Shadow Industrial Strategy Minister praises "brilliant scientists" behind local biotech company

Away from the Westminster talk of prorogations and General Elections, it was business as usual for Labour Shadow Industrial Strategy Minister Chi Onwurah MP on Friday 6 September as she visited pioneering biotechnology company Newcells Biotech, based in her constituency of Newcastle upon Tyne Central.


Founded in 2014 as a spin out from Newcastle University, Newcells Biotech specialises in harnessing stem cells for use in drug discovery – operating as a supplier for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors. Boasting the knowledge and experience of a multidisciplinary team from industry and academia, Newcells Biotech is based in one of the UK’s leading centres for stem cell biology and is located alongside one of the largest research-intensive medical university and hospital complexes in the country. 

With support from local Venture Capital Trust (VCT) fund NVM, Newcells has been able to hire four new members of staff, grow existing revenue streams and prepare for the launch of a new range of products. In addition to providing financial support, NVM has also been able to provide Newcells with the experience and expertise of two observers on its company board.


During a discussion about what a Labour government could do to support businesses like Newcells, key issues were continued access to patient capital through VCT funding, and tax incentives for research and development. The ability of companies like Newcells to recruit and retain talent from across Europe was also flagged as a pressing issue given the UK’s imminent departure from the European Union.

On the visit, Ms Onwurah said:

“It was great to meet a local start-up company with brilliant scientists working to address some very important health challenges with innovative new technology, supported by local venture capital. It’s one of the success stories we should be championing as a city and a region”.

Ms Onwurah also tweeted about the visit, praising Newcells for employing “brilliant scientists from all over the world including Fenham”.

Newly-appointed Minister visits pioneering pharmaceutical developer

Fresh from her promotion to Minister for Children and Families at the Department for Education, Kemi Badenoch MP this week visited pioneering pharmaceutical developer Arecor Limited to discuss the current climate for SMEs in the healthcare industry. Using its innovative Arestat platform, Arecor has been able to successfully leverage a portfolio of proprietary products enabling improved treatment for diabetes care.


Mrs Badenoch heard about the role that investment from Venture Capital Trust (VCT) funds Albion and Downing played in Arecor’s growth. With VCT investment of over £6 million, Arecor has been able to successfully grow as a business, invest in product development and expand its workforce to twenty staff, with plans for further recruitment in the coming months.

A vocal supporter of Britain leaving the European Union, Mrs Badenoch was also keen to hear about Arecor’s plans for expansion in Saffron Walden in the coming years, alongside any new and developing partnerships the company had planned in markets outside of Europe.

Upon arrival, Mrs Badenoch was greeted by Arecor CEO Dr Sarah Howell and CFO Susan Lowther, who introduced the Minister to the company’s pioneering work, before providing a tour of their high-tech facility in Saffron Walden. 

On the visit, Dr Sarah Howell, CEO of Arecor, said: "It was fantastic to meet with Mrs Badenoch and discuss life as an SME.  She was very supportive, taking time to understand our business and the challenges we face.  We look forward to building a positive, active relationship and to see her support the issues facing our industry in parliament."

Mrs Badenoch said that she “enjoyed learning so much about Arecor’s business and their contribution to our local economy”. On Arecor’s pioneering work in the field of drug improvement, she said that “their work in taking existing drugs like insulin and enhancing them to improve results for their patients is groundbreaking”, adding that she was also glad to hear that Arecor “found Chesterford Research Park to be one of the best places to attract talent in research and development”, which vindicated the council’s decision to invest in the Park.

Moving forward, Mrs Badenoch said that Arecor “has a very constructive relationship with the Government, especially regarding research funding” and added that she would continue to support the business in this regard whenever possible.


Veteran Labour backbencher praises "technical innovations" of local business SmartKem

Award-winning business SmartKem welcomed local Labour MP Graham Stringer to their technology facility in Blackley last Friday (7 June).

As a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee, Mr Stringer was eager to hear about SmartKem’s industry-leading status as a supplier of organic semiconductors used in flexible electronic display technology.

Mr Stringer also heard about how SmartKem’s innovative truFLEX platform helped the business  win the Printed Electronics Asia award for Best Advanced Material Development alongside the 2015 Innovative Product of the Year award for Wales.

With support from venture capital trust (VCT) fund Octopus, SmartKem was able to create an additional 20 jobs in Blackley and Broughton, whilst also expanding the business’ operations into the Asian market.

Mr Stringer was greeted by Ian Jenks and Dr Beverley Brown, SmartKem Interim CEO and Chief Technology Officer respectively. Following the visit, Mr Stringer said:

“Having visited the Blackley site of SmartKem’s technology facility today I was deeply impressed by the technical innovations this company is making. It was a quick glance into the future and it’s great to have such a high-tech firm in the middle of the constituency”.

Celebrating Venture Capital Trusts in Parliament


The Treasury Select Committee Chair, International Trade Minister for Investment and  Small Business Minister walk into a room…

No, it’s not the start of a politically niche joke, but the three distinguished speakers – Rt Hon. Nicky Morgan MP, Graham Stuart MP and Kelly Tolhurst MP – introduced onto the stage by the Venture Capital Trust Assocation’s (VCTA) Chairman Tim Levett to speak on venture capital trusts (VCT) at the VCTA’s inaugural parliamentary reception.

The speeches, whilst different in scope, were overwhelmingly positive about the role of VCTs in supporting small, higher risk SMEs that would otherwise find it difficult to obtain long-term risk finance. The speakers also praised the VCTA for their specific contribution in supporting British small businesses – the backbone of the UK economy – to start up and scale up.


The guests heard how for every £1 million of investment, there is a £2.2 million increase in turnover, and how the VCT scheme provides true ‘patient’ capital (the average duration of a VCT investment is seven years and often, VCTs fund businesses with multiple rounds of investment). Furthermore, where VCT investment has been present for over five years, the average increase in jobs is over 100 per company; in fact, companies currently backed by the VCT scheme have created 27,000 jobs since the first VCT investment.

VCTA PR 3.jpg

The sector was rightly urged by both Ms Morgan and Ms Tolhurst to do more to ensure that female entrepreneurs receive greater venture capital investment. Both MPs highlighted the importance demonstrated by the recent Alison Rose Review that if the gap between female and male entrepreneurs was closed, an additional £250 billion in GVA would be added to the UK’s economy. The VCTA is looking at how it can continue to remove barriers facing female entrepreneurs and help to close this gap.


However, it wasn’t just the speeches (and canapes) that the guests turned up for.

A number of VCTA-backed businesses were on display: Mirada Medical, Empiribox, Masters of Pie, Chess Dynamics, Olio, and Proveca. These companies showcased just how diverse the sectors that VCTs invest in are – medical imaging, education, science, virtual reality, defence, sharing of surplus food and pharmaceuticals!

VCTA PR 1.jpg

Guests were impressed by the interactive and innovative way of revolutionising science lessons for children, trying 3D models on for size in the world of immersive reality and discussing the importance of engineering expertise in the realm of aerospace and defence. Companies on the cutting edge of the medical world talked passionately about their work whilst food waste heroes explained the concept behind their food sharing app.

The VCTA was delighted to welcome so many political guests and industry colleagues to the House of Commons to celebrate VCTs at its inaugural annual reception and looks forward to celebrating future successes next year. If you’d like to hear more about the VCT scheme or the VCTA, please contact the Chairman, Tim Levett, via

Shadow Industrial Strategy Minister visits award-winning specialist recruitment firm

Friday 10 May saw the visit of Shadow Industrial Strategy Minister Chi Onwurah MP to award-winning Venture Capital Trust-backed business Samuel Knight International, based in her constituency of Newcastle upon Tyne Central.

Samuel Knight International is a global recruitment firm providing specialist knowledge and skills to the energy and rail sectors, and in November 2018 the business was awarded the Team of the Year accolade at the Great British Entrepreneurial Awards.

With funding from Venture Capital Trust (VCT) fund Gresham House, Samuel Knight International recently announced plans to undergo rapid expansion by hiring an additional 40 members of staff in 2019.

Ms Onwurah was greeted by CEO Steve Rawlingson, who praised the role of VCT investment in the success of Samuel Knight International – commenting that “securing investment through the VCT scheme is just one way to expand our firm, not only for our own goals, but also for the benefit of the community around us”.

Ms Onwurah praised Samuel Knight International for “widening opportunities and tapping into new talent pools”. As a vocal supporter of increasing diversity in STEM subjects, Ms Onwurah added that she was particularly looking forward to seeing the progress made by Samuel Knight International in achieving gender balance within the energy and rail sectors.

The visit received coverage from the North East Times, with Ms Onwurah tweeting that she was “pleased to meet the great team at Samuel Knight International & hear of their growth plans”.

Labour Whip Mark Tami MP visits pharmaceutical manufacturer ADC Biotechnology

On 26 April, the Rt Hon Mark Tami MP visited the headquarters of leading pharmaceutical manufacturer ADC Biotechnology in Deeside. Welcomed by CEO Charlie Johnson, Mr Tami heard how the company has established itself as a pioneering drugs manufacturer, operating in a high growth section of the cancer therapeutics market.

Since its founding in 2011, ADC Bio has been developing its proprietary “Lock-Release” technology platform and pushing the boundaries of scientific research and development.

The Labour Whip also heard about the role of Venture Capital Trust (VCT) investment from funds Maven and Downing. These funds have provided crucial development capital enabling ADC Bio to continue its research and development programmes, alongside conducting further clinical trials of its innovative products. 

Mr Tami tweeted about the visit, saying how great it is to have a world leading biotech company in Deeside, and that exciting times lay ahead for ADC Bio.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson visits healthcare manufacturers Hygenica

The MP for South Staffordshire and Defence Secretary Rt Hon. Gavin Williamson visited the headquarters of Wolverhampton-based healthcare manufacturers Hygenica. Headed by Matthew Wheeler, Hygenica is a leading manufacturer of unique products deployed in NHS facilities across the UK that help prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Mr Williamson heard how the company, founded in 2004, developed its innovative products using a unique disinfecting agent discovered in the UK, along with hearing about Hygenica’s ongoing commitment to maintaining its manufacturing base in the West Midlands as it expands into global markets over the coming years.

The Venture Capital Trust Fund, Beringea, provided Hygenica with substantial funding. This investment has allowed the company to further develop its technology, expand its manufacturing site in Wolverhampton, and will help Hygenica to take advantage of burgeoning export markets around the world.

Mr Williamson said: “It’s great to see such an innovative manufacturing firm thriving in Wolverhampton. Hygenica does really important work helping hospitals reduce infection and fight superbugs, relieving pressure from NHS staff and hospitals. Hygenica’s expansion is good news for the area - and it was great to hear their plans for continued expansion and commitment to manufacturing in the West Midlands.

It’s clear that many innovative businesses can struggle to access the finance they need to realise their ambition. I’m delighted that Hygenica - backed by Beringea’s VCT investment - has become so successful, and I look forward to hearing about their continued growth.”

Select Committee Chair praises local coffee roaster

Local MP Lilian Greenwood visited the Roast House of 200 Degrees in Nottingham on Friday 18 January. Headed by Rob Darby, 200 Degrees is a leading coffee roaster and wholesaler that also operates a number of coffee shops around the UK.

Ms Greenwood heard how the company, founded in 2012, has established itself as a leading independent coffee brand and set up a network of thriving coffee shops serving communities across the UK.

The MP was also welcomed by Matt Smith of Foresight Group, who provided 200 Degrees with substantial Venture Capital Trust (VCT) funding. This investment will support the firm’s expansion across the UK with a programme of shop openings while building the wholesale business and online retail coffee subscription model.

She tweeted about the visit, saying it was great to meet 200 Degrees the team and hear how investment from Foresight Group helped the business grow.

Former Digital Economy Minister visits NorthRow

Local MP and former Digital Economy Minister Rt Hon. Ed Vaizey visited the innovation centre of RegTech business NorthRow on Friday 23 November. Headed by Adrian Black, NorthRow helps businesses to reduce the risk of financial crime by automating identity and compliance checks.

Mr Vaizey heard how the company, founded in 2010, has doubled its turnover in the past year. He was particularly impressed to hear that this has allowed NorthRow to employ an additional 14 people, mostly in Oxfordshire.

The MP was also welcomed by Charlie Winward of NVM Private Equity, who, alongside Maven Capital Partners, provided NorthRow with substantial Venture Capital Trust (VCT) investment last year. This investment has enabled the company’s expansion, while helping to develop its products and bring them to market. NVM has also provided two board members, and general business advice.

Adrian Black, Founder and Chief Executive of NorthRow, said:

“We were delighted to welcome the Rt Hon. Ed Vaizey MP to our offices here in Milton Park. NorthRow continues to grow and expand our offerings helping clients to undertake AML, KYC and KYB checks via a single API.

Financial crime is a significant problem and we remain committed to reducing its impact. The VCT investment we obtained has helped us to grow, has provided high skilled jobs and has helped us to contribute to the local economy”


Ed Vaizey MP said:

It’s great to see such an innovative RegTech business thriving in Milton Park. NorthRow does really impressive work in helping financial services organisations to improve their efficiency and customer experience, while reducing the risk of financial crime.

“NorthRow’s expansion is good news for the area – particularly given the local hires they’ve been able to make over the past year.

“It’s clear that many innovative businesses can struggle to access the finance they need to realise their ambition. I’m delighted that NorthRow – backed by NVM’s VCT investment – has become so successful, and I look forward to hearing about their continued growth.

VCTs managed by NVM and Maven first invested in NorthRow last year. Charlie Winward from NVM also attended the visit on Friday, saying:

NVM is proud to invest in NorthRow and help the business’ continued growth.

“Investing in young, innovative businesses like NorthRow –and providing expertise and advice alongside – is the whole point of Venture Capital Trusts.

We congratulate NorthRow on their success, and look forward to supporting their growth in future.

Alex Chalk MP visits Volo Commerce in Cheltenham

Local MP Alex Chalk visited the global headquarters of retail technology firm Volo Commerce on Thursday 8 November. Headed by Ben White, Volo uses cutting edge artificial intelligence technology and market intelligence to help customers quickly and efficiently grow their online sales.

Mr Chalk heard how the company, founded over a decade ago, grew to become a leading provider of multichannel e-commerce technology, boasting large multinational clients like BMW, Superdry and Dixons Carphone. He was particularly impressed to hear about the firm’s plans for continued overseas expansion.

The MP was also welcomed by representative of NVM who, alongside Downing, provided Volo with substantial Venture Capital Trust (VCT) investment in late 2017. This investment will allow Volo to further scale-up and expand into the lucrative North American market.

Alex Chalk MP said:

It was a pleasure to visit a thriving technology firm on my doorstep here in Cheltenham, and to see a local business using world-leading technology to deliver real results for customers around the globe.”

Volo proves that high-tech firms can start-up and thrive in Cheltenham.

“It’s clear that many innovative businesses can struggle to access the finance they need to realise their ambition. I’m delighted that Volo – backed by NVM and Downing’s VCT investment – has become so successful, and I look forward to seeing them grow into a world leader.”