Increasingly we are tracking investments in companies which are based outside Scotland but have their origins or strong connections here.
Although YCF’s main focus is on companies formed and grown in Scotland, those that have moved away, or others that have opened operational offices in Scotland, have some great stories to tell, and we give a few examples here.
Exscientia, a spinout from the University of Dundee now based in Oxford, has raised unusually large amounts of investment for its AI-driven drug discovery technology. This month the company raised a further investment round totalling £100 million, in which funds managed by BlackRock joined the existing investors, Novo Holdings, Evotec, Bristol Myers Squibb, and GT Healthcare Capital.
The new capital will be used to support Exscientia’s platform development, extend its proprietary pipeline into clinical trials, and expand existing capabilities in biological analytics that support target selection and portfolio development.
Excscientia’s success is a reminder of another life sciences company started in Scotland which has secured large amounts of funding. TauRx Pharmaceuticals (taurx.com), a spinout from the University of Aberdeen incorporated in Singapore, has raised $257m over four rounds for its research to find a treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease.
Rovco, based in Bristol with a development office in the Bayes Centre at the University of Edinburgh, is developing 3D computer vision technologies for remote operated vehicles (ROVs) and applied artificial intelligence underwater. The company recently completed a £5 million investment round, which included £3.9 million from the Foresight Williams Technology EIS Fund and Foresight VCTs, and investment from existing shareholders including Green Angel Syndicate. The funds will be used to support Rovco’s international expansion and continued development of its subsea technology.
Flare Bright, which has designed a small, light, ruggedised micro drone that can capture instant aerial images, has a number of connections with Scotland. Co-founders Kelvin Hamilton (CEO) and Conrad Rider (CTO) worked together at SeeByte, a Heriot-Watt University spinout whose software is used in underwater vehicles and systems, and was acquired by Bluefin Robotics of Massachusetts in 2013. Flare Bright’s first office and main base was in Leith until the company shifted to the centre of aerospace excellence around Cranfield University in early 2020, subsequently moving to Westcott Venture Park near Aylesbury
With his experience of subsea autonomous robotics, Kelvin Hamilton had dreamt of taking this technology to the skies. “I’d always thought the skies were the obvious domain for autonomous systems, and no one had managed to perfect complete autonomy, without reference to GPS or other external controls. Under the sea, you cannot access these things, so Conrad and myself could bring a lot of expertise to this challenge.”
The concept of autonomy has various aspects in this context. The basic idea is of a device that is simple and works alone, without dependence upon any external guidance or control system. Flare Bright’s drone, the size and weight of a tennis ball with a wingspan of 10cm, has no remote control and is pre-programmed to follow a specified track. It has no power, so after launch (currently from a pneumatic launcher) its sensors are making thousands of adjustments a minute to its ailerons, to counter changes in wind speed and direction or other environmental factors.
The drone can carry sensors for a range of different measurements – the current model with a camera is called SnapShot. The trajectory being trialled at present is an ‘inverted teardrop’, which means that the device returns like a boomerang to its sender after completing its task. The current range is up to 100m height, and although adding power and changing the mode of launch could extend this range, the regulatory regime changes for aerial devices above 400ft, so Flare Bright is focusing on applications below this level, in markets including defence, emergency responders, security, and many others.
Flare Bright was recently awarded two grants by Innovate UK under its Future Flight programme. The first of these (and a further Scottish connection) is the £3.7m SATE (Sustainable Aviation Test Environment) project led by Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) to develop a sustainable aviation programme that could transform short flight travel between remote communities, and the second the SafeZone project to deliver safe and more effective unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Both projects started in November last year.
In January Flare Bright completed its first external investment round, in part devoted to the match funding requirement of the Innovate UK grants. The round was started with £100k from Britbots, an EIS fund manager based in Ipswich which focuses on robotics, then following introductions by Scottish Enterprise it was closed by Scottish angel syndicate Highland Venture Capital, whose CEO Scott Carnegie joins Flare Bright as a non-executive director. With additional investment from private investors introduced by angel network OION (Oxford Investment Opportunity Network), the round closed at £500k, which supports the business through 2021 and beyond.