Lack of tech firm funding in Sheffield City Region criticised

An entrepreneur has criticised a lack financial support for early stage tech firms from the Sheffield City Region - as millions are poured into facilities to give them a boost.

Monday, 25th November 2019, 5:28 pm
From left: Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, Martyn Ware and Richard Mills.
From left: Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, Martyn Ware and Richard Mills.

Richard Mills, founder of SleepCogni, says specialist start-ups are struggling to find investment despite public money being poured into sites such as the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

Most funding from the SCR is focused on growing manufacturing firms, either with cash for machinery or recruits, and there is a lack of support for early-stage firms with a research, scientific or tech focus, he insists.

The Sheffield City Region is a regeneration body established by the area’s councils.

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Mr Mills set up SleepCogni, a hi-tech sleep device company which has received grants from Innovate UK, part of the government.

He said: “SCR businesses are struggling to find investment, especially as we have so many specialist advanced manufacturing and health tech type of businesses that venture capital funds just don’t understand or aren’t prepared to invest in at research-and-design and pre-revenue stages.

“It’s no good that we as a region have invested in all these facilities if businesses can’t find funding to build off them.”

Mr Mills said specialist firms were forced to approach venture capital firms who wanted equity, or Innovate UK which was ‘ultra-competitive’ with a very low success rate.

An SCR spokesman said: “Research and Development funding can be accessed to support businesses via programmes such as the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, Innovate UK and Horizon 20/20.”

During the summer, the SCR ran two schemes with grants of between £25,000 and £100,000 to be put towards a maximum of 50 per cent of cost, called Productivity Challenge, for all firms, and Made Smarter, which offered funding for manufacturing SMEs.“The SCR received 38 requests for funding of which 25 companies received a combined total of £1,597,000 across both schemes.

“We are in contact with those businesses who received grants in order to monitor results and inform future programmes.

“In addition, our Business Investment Fund has made funding commitments to help businesses unlock investment in activity that helps them grow, become more productive and recruit new employees. This was proceeded by the SCR Local Enterprise Partnership’s Regional Growth Fund.

“In total, the SCR have awarded grants to some 105 businesses in the region of £53.4m.”