Both Ian and Diane will be discussing what you should be thinking about as a business owner ahead of the UK exiting lockdown, including more about the various Government schemes; those that you may have you accessed and what this means in terms of repayment and the ability to access other loan schemes or debt funds, the role of debt in your business moving forward and how equity could play a role, and what the real scenario is likely to be on exit.

The pair will also focus their attention on other matters including how to bring your staff back from furlough, how the changes in the market might impact your future funding requirements, as well as looking at what might have changed in your sector and the economy as a whole.

A biotech business has raised £1.2m for a new hand-held device that allows paramedics and emergency doctors to diagnose patients who are having a stroke.

Sarissa Biomedical has secured funds from a consortium of investors including the MEIF Proof of Concept & Early Stage Fund, which is managed by Mercia and part of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund, Mercia’s EIS funds, and private investors including Wren Capital and the Wood Family

Sarissa’s new system will be the first of its type for stroke patients and could help improve the prognosis for victims by allowing doctors to diagnose and treat them more quickly. The SMARTChip device can be used on location or at the patient’s bedside and gives results in around five minutes. It contains a disposable biosensor chip which analyses a fingerprick sample of blood and measures the level of purines – chemicals released into the bloodstream within minutes of a stroke.

The funds will allow Coventry-based Sarissa to carry out a clinical study with the NHS and Newcastle University Stroke Research Group, and invest in product manufacture. Established in 2002 as a spin-out from Warwick University, Sarissa produces biosensors for the medical and academic research market.

Stroke is the fourth most common cause of death in the UK and a major cause of adult disability, with stroke care accounting for around five per cent of the entire NHS budget. While effective treatments are available, they need to be used promptly after an attack but currently there is no fast and reliable way to tell if a patient has had a stroke. Patients are assessed on their symptoms and then sent for a CT or MRI scan to confirm the diagnosis. The SMARTChip system also has potential for use in diagnosing other conditions such as heart attacks, peripheral artery disease and foetal hypoxia or ‘blue baby syndrome’.

Dr John Clarkson, CEO of Sarissa, said: ‘This investment is a strong signal of support from Mercia and our other investors and will enable us to begin the clinical evaluation process. We are pleased to say that, despite the current lockdown, we are able to press on with the clinical trials as planned with the aim of bringing this important new test to market as soon as possible.”

Dr Jo Slota-Newson of Mercia said: “This new tool from Sarissa represents a major step forward in reducing the huge toll of disability caused by stroke and relieving the burden on the NHS. Ultimately it could help millions more people by providing a fast and reliable way to diagnose other conditions such as heart attack, enabling patients to benefit from more prompt and effective treatment.”

Ken Cooper, Managing Director at the British Business Bank, said: “The MEIF is still very much open for investment and is committed to driving Midlands’ innovation. This funding into Sarissa is a good example of that. The MEIF investment should allow the company to enter a new growth phase as it progresses clinical studies and invests in its manufacturing capabilities.”

Sean Farnell, board director at the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Coventry and Warwickshire has an excellent reputation for innovation and Sarissa is a perfect example of this. The next stage of its growth has the potential to change lives and this investment will enable Sarissa to take its business to the next level and really make a difference to stroke patients.”

The Midlands Engine Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.

As the country takes steps to move out of lockdown, many employers are getting a better feel of the longer term effects of Covid-19 and what the resulting recession will mean for their business and employees.

In this webinar, our legal experts Paul Chamberlain of JMW Solicitors and Sarah Thawley, Mercia’s Head of Legal, discuss some of  the changes and what they mean in practice for businesses.

Join them as they discuss the extension of the furlough scheme and issues encountered by employers to date in making use of the furlough scheme, redundancies, the circumstances in which you can and should consider redundancies and how to run a redundancy process well.

Mercia Asset Management PLC is pleased to announce that the British Business Bank (“BBB”) has accredited the Group to deliver its Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund (“NPIF”) debt mandate under the new Coronavirus Business Interruption  Loan Scheme (“CBILS”).

CBILS provides financial support, via its accredited lenders, to smaller businesses (“SMEs”) across the UK that are losing revenue and seeing their cash flow disrupted as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. BBB’s accreditation will enable Mercia to increase its lending, initially across its existing portfolio, and ultimately to all eligible regional SMEs.

Dr Mark Payton, CEO of Mercia Asset Management, said: “Through our managed funds we have been lending to ambitious small businesses in the UK regions for over 20 years. With a portfolio of over 400 companies across our venture, private equity and debt funds, we have considerable experience of supporting businesses through previous economic cycles and are familiar with the cash flow demands that arise during times of economic stress. We are therefore pleased to be able to play our part, in conjunction with NPIF and BBB, as we continue to deploy capital during the COVID-19 outbreak, to those regional SMEs that need it most.”

About Mercia, BBB and CBILS

Mercia now manages £187.7million on behalf of the BBB, having recently been allocated an additional £54.3million to its existing NPIF equity and debt investment mandates. The Group’s relationship with BBB started in 2016 when Mercia was awarded both NPIF debt and equity mandates, having successfully managed previous JEREMIE Funds launched in 2010.

Mercia is lending through NPIF and can provide term loans from £100,000 up to £750,000 to SMEs, with a focus on Yorkshire and the Humber regions. Find out more here.


Join Dr Paul Mattick, Head of sales and investor relations at Mercia, and Chris Kilroy of the Mercia EIS investment team, who answer questions surrounding the impact of COVID-19 on Mercia’s EIS Funds, how its impacted the valuation and how Mercia are supporting their portfolio companies in the next period.

A Newcastle tech company whose software allows businesses to create their own mobile apps has raised £1.2m to further develop its product and expand its team.

Nutshell Software has secured investment from two funds managed by Mercia – the Northern Venture Capital Trust (VCT) Funds and the North East Venture Fund (NEVF), which is supported by the European Regional Development Fund.

Nutshell’s software offers a simple way for businesses to create their own fully functional mobile apps in minutes – with no coding necessary. Launched in 2017, it is already being used by many public and private sector organisations including Network Rail, Siemens, Northumbria Police and the NHS. The company, which currently employs 12 staff, expects to create around 40 new jobs in the next three years.

Nutshell was launched by serial entrepreneur Martyn Cuthbert, a former civil engineer who recognised the potential of new technology while working in the rail sector. His launched his first IT business OnTrac in 2007 and sold it to Tracsis plc in 2016.

Martyn hopes that Nutshell will make mobile apps accessible to organisations of all sizes.

He says: “With 3.5 billion smartphones worldwide, mobile apps are an effective way for public and private sector businesses to roll out their services to a wide audience. Nutshell makes mobile app development easy and will help businesses large and small to drive innovation and growth.”

Aaron Lawson-Clark and Jan Oosthuizen from the Mercia team led the deal. Aaron said: “Nutshell stood out with both a market-leading product and a management team with experience in building a successful software company.  Mercia is pleased to be backing another fantastic business in the North East of England.”

Square One Law provided legal advice to Mercia on the deal. NEVF can invest up to £1.0million in any one round for firms in Northumberland, Durham and Tyne & Wear, particularly those which are engaged in innovation or developing disruptive business models.
Funding is available to all companies with high growth potential and also pre-start enterprises.

The Northern VCTs, which provide series A venture investment of up to £5million for high growth SMEs, are amongst the longest-established funds of their type in the UK.