Mercia Technologies PLC is pleased to announce that its direct investment, VirtTrade, has secured a partnership with Formula 1 to join its growing roster of digital initiatives, aimed at providing innovative new methods for fan engagement in the sport.

VirtTrade is a developer and publisher of digital trading cards and works with licensors to create high quality engagement apps for fans. The VirtTrade platform allows fans around the world to pursue their passions by collecting digital cards, making trades and competing in games.

This new Formula 1 partnership follows the recent agreement of a three-year collaboration with Valiant Comics to develop an extensive digital collectibles app, based on the company’s characters and titles.

VirtTrade has been selected to feature in Tech City UK’s Upscale 2018 programme, a cohort of the UK’s fastest growing technology companies. Duncan Best, the former chief marketing officer of Dovetail Games, has also recently joined VirtTrade as Publishing Director.

Paul Mayze, Managing Director of VirtTrade, said: “We are thrilled to be working with Formula 1 and the opportunity that the brand presents for a digital collecting experience. We look forward to helping Formula 1 and its owners enter a new space to engage fans and drive revenue streams.”

Mike Hayes, Head of Digital & Digital Entertainment at Mercia, said: “This is a really exciting time for VirtTrade and Mercia is pleased to continue supporting the business as it goes from strength to strength, by building strategic partnerships with high-profile brands such as Formula 1, The Discovery Channel and Valiant Comics. We look forward to seeing the business scale and grow, delivering shareholder value over the medium term.”

Adam Crothers, Head of Digital New Business at Formula 1, said: “VirtTrade offers F1 a new and alternative take on presenting our mix of content as well as a new entry point for fans. We think their unique take on collectibles gamification will be a hit with our current fan-base too and the product offers a game type environment that isn’t simply simulation based.”

The RNS Reach announcement can be found here.

A developer of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) products for the market research industry has secured a seed investment from Mercia Fund Managers to scale the company’s product pipeline and support its international growth.

Founded in 2016, Gorilla in the room provide researchers with the tools they need to acquire more robust data to predict why and how consumers buy products. The company won the Market Research Society’s “Best Data Solution 2017” for its approach and it currently works with a number of high-profile clients including Ipsos, one of the largest market research organisations in the world, and agencies within multinational advertising group WPP.

Gorilla in the room has developed a range of innovative VR and AR products to provide researchers with an alternative to traditional market research methods such as focus groups and online surveys. Its technology allows researchers to immerse people in real life situations, from retail studies in a virtual supermarket to new product development with augmented products.

The company is led by an experienced management team, including chief scientist Dr Alastair Goode, an award-winning cognitive scientist and developer of neuroscience technology in research, and CTO Tom Painter, a CGI and 3D technologist and Pixar beta tester, who has worked on films such as Harry Potter. CEO Jonathan Barrowman has led multimillion dollar businesses in global executive roles at Blippar, Yahoo and WPP.

Jonathan Barrowman, founder and CEO of Gorilla in the room, said: “Market research has been guiding marketing decisions for decades and our suite of VR and AR products empower researchers with better data for marketers to increase sales. Our range of products will transform market research more than behavioural economics and we believe the use of VR and AR will be standard practice across the industry within the next three years.”

Chris Kilroy, Investment Associate at Mercia, said: “Immersive technologies are redefining the way in which we interact with the world around us, and their use and application are relevant across a range of sectors, from gaming and education through to training and market research. Our EIS investment into Gorilla in the room is the result of Mercia’s targeted investment strategy to provide capital and support for emerging companies in this sector. We are highly confident that Jonathan, Alastair and Tom have the unique blend of commercial acumen, domain expertise and development excellence that is necessary to successfully lead this company and revolutionise the way that organisations across the globe carry out market research.”

A company that provides online retailers with advanced pricing tools to improve their revenue growth and profitability, has secured a seed investment of £500,000 from Mercia Fund Managers and software entrepreneur and investor, Nick Kingsbury.

Founded in 2016 by Charles and Philip Huthwaite, BlackCurve helps its clients find the optimal price for their goods and services through sophisticated pricing algorithms and machine learning.

This investment will be used to expand the company’s core team across sales, software development and data science. Alongside this, BlackCurve will continue to develop its underlying software to deliver even faster accessibility, improved analytics and further scale its client-base through strategic platform integrations.

BlackCurve’s technology powers over 250,000 pricing suggestions per day and is actively managing over six million products on behalf of its clients, including Ribble Cycles, Cleverboxes and Appliance House.

Philip Huthwaite, CEO and founder of BlackCurve, said: “We’re bringing affordable and sophisticated price optimisation technology to businesses that form the bedrock of our economy. Our software delivers real tangible benefits for customers. I’m proud to be able to do this with the support of my father and CTO, Charles Huthwaite. The last two years have shown what can be achieved through bootstrapping if you are surrounded by a fantastic team. We look forward to welcoming the new recruits over the coming months, as well as delivering for our customers.”

Chris Kilroy, Investment Associate at Mercia, said: “Managing and optimising pricing is fundamentally important for organisations across a range of industries, from retail and distribution through to gaming and media.

“We’re delighted to announce our seed investment into BlackCurve and we feel confident that both Philip and Charles have the skills and expertise to drive the company forward. We believe that BlackCurve has strong growth potential across a number of markets and we’re looking forward to supporting the team as they continue to capitalise on the opportunities available to them moving forward.”

A Newcastle business which specialises in 3D digital technology has secured a £250,000 investment from Mercia Fund Managers to enhance the development of its revolutionary new software solution.

Luminous Group has pioneered the use of 3D in sectors including architecture and construction. It offers digital surveys which use laser scanning to capture every surface of a building or structure, and can record measurements, identify damage and produce detailed 3D models.

Its new software RIVO combines 3D with the latest mixed reality holographic computer hardware. RIVO could revolutionise asset management in sectors such as offshore energy or marine shipping where companies need to keep track of structures such as oil rigs, refineries, wind turbines or military installations which are often in remote or inaccessible locations. It could also enhance fire safety surveys, by drawing up critical information in real time, for example on emergency evacuation points or fire routes.

RIVO package uses Microsoft’s ‘Inside Out’ tracking, which brings together the best of virtual and augmented reality. It is accessed using a Microsoft HoloLens headset for the user.

Luminous Group was founded in 1988 by former mining surveyor Peter Bennett, now Chairman. The company, which also has an office in London, employs 10 staff headed by Peter’s sons Ben, Managing Director, and Henry, Operations Director.

Ian Wilson, Fund Manager with Mercia Fund Managers in the North East, said:

“Luminous Group has been at the forefront of surveying and measurement since its inception and has pioneered new ways to scan and model buildings. Its new software is another step forward and could offer huge cost savings for clients, for example by allowing them to demonstrate large items of equipment remotely, recreate environments for training purposes and manage remote plant and equipment in a more efficient way. RIVO has already attracted strong interest from clients and this funding will allow the company to further enhance the product and build its management team.”

A Yorkshire photography and video business whose clients include major supermarkets and food producers has secured £250,000 funding from NPIF – Mercia Debt Finance, which is part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund.

Powerhouse is a creative content studio specialising in high-end commercial food, fashion and lifestyle photography and video content for leading global brands and retailers. The funding will allow it to move into larger premises close to its existing base in Leeds and further expand its team.

Founded in 1998, Powerhouse employs 20 people and plans to take on five more staff in the next two years. It is currently led by Managing Director, Neil Adams.

Grahame Lunt, Investment Manager with Mercia Fund Managers which manages NPIF – Mercia Debt Finance, said: “Powerhouse is the largest and most established business of its type in the UK, with many long-standing clients. The company’s expertise and its location outside of the capital gives it an advantage over its London-based competitors. The funding will help it to buy and fit out new studios which will be large enough to accommodate its growing team and allow it to expand its activities in other areas including the fashion industry.”

Grant Peggie, Director at British Business Bank, said: We are pleased that NPIF through Mercia have provided Powerhouse with the support it needs to pursue its vision for growth. As evidenced by this deal, Leeds City Region has a strong presence of ambitious businesses and with the continued help from our fund managers, we look forward to see what other opportunities NPIF can bring for other small and medium sized businesses in the region.

Roger Marsh OBE, Chairman of the NPIF SOB and Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) said: “I am delighted to see businesses from the region accessing and benefiting from support from the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund. Investment from NPIF helps to accelerate the growth of SMEs across Leeds City Region and will ensure the region is the best place in the UK to start, develop and grow a business.”

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.

A games studio which has developed a unique real-time football game has closed a £600,000 funding round from Mercia Fund Managers and a leading global mobile games developer.

UFL is the first real-time fantasy football game that allows fans worldwide to connect simultaneously to a live soccer match. Unlike typical fantasy games, the action happens as the match unfolds and every player’s move on the pitch is mirrored into a real-time game. Launched in 2016, it now has over 1.0million registered users worldwide.

UFL is the first game to be launched by Realtime Games, which was founded by Sohail Godall. The funding will allow it to expand its team, step up its marketing in the run-up to the 2018 World Cup, and develop the platform further to allow it to create similar games.

Sohail Godall, CEO of Realtime Games, said: “We’re delighted to secure our funding round and see this milestone as a testament to the hard work our team has put in. This round provides us with a great platform to build upon our core game technology, scaling up for the World Cup and beyond. We’re very excited to be working with our funders to reshape the way millennial fans around the world consume live sport.”

Mike Hayes, Head of Digital & Digital Entertainment at Mercia, said: “UFL is unique in the market. It is the first ‘free to play’ fantasy game, and the first to combine a real-time live game with short play experiences, which makes it ideal for the casual fan. Realtime Games has not only built a popular soccer app with a loyal fan base, but it has also created a platform that could be applied across a much wider range of sports.”

Voxpopme, a leading platform that provides innovative video analytics for brands such as Microsoft, Tesco, Verizon and Clorox has secured a seven-figure Series A investment over the next 12 months from Mercia Fund Managers to support its global expansion.

This investment will support its ambitious growth plans and will be used to enhance the company’s end-to-end video insight technology, ensuring it remains at the leading edge of video research innovation.

Voxpopme currently employs 30 people, and its turnover has more than doubled year-on-year, since 2015. With offices in Birmingham, Salt Lake City and Sydney, the business intends to recruit 15 additional staff across North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific to meet the growing demand for agile video insight.

Founded in 2013 by CEO Dave Carruthers, the business has developed a video analytics platform which enables companies to gain a much deeper understanding of consumers’ attitudes and opinions. By bringing together both qualitative and quantitative data, Voxpopme removes the pain points typically associated with video insight – making video fast, easy and instant for market researchers and customer experience professionals.

Dave Carruthers, CEO and founder of Voxpopme, said: “We’re excited to receive the backing of Mercia Fund Managers. Its record of building valuable businesses speaks for itself and confirms that the demand for agile video insight is increasing exponentially. Mercia’s ambition to grow businesses with global potential matches our plans to advance video research software so that any researcher, marketer or business owner can quickly capture, analyse and share consumer-recorded video insight, anytime, anyplace.”

Julian Dennard, Investment Director at Mercia Fund Managers, said: “We’re delighted to add Voxpopme to our portfolio and look forward to playing an active role in its next phase of growth. The company has built an innovative, market-leading product that has positioned it as the dominant provider of video insight software to professional global brands and agencies. Witnessing the increasing demand for video technology in a market that is estimated by MarketsandMarkets to grow to $40.8billion by 2022, shows its massive potential as a disruptor to the software sector.”

Discovery Global Enterprises, the licensing arm of Discovery Communications, has partnered with Mercia Technologies PLC’s portfolio company, VirtTrade, to develop and publish multiple apps over the next three years.

VirtTrade is a leading developer of gamified collecting and trading apps. The company’s proprietary technology enables fans of an IP to collect and trade digital assets (such as virtual cards) with anyone in the world at any time. This capability is amplified by games and features that enhance the collector journey to create a more engaging user experience, moving beyond the restrictions of physical collecting.

Matt Bonaccorso, Director Digital & eCommerce Discovery Channel said: “VirtTrade offers Discovery Global Enterprises an entry point into digital that leverages social and games while making the most of the fan favorite brands from Discovery Communications.”

The first two apps, Discovery Card Quest and Animal Planet, are due to launch this fall and Q1 2018, respectively and will be available on iOS and Android.

The Discovery Card Quest app is intended primarily for children and will centre the collectible journey around many subjects including Space, Oceans, Science, Dinosaurs, Shark Week and other content representative of Discovery Channel programming.

The app features a virtual passport for users to travel anywhere, from inside a living cell to the far reaches of the universe, and throughout time itself. Users will collect power-ups and experience points as they compete and trade with friends to rank amongst the greatest explorers of all time.

VirtTrade’s platform enables the publication of tradeable cards with static and video assets alongside ‘scratch-to-reveal’ Did You Know facts, with a publishing schedule that reflects Discovery Channel programming. Battles, rewards, unlockable content, limited editions, fusion cards and location based collecting are all features slated for release within six months of launch.

Ross Walker, VirtTrade Chief Commercial Officer said: “We are delighted to be partnering with Discovery Global Enterprises. Discovery’s content works extremely well as a collectible narrative; and their consumer reach and engagement offers us a user acquisition and potential install base that’s second to none. We aim to continually test and innovate to improve consumers’ experience around IP and in turn move licensors significantly up the value chain.”

A Sheffield-based outside broadcasting company which is one of the UK’s leading suppliers of sports programming has secured a £150,000 loan from NPIF – Enterprise Ventures Debt Finance, which is part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund.

Televideo will use the funding to invest in equipment and upgrade an additional outside broadcast unit to use 4K or Ultra HD – the new high definition TV technology. Established over 40 years ago, Televideo produces hundreds of hours of original content each year for broadcasters including the BBC, Channel 4, Sky Sports, BT Sport and Premier Sports.

It also acts as host broadcaster on a range of major stand-alone events such as the European Aquatic Championships, the Rugby League World Cup and the ICC Women’s World Cup.

The company employs 59 staff at its headquarters in Sheffield and its office in Whitburn in Scotland, and plans to create a further five jobs over the next 12 months. Televideo operates a fleet of 10 outside broadcast units of varying sizes and specifications.

Peter Sorsby, Investment Manager at Enterprise Ventures, part of Mercia Technologies PLC, said: “Televideo is one of the UK’s largest and longest established outside broadcasters and is highly respected in its field. With technology continually changing in the TV and entertainment sector, it needs to invest in regular equipment upgrades to maintain its position as an industry leader. This funding will allow it to meet the growing demand for outside broadcasts using the very latest high-definition technology.”

Ken Cooper, Managing Director at British Business Bank, said: “We are delighted that the Northern Powerhosue Investment Fund has provided Televideo with the investment needed to maintain their position in the industry. Through the support of our fund managers, NPIF will continue to seek out similar high-growth companies in need of funding in the region.”

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.

A Yorkshire company which supplies print machinery to markets worldwide is set to expand its business – after securing £100,000 funding from NPIF – Enterprise Ventures Debt Finance, which is part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund and managed by Enterprise Ventures.

Pinheiros Post Press buys and sells pre-owned machinery such as book production lines which are used within the print industry as part of the finishing process. Founded in 2008 by Martin Mason, the current Managing Director, it is a sister company to Pinheiros Corporation, which supplies pre-owned printing presses and which was founded 20 years earlier.

Pinheiros Post Press employs five staff at its headquarters in Wakefield and works with a global network of business partners. Most of the products it sources go to overseas markets, in particular to Asia and South America, and it is currently experiencing strong growth in demand from China. The funding will allow it to create an additional post in Wakefield for a Mandarin speaker, and enable Pinheiros Post Press to expand its network in Asia and increase stock levels.

Martin Mason said: “The company has continued to grow steadily since its inception, but the funding has allowed us to plan the next stage of our evolution. Employing language speakers has always been part of the strategy and as China plays such a significant part of our client base, having someone who can communicate at all levels will only improve our offering to our existing clients whilst allowing us to develop new channels.”

Grahame Lunt, Investment Manager at Enterprise Ventures, part of Mercia Technologies PLC, said: “Pinheiros Post Press is a truly international company, sourcing machinery from locations worldwide and supplying it to buyers in other countries. The team’s in-depth industry knowledge means they are able to match clients’ requirements and offer pre-owned equipment from leading brands at significantly lower cost than new. This funding will allow them to take advantage of the worldwide opportunities particularly within the Chinese market.”

Grant Peggie, Director at British Business Bank, said: “Supporting growing businesses across the Northern Powerhouse through the provision of the right finance is what NPIF was set up to achieve, and we are delighted to see our fund managers and partners working together to help this become a reality and to move into new overseas markets.”

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.