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Birmingham Post
Birmingham Post
Coreena Ford

North East deals of the week: key acquisitions, contracts and investments

A £1m investment was made into County Durham solar power specialist Power Roll to help it scale up and commercialise its innovative products worldwide.

Power Roll has developed an ultra-thin solar film which can generate and store electricity, and which can be installed on a raft of surfaces including rooftops and sides of buildings, as well as off-grid applications to provide portable power. The firm’s solar film is capable of producing green electricity that is significantly cheaper to make than existing flexible solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies.

The Jade Business Park based business has now received a further £1m following a funding round led by Maven Capital Partners. The transaction is made up of two investments from Maven-managed regional funds including a £750,000 investment from the North East Development Capital Fund, supported by the European Regional Development Fund, and a £250,000 investment from the Finance Durham Fund, established by Durham County Council and overseen by Business Durham.

The deal comes three years after Maven contributed a £250,000 investment through the Finance Durham Fund, before leading an additional £2.5m funding round in 2021 from the Finance Durham Fund and the North East Development Capital Fund. Power Roll opened its solar film pilot manufacturing facility at the Seaham business park last year, making it the first facility in the world to produce low-cost, lightweight, flexible solar film using its patented technology.

Left to right: Jiří Nálevka, director of Trains Arriva CZ, Daniel Adamka, managing director of Arriva CZ, Jiří Crha, deputy governor South Moravia, Jiří Horský, director kordis in Jihomoravsky (Arriva)

North East transport giant Arriva Group sealed a contract to run trains in the Czech Republic in a deal worth €94m. The Sunderland firm runs CrossCountry and Chiltern train services for the Department for Transport; the London Overground for Transport for London; Grand Central between London and the North, and bus services around the UK.

The business has been awarded a rail contract worth the equivalent of £80.2m to operate trains in the South Moravian region of the Czech Republic in moves to further strengthen Arriva’s footprint. The signing follows the recent 15-year rail contract awarded to the company to operate services in the Pilsen region of the country – a deal worth €82.5m (£70.4m) – securing Arriva’s position as its second largest private rail operator.

The new train services are due to start operating in December 2024 and the contract will run for 10 years. Passengers in South Moravia will be served by 13 new trains, which will be able to carry 100 seated passengers, with additional spaces for prams, wheelchairs and bicycles. Sian Leydon, Arriva Group’s managing director for Mainland Europe, said: “We are delighted that our team has been successful in securing a contract in a completely new region of the Czech Republic, growing our business there. This contract will expand on our presence in the neighbouring region of Zlín.”

Xinfluence investment: (from left) founders Paul and Mark Wright with Jane Siddle of NEL Fund Managers. (Xinfluence)

A North East digital technology firm is looking to build its influence across the UK marketing sector after securing a six-figure investment. Xinfluence’s software platform Xi enables brands and advertising agencies to search, engage, and collaborate with verified influencers, helping them identify the most appropriate partners for online marketing activities. Xi uses a range of metrics to help and maximise clients’ return on investment, helping the creation of tailored marketing content for social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube from concept through to full post-campaign analytics.

The Newcastle business, which also has a London office, is using a £200,000 investment from the North East Growth Capital Fund Loan Fund, which was sourced though regional fund management firm NEL Fund Managers, to boost its sales and business development resources, with up to 11 new jobs expected to be created over the next two years.

Work is also continuing on the development of new technologies, with a new tool to enable brands to connect their digital marketing activities directly to sales in physical stores set to be launched later this year. Xinfluence was founded four years ago by brothers Mark and Paul Wright, who have five decades’ combined experience in the digital marketing, technology and sales industries. The company has also brought in Gary Hunter and Sam Morton, founders of renowned affiliate marketing company The Redu Group, as non-executive directors.

The owner of The Head of Steam pub chain sold a number of North pubs to a growing London hospitality vehicle. Camerons Brewery has disposed of 27 tenanted pubs for an undisclosed sum, selling the sites to FB Taverns as part of a strategic move to support growth across its brewery and managed pub division. The deal comes eight months after a large number of its franchised, leased and tenanted pubs in its portfolio were put up for sale.

Pubs in the deal are believed to include the Top House in Stanley, the Mill House in Hartlepool, the Lambton Arms in South Shields and the King’s Head in Bishops Auckland. Following the disposal, Camerons will continue to operate 47 pubs across the UK. The business, which also sells beers and ales brewed at its Hartlepool brewery, will maintain its managed pubs including its flagship brand, The Head of Steam. Camerons acquired the popular brand, which began with its first pub on Newcastle’s Neville Street, back in 2013 and it has since expanded and now has 15 sites across the UK.

Other hostelries remaining under Camerons Brewery ownership include its Urban Country Pubs brand, formed in July 2016 following the purchase of seven venues from Leeds Brewery. The move comes a year after the firm – which previously had 34 managed and 43 franchised pubs – announced a return to profit, having seen profits plummet during two full lockdowns.

Orca Cleaning Group investment (L-R): Steven Holmes, Michael Monkman, Hollie Holmes (Orca Cleaning Group)

A County Durham family firm which started six years ago with one van has expanded into a new base on the back of a six-figure investment. Orca Cleaning Group recently moved to a larger unit on Belmont Industrial Estate in Durham after outgrowing its previous one, having secured new contracts across the UK. The family-owned industrial cleaning company has also appointed a new member to the management team to support its growth plans, following the sizeable investment in premises and equipment.

The firm provides professional cleaning services to owners and operators of offices, factories, warehouses and large retail stores throughout the UK, and it has appointed Michael Monkman to the newly-created role of operations director to help with further growth.

Steven Holmes, chief executive, said: “We’ve seen exciting growth over the last six years, when I started the company with just one van. We now have a team of 18, contracts all over the UK, and some household names as customers. We’ve got our eyes set on rapid but sustainable growth, and bringing Michael in at this level is the perfect way to ensure that we are strategic and measured – his wealth of experience will be a valuable asset to Orca.”

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