Meet the ideas people hungry for investment
Apr 21 2009 By The Journal
As the region awaits the arrival of a number of heavyweight investors for the CONNECT North East conference, Andrew Mernin meets some of the North East companies pitching for a share of around £9m of funding on offer at next week's event.
UK B INTERNATIONAL
IN the not too distant past, the notion of using your fingerprints to open doors was the stuff of science fiction.
However, thanks to forward-thinking companies like UK B International, security systems based on fingerprint recognition are very much a reality.
The Newcastle-based company, which also has an office in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has developed locks and security systems which are activated by biological data from fingerprints, iris patterns, facial shapes or vein patterns.
The firm has created systems for a number of sectors to secure homes, offices and other buildings.
The thousands of projects it has undertaken includes systems to secure nursery schools and a membership system for fighting underage drinking and anti-social behaviour.
Managing director Matt James said the stature of investors the conference has attracted, proved that the technology sector still has a multitude of funding options available to young entrepreneurs despite the ongoing recession.
He said: "People think it’s really difficult to raise finance at the moment. This event shows that in this climate there are still so many opportunities for businesses to grow, develop and have access to finance and the people that can give it - that’s the message I’m getting from the conference.
"People have had their heads down a little bit, saying the banks aren’t helping them, but what I have learned is that we should take opportunities like this conference. There are other opportunities to gain access to people that have funding other than banks."
"Look at companies like Sage which started on Graham Wylie’s computer in his bedroom and today it is a huge company. Someone has to create the global empires of the future.
Meanwhile, he is hoping his own business, which he set up five years ago, secures funding which could help drive future growth.
"We don’t need huge amounts of money, it is likely to come in stages. It could be an initial first round of around £200,000 followed by a bigger second round of funding."
FORMER University of Teesside student Fred Pernet is hoping the CONNECT North East conference will help launch his marine safety software business on the high seas.
Mr Pernet is looking for backing for his fledgling enterprise Simmartec, which has developed software that could revolutionise the way commercial and military sea-faring vessels maximise their onboard safety and fuel efficiency.
The project, which is being led by Mr Pernet alongside marine physicians at Newcastle University, is centred around software which can simulate the conditions of being at sea and can help ship crews prepare for dangerous nautical situations. It can also outline ways that vessels can improve their fuel efficiency.
Simmartec is also working on a specialist GPS aimed largely at cargo ships, which will help navigate them through choppy waters, avoiding the worst of the offshore weather.
Mr Pernet is hoping the conference will open doors into the potentially lucrative marine insurance sector.
He said: "We hope to sell into the marketplace by the fourth quarter of this year and, if someone at the conference knows about marine insurance, we are looking for a partner to get into that sector.
"We are looking for around £250,000 of investment to develop that side of things."
Simmartec was initially launched on the back of funding from Newcastle’s North Star Equity Investors.
ROAR Particles, which uses nanotechnology to enhance fingerprint detection, is hoping to raise its profile in the region and beyond by making itself known to the ranks of investors at the Secure Futures conference.
The company was spun out of Sunderland University in 2006 by Professor Fred Rowell, who has over three decades of research and development experience and is an expert in toxicology.
It is built on technology which uses special ‘nanoengineered’ particles to harvest trace chemicals that may be in fingerprints for subsequent analysis.
ROAR can detect whether the person the prints belong to smokes, has handled prescription or non-prescription drugs or explosives.
The firm, which occupies a site at the NETPark complex in Sedgefield, announced plans in 2007 to float on the stock exchange by the end of the year, although these plans have since been put on hold due to market turbulence.
Since its inception, the company has seen its technology trialled by police forces in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland and also has a research partnership in Singapore.
Chief executive Mike Pitkethly said he hopes the conference will help put the emerging company on the radar of major investors.
He said: "We are hoping to get ourselves in front of the investors and raise our profile. We are pretty small and still in the start up phase but we are just about to start bringing our products to market.
"We want to raise in the order of £1 to £1.5m in total from the conference or from other sources. The conference could be the start of [building] a consortium."
IN the four years since it blossomed out of Sunderland University’s laboratories, ANTnano has gained a truly global presence with operations all over the world.
The business is built on technology which can ‘sniff out’ chemicals in the air - an application which can help detect killer diseases, super-bugs such as MRSA and explosives or toxic gases used in chemical warfare.
Last year it won a £3.7m grant from the Singapore Government to develop technology to detect the presence of airborne bird flu.
Singapore’s Economic Development Board also gave the firm £79,000 to support its work in detecting MRSA.
The firm is currently working on a system which can sniff people’s hands before they go into hospital to help prevent the spread of the MRSA super-bug onto hospital wards.
Chief executive Dr Allan Syms said the company is hoping to gain funding from the conference to bring more products to market.
He said: "We are trying to devise a device that can sniff people's hands to have a rapid screening for people before they go into hospitals to prevent them from passing on the MRSA bug.
"With this and other applications, the company becomes very interesting to groups that are interested in defence applications. We are pitching to get further money to invest in bringing these products to market to help the company become strong during this very difficult time."
NORTHUMBERLAND’S TrackaPhone has developed technology which can locate a mobile phone anywhere in the world within a couple of feet.
The firm’s software allows organisations to track their workforce and has helped the company win numerous deals with police forces across the country as well as corporate clients and the NHS.
Chairman Phil Derry said the CONNECT North East conference comes at an ideal time for the company which is set to embark on a major funding drive that could see the company gain between £1m and £3m in financial backing.
He said: "I treat events like this as an opportunity to promote our business on all fronts. You never know if there’s a customer in the room. We are ideally placed to present at this event because our technology is focused on the public safety and security markets.
"We are looking in the next 12 months to do a major push with investment."
A PARTNERSHIP between a North East inventor and a well-known campaigner against parking fines, has helped bring a ground-breaking piece of technology to market.
At the conference, the men behind Fleetm8 – Dr Phillip Tann and Neil Herron – hope to gain funding to build on the success off their vehicle-tracking device.
Dr Tann’s vehicle-tracking technology first gained national recognition in 2007 when he used the device to avoid a speeding ticket. Northumbria Police claimed he was doing 42mph in a 30mph zone, however, Dr Tann’s vehicle was fitted with a prototype GPS tracking device which proved otherwise.
The device is now being trialled on buses in India as part of a £17m government transport plan and is also to be used in London’s pub trade to help stop beer delivery drivers getting hit by parking tickets outside licensed premises. It has already been backed by £60,000 in funding from Newcastle-based North Star Equity Investors (NSEI).