Pitching for MITIE’s millions

On the day five budding start-ups came together to face the heat from a real-life Dragons' Den, it was apt that the mercury hit 28 degrees.

The rooftop patio at the National Theatre in London was the location for the inaugural MITIE Millions pitching event. Hosted by FTSE 250-listed MITIE, an energy and outsourcing services group, the process gave entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch to a panel of judges for a share of £5 million in investment.

MITIE has already supported a number of fledgling businesses with investment, in the expectation that the start-up will ultimately be acquired and folded into the MITIE organisation.

CEO of MITIE, Ruby McGregor-Smith led the judging panel. She outlines why the business has such a passion for investing in entrepreneurs and their start-ups: ‘At MITIE, entrepreneurialism has always been at the heart of our organisation. Since we started 25 years ago we’ve been in partnership with entrepreneurs to grow their business and we’re as passionate about this today as we were when we started.

‘If you don’t have start-ups as part of your business you don’t stay innovative and in touch with what clients need. So it’s very important that as we get bigger we do more and not less.’

Oli Barrett, co-founder of the Clean and Cool Mission, which helps UK entrepreneurs to meet investors in the US, was compere for the proceedings. He says that he initially became involved with MITIE as part of the Start-Up Britain programme of which the FTSE 250 company is a sponsor.

He adds, ‘I thought it was a refreshing way to see a very big corporate supporting entrepreneurs. When people are starting businesses one of the headstarts they need is getting to paying customers and MITIE has the most amazing opportunity to take these entrepreneurs to market very swiftly.’

Into the lair

Kicking off proceedings was ProFinda, a business led by Roger Gorman and Tierney Stone. It offers a way for companies, particularly large corporates, to compile and analyse all of its employees’ skill sets and abilities. It labels itself as an internal talent and knowledge-matching platform which helps businesses better understand the capabilities of their workforce.

Gorman and Stone had a firm grasp of their figures and, asking for an investment of £300,000, explained that the premise works on the same basis as an online dating site by better understanding the community it is trying to address.

The pitching afternoon also provided the opportunity for employees of MITIE to step out of the plc’s shadow and put forward their own idea for a business.

Paul Abbott, who works within MITIE’s water division, presented his idea for an app-based programme to map areas prone to legionnaires’ disease, and so help control or prevent outbreaks.

He was looking for a £100,000 investment and received positive feedback from the interactive audience vote, with over two-thirds of those in attendance saying they would back him.

Clear Returns was third to face the heat of the judges panel, which consisted of McGregor-Smith, MITIE financial director Suzanne Baxter and chairman of small business banking at RBS, Peter Ibbetson, a man who claims to bleed SMEs if you cut him open.

The business claims to help retailers with procurement and stock levels and buck a trend which sees one in three garments that are purchased online being sent back.

Clear Returns was looking for an investment around the £1 million mark and uses data analytics and a PhD maths whizz to provide companies with a more up-to-date picture of returns. It helps identify products which are frequently returned and out ‘de-shoppers’, those that buy a piece of clothing on a Thursday, wear it over the weekend, and then return it on Monday morning.

After a short refreshment break, when those attending had an opportunity to network and sip a glass of Pimms whilst taking in the sun-drenched South Bank, two more businesses stepped up to the stage hoping to persuade the judges to back their business.

Fourth in line was another MITIE employee, Mike Bond, who has come up with a way of retrofitting inefficient and defunct office lighting by way of a few small additions.

While he was hazy on the amount of money he needed and financial forecasts he thought we achievable, his on-stage demonstration of how easy it is to update the light fittings proved a success.

Bond’s technology claims to take the yearly cost of running an office light from £24 down to £12, by using a form of strip lighting called T5Eco.

The final pitch was from enthusiastic entrepreneur Ricky Ketecha, CEO of Frame Medical. His business is looking to provide advice and vital assessment to sufferers of type II diabetes.

Ketecha was looking for £700,000 from the judges to tap into a market which sees the NHS spend £8.5 billion of its £100 billion budget on the condition.

Winners and losers

With the pitching done and dusted, the judges retired to deliberate on what they had seen. McGregor-Smith was quick to say that while only one business would receive backing, MITIE would be keeping in contact with all of them to monitor progress.

With three out of the five ideas on show being backed by the interactive, but not binding, audience vote, the investment was up for grabs after a number of confident pitches.

But in the end it was ProFinda which walked away with the £300,000 it was seeking after the judges praised its ‘unique’ offering.

Gorman, CEO of ProFinda, says that the idea has been about for six years. The real challenge, he says, has been taking it to market.

He adds, ‘The two big milestones were to pivot the idea so we know it will work and to build a brilliant team around it.’

For ProFinda, the attraction of MITIE’s investment was the speed at which it would be completed. ‘At this stage in a company’s journey we don’t need just money,’ Stone explains, ‘We need the right investor with the money.

‘We think the synergies with MITIE and the doors they can open will help us with the platform, and we see that being as valuable as the cash.’

McGregor-Smith says, ‘I think all of them offered different levels of innovation and also I was really chuffed as they had all really thought through different concepts and were brave enough to stand up in public.

‘We will now help support and develop the business ideas and bring them to fruition to make them a more sustainable businesses.’

The proceedings were closed with champagne and trophy giving, with all five concepts being commended for getting this far.

While the first MITIE Millions event only invested in one company McGregor-Smith says it is concept which will be kept and used to back more businesses in the future.

Hunter Ruthven

Bernard Williamson

Hunter was the Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2012 to 2014, before moving on to Caspian Media Ltd to be Editor of Real Business.

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