Mercia EIS Funds

Engineers who solved telecoms security challenge raise £1m

A Sheffield company which has developed a new encryption solution for telecoms and data networks has raised over £1m from NPIF – Mercia Equity Finance, which is managed by Mercia and part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund (NPIF), Mercia’s EIS funds and private investors.

Sitehop’s system solves a major challenge for telecoms companies, cloud and internet service providers – how to add encryption to their network to ensure it is secure but without affecting quality or causing it to slow down.

Sitehop’s Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) board can be added to an existing network with minimal time and cost. As encryption takes place on the board rather than on the server, it enables the network to maintain superior performance while using just a tenth of the energy of current systems. It also protects against cyber attacks as hackers would need to access the board to breach the system.

In addition to telecoms and cloud providers, Sitehop’s solution can be used by big companies to create secure private networks at a fraction of the cost by removing the need for physical interconnections. It could be used to safeguard IoT systems such as ‘smart’ factories and connected devices such as drones and self-driving cars.

Sitehop was founded in 2021 by two engineers. Melissa Chambers was co-founder of Prism Microwave which provided products for wireless infrastructure and was sold to Tongyu Communications in 2016, while Ben Harper has worked on cyber systems for companies including BAe Systems and Sheffield-based Curvalux.

The company is in talks with a number of international network providers and is set to begin a trial in Brazil before launching the system in spring. The funding will enable it to invest in equipment to support the trial and expand its six-strong team with the creation of 20 new jobs by the end of 2023.

Melissa Chambers, CEO, said: “With the surge in demand for video calls and cloud computing, network operators are under pressure to roll out high-speed services rapidly and security is often the last consideration. Because of the impact on performance, many services are being launched without encryption which puts users’ data at risk.

“Our hardware-based solution has none of the disadvantages of current systems and makes the addition of security a ‘no brainer’. The funding will help us to take the final step and bring it to market.”

Dan Thomas of Mercia added: “Almost every aspect of our lives now relies on the internet but the connected world brings with it new risks. Until now there has been no way to provide the necessary security without slowing down response times and affecting quality. Ben and Melissa have found a novel way to address a problem that even the big tech companies have so far failed to solve. We are pleased to be able to support them on the next stage of their journey.”

Sean Hutchinson, at British Business Bank, said: “Sitehop is an innovative Yorkshire company that has developed world class scalable solutions for businesses that need encryption to operate safely. Cybersecurity is one of the biggest emerging markets and Northern companies, like Sitehop, are leading the way when it comes to offering first-class protection. Not only are Melissa and Mike helping create a stronger north, they are also stamping Yorkshire’s mark on the international scene as well.”

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.