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Back to News Sean Hutchinson, Senior Investment Manager at the British Business Bank

14th November 2022

Business Matters: From fuel to flowers – reflecting on a fifth year of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund


Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund

Sean Hutchinson, Senior Investment Manager at the British Business Bank, looks back on the fifth anniversary year of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund  and the wide-ranging success stories that have flourished after NPIF investment.

It’s no small feat to invest £500 million into ambitious businesses across the North, and since the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund’s (NPIF) inception five years ago, we have seen many businesses go on to exceed expectations, fulfil their potential and excel. This has all been thanks to the drive and determination of businesses, alongside access to finance at key moments in their growth journey, through debt, equity, and microfinance loans, that have spring boarded them into success.

To date, the Fund has invested £355 million directly, and a further £521 million attracted in private sector co-investment. More than 1000 Northern businesses have received funding from NPIF since its launch, throughout the pandemic and continuing into the current economic challenges.

That said, these figures only go some way in telling the story of how NPIF is nurturing regional entrepreneurship, creating new opportunities for people and organisations. In the past year we have seen many individual examples of that, with businesses the Fund invested into reaching maturity, representing several exits for the fund.

One recent business exit is Airship. The Sheffield-based hospitality technology company secured a £500,000 NPIF – Mercia Equity Finance investment in 2021 to help accommodate demand following the reopening of bars and restaurants with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Its products are used by around 400 brands across over 4,000 locations including popular establishments like YO! Sushi, Leon, and Revolution Bars. Since the start of the first lockdown, it has trebled its annual recurring revenue to over £2.4m and increased its staff to over 40 team members.

It has played a significant role in providing technology services for hospitality companies to better handle restrictions, including its very own track and trace app, which was used by the likes of Costa Coffee, Pret a Manger, Greggs, and Wetherspoons. The business has since seen tremendous growth, and in 2022 it was acquired by its long-time partner and industry leader Zonal.

Airship’s journey exemplifies what NPIF was set up to achieve. The business spotted an opportunity and, thanks to investment, has been able to secure the means it needed to grow. Its sale represents an exit for NPIF, and Airship can continue to flourish under Zonal’s wing.

Ski-Lifts is another NPIF backed business that is making its mark. Based in Manchester and operating in over 200 resorts across 14 countries, including luxurious locations such as Chamonix, Ski-Lifts helps tourists hit the slopes by organising their transfer to and from the airport to their ski resort. It has secured multiple investments totalling £950,000 from NPIF – Maven Equity Finance since 2019, and is now heading back to full strength after COVID travel restrictions starting to ease across the globe.

Starting out with just a few hundred passengers in 2003, the company now makes sure over 100,000 passengers per season make it to their final destination. It’s recently opened two new lines of business into the golf and cruise tourism sectors and is setting sail towards 10 new hires by the end of the year.

With travel restrictions finally lifted in January 2022, Ski-Lifts closed its financial year reporting results close to its pre-pandemic levels.  It’s certainly on track to becoming one of the most active guest transfer providers in Europe, all starting the heart of the North West.

Ski-Lifts isn’t the only business creating new lines of business within its industry. Darlington-based software company Strelitzia Software has been integrating new technology into the floristry industry.

Founded in 1959 as Flowers by Nattrass, the company started as a small flower shop and by 2000 was a growing family business with three stores and 26 staff.  In 2005, after years of trying to find the right software to use for the business, its team realised there was a market opportunity and in 2006 repurposed the business to be ‘Strelitizia Software’, a company that focuses on software for the florist industry.

The company now provides management software specifically tailored to florists and secured a £175,000 loan from NPIF – FW Capital Debt Finance in March 2022, and has utilised the investment to further develop its software system and make business management easier for florists.

It has successfully integrated technology into the industry and is now branching out to provide its own wedding and event feature and a card payment processing offering. Both projects means that the company can branch out to provide services in new sectors.

Strelitzia Software is a part of the burgeoning Tees Valley digital economy and is now in a strong position to continue blooming, creating new jobs whilst helping to modernize a sector with hundreds of years of heritage.

The efforts of NPIF over the past five years have been fruitful and rewarding for the North. Every year new businesses arise that boost their local economies and provide innovative solutions to their industries. These businesses are exemplars of the businesses that the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund strives to aid.

The North is an engine for growth, and there will undoubtedly be more businesses who make a significant positive impact in local areas, the region as a whole, and the industries they are a part of.

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.

Editors Notes




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