From antibody tests and ventilators, through treacle sponge and trigonometry, to wine, wetsuits and light switches

Insights from the COVID-19 pandemic: true of our complex and diverse portfolio; relevant to all UK SMEs.

7 minute read

Mobeus has been investing in UK SMEs for over 20 years. Today, our team manages over £400m of assets, across all sectors, and from early-stage growth through to more mature businesses. 

Of course, the current environment continues to evolve and challenge us. Many of our management teams are working day and night to meet the very real struggles of this crisis. But we have also seen examples of innovation and entrepreneurial talent, helping us to Stay home, Stay alert and Save lives.

Stay home

While messaging has moved on, the legacy of “stay home” will remain. As consumers hunter-gathered on online platforms, the friction hindering tech disruption was polished away by necessity, leaving behind positive experiences and strong brand loyalty to teams that delivered in moments of need.

A number of our businesses offer subscription services delivered on tech platforms that have supported people staying in their homes. Virgin Wines has seen certain demographics redirect disposable income to recreation at home rather than in pubs and restaurants. Bella & Duke, the subscription home delivery service for premium raw dog food, continues to trade well. Parsley Box delivers quality ambient ready meals directly to customers across the UK on an order-by-order basis. In March, the business saw a threefold increase in orders compared to February and demand remains high.

Consumers also prioritised cleaning and Star Brands, the laundry and cleaning product manufacturer, has seen very strong sales. At CCC, Europe's largest producer of high quality non-stick coated metal, sales of metal for non-stick bakeware are up and anticipated to increase, now that shops are starting to re-open and as home baking continues to rise.

After such a sustained period of lockdown, more affluent consumers are increasingly making aspirational purchases to alleviate feelings of stagnation and to help picture a future beyond COVID-19. Wetsuit Outlet is a leading online retailer of technical clothing and equipment for water sports, which is seeing healthy sales of kit like wetsuits and paddleboards, hinting at hopes for late-summer activity staycations. Buster+Punch, the London-based interiors brand, is performing particularly well in B2C sales to design-led home-owners seeking to improve the environment they are spending so much time in. 

Turning to younger demographics, vegan and cruelty-free hair colour and care brand, BLEACH LONDON, has empowered bold, at-home transformations. Leveraging its strong social media following, the brand has won positive feedback for its virtual hair parties. At the roots, these solve the practical problem of how to manage haircare while salons are temporarily closed but importantly, they also literally add colour to the monotony for 16-35 year olds stuck at home, with live, practical advice from celebrity hairdresser Alex Brownsell, as well as interaction with supporters and influencers, like Georgia May Jagger. 

MyTutor, the leading digital platform for online private tutoring in the UK, has launched a free online school with new content on key GCSE topics added daily for 13-16 year olds seeking to keep their studies on track. MyTutor has always advocated for the use of EdTech in the classroom and now parents and students alike have recognised that, while online school doesn’t replace face-to-face teaching, it has a clear role in the current environment, and is likely to leave a lasting legacy in the classroom and at home.

Stay alert

With COVID-19 data being created and shared at an unprecedented scale, we are pleased that the experts at some of our investee companies have stayed focused on the legacy of the pandemic on issues like data privacy, governance and preservation.

From the ethics of mass surveillance and contact-tracing, to protecting privacy in an era of extraordinary measures, Access Partnership, an international public policy firm, which advises many of the world’s largest technology companies, is at the heart of the debate on how COVID-19 will impact tech policy.

Active Navigation, the data privacy and governance software provider, is supporting public and private organisations with governance tools they can implement quickly and securely. Active has released a free-to-use COVID-19 Rule-Pack that gives visibility into COVID-19 related activity across an organisation’s data estate. The pack also helps prepare companies for legislation which may require documentation of pandemic-related actions.

The digital preservation specialists, Preservica, have set up #ourCOVID19Story, an initiative to help capture the digital history of COVID-19 in real time. By donating 250GB of free Preservica storage, institutions are preserving official and humanitarian records of this extraordinary period for generations to come.

Save lives

Through its partnership with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Preservica also exemplifies the range of businesses delivering or supporting life-saving work. With Preservica’s help, the RCN is ensuring that vital medical and clinical guidance is available to nurses, as well as creating a real time record of decision-making processes by actively documenting and preserving actions being taken in high-pressure, live care situations.

Rotageek uses cloud-based technology and automatic scheduling to help multi-site businesses manage and schedule staff to meet demand, drive efficiency and reduce costs. The service is being offered for free for the next three months to the NHS and wider healthcare teams and is currently being implemented across hospitals nationwide. The service will support decision-makers to deliver a fast, effective and coordinated response to substantial fluctuations in demand for hospital care presented by the pandemic. 

The online platform accelerating the reach and impact of academic research, Kudos, has created a real-time mechanism for scientists and researchers to share findings and explain recommendations for everything relating to COVID-19 to a range of audiences. This includes plain English summaries being used by the UK Government. 

Some of our business partners were well placed to deliver urgent innovation at the very epicentre of the crisis, in response to the UK Government’s request for help from industry. A team at Kinneir Dufort, the innovation and product development consultancy, which designed the world’s first portable skin cancer treatment, has produced a supply chain solution for the design and production of 10,000 ventilators, for Babcock International. Omega Diagnostics, the medical diagnostics business, is one of three companies that, in conjunction with the University of Oxford, are jointly developing and manufacturing a COVID-19 point of care antibody test as part of the UK Government’s five pillar national testing strategy.

A huge number of businesses throughout the country have been turning their particular experience to help in whichever way possible. Ventrica is a multilingual and omni-channel outsourced contact centre, which has been handling consumer enquiries and doing back-office administration and document checking for a number of well-known, national, COVID-19 initiatives. Bishopsgate, the specialist logistics and installations sub-brand of Master Removers Group, has delivered critical equipment, including to NHS Nightingale. CGI, the designer and supplier of technical self-adhesive branding solutions, has developed a range of face shields and other personal protective equipment, as well as floor-markings and signage to ensure social distancing in workplaces from factories to shops. 

At its heart, this is a crisis of human suffering across the whole spectrum. But it’s also a reminder of the importance of humanity and human experience, even as tech disruption is accelerated. It’s one of our core beliefs that we are only as good as the people we partner with. We are incredibly proud to support our hard-working entrepreneurs, many of whom have found opportunity in adversity and continue to be risk takers.

If you would like to discuss any of these trends, businesses or indeed new investment opportunities, please do get in touch.

03 June 2020

03 June 2020

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