Small Cap Awards 2022 – Meet the nominees for Aquis Company of the Year

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Small Cap Awards 2022 – Meet the nominees for Aquis Company of the Year

The Small Cap Awards celebrate the best in UK businesses with market capitalisation of below £200 million. The awards will be presented in London on the 30th June with a panel of market experts picking out the winners. Find out more about the awards, the event and the panel at the Small Cap Awards 2022 website. The awards are made possible through the support of our sponsors.

The nominees for Aquis Company of the Year are as follows:

Capital for Colleagues plc

Capital for Colleagues (C4C) has been operating for over eleven years and has been listed on the Aquis Growth Market (and previous exchanges) since March 2014.

C4C is an investment company that focuses exclusively on advising, investing in and supporting the growth of existing or aspiring Employee Owned Businesses (EOBs), predominantly in the UK. One of C4C’s specialisms is to help companies undertake a Management and Employee Buyout (MEBO), where the shareholdings are re-structured so that management and employees become significant shareholders in the business going forward.

This MEBO is often used as an elegant solution to the succession challenge faced by SME business founders and directors.

C4C currently has 13 investee companies in its portfolio across a diverse range of sectors and has a strong pipeline of further investment opportunities.

The success of Capital for Colleagues

C4C’s success is based on a number of factors:

  • Transition to employee ownership is now a mainstream succession and growth option for business owners and leaders. With over 800 EO businesses in the UK, this trend is likely to continue.
  • The management team has decades of experience of advising and investing in employee owned businesses.
  • It is prepared to be patient with its invested capital, thereby ensuring that the investee companies develop into well managed, successful businesses
  • It has successfully exited a number of portfolio companies over the past two years. The capital raised has been re-invested in existing and new portfolio companies, alongside dividends for shareholders.
  • It has attracted investment from institutional investors as well a high net worth individuals, who support the board’s strategy.

Based on the track record to date, we are confident that C4C can continue to produce attractive returns for its investors.

S-Ventures plc

S-Ventures (“S-Ven” or the “Company”) is proud to be quoted on the Aquis Growth Market, listing in September 2020. S-Ven looks to identify investment opportunities in the highly sought after health & wellness, organic food and wellbeing sectors within the UK and Europe that have a strong foundation and platform and who can benefit from S-Ventures wider infrastructure and development support.

The Company acts as an incubator to its investments, adding value by providing capital and the extensive expertise of its board. The Company seeks to acquire significant stakes in investee companies using shares in S-Ventures PLC that confer either direct majority control or significant influence through a shareholder agreement, as well as providing development capital through S-Venture’s own resources and introduced banking relationships.

The Company’s main objectives are to scale the individual brands through a review of product proposition, digital development, marketing channels, supply chain economics and financing, as well as to cross-fertilise opportunities between investee companies, and to scale the individual entities and look for synergistic collaborations with third-parties, and longer term ultimately assessing potential exit opportunities to maximise returns for shareholders.

S-Ven has built an enviable portfolio of brands strongly positioned to address market opportunities:

Livia’s – a UK-based brand that delivers on ‘naturally scrumptious, plant-based indulgence’, and is always gluten free and dairy free too. The range includes cake mix, sweet snacks and spreads. Available at Tesco, Boots, Ocado and Holland & Barrett.

Pulsin – a brand with an emphasis on feel-good nutrition, the range features award-winning snack bars, protein powders, keto products and shakes packed full of nutritional goodness and super ingredients. Available at most large retailers such as Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Boots, Asda, Holland & Barrett and Ocado.

Ohso – a UK-based brand specialising in luxury Belgian chocolate which has the functional benefit of live cultures via a unique micro-encapsulation process.

We Love Purely – UK-based plantain chip brand with an emphasis on sustainability and natural ingredients. Available at Holland & Barrett, Ocado and Planet Organic.

Plant Punk – The 100% plant-based meat alternative with zero compromise: premium taste yet 60% less calories and fat than their competitors. PlantPunk doesn’t use any processed ingredients, only sustainable plant-based ingredients created using low impact production processes.

Market Rocket – a dynamic, growth-focused digital agency that partners exclusively with product and brand owners globally to identify and realise significant digital business opportunities. Since its inception in 2019, the agency has established itself as one of the UK’s leading agencies within the Amazon ecosystem and is accredited as an Amazon SPN (Service Provider Network) agency.

The S-Ventures board is home to a wealth of skills and experience which can be leveraged for the benefit of its investee companies. The executive team is led by Scott Livingston (CEO).

Scott founded and listed S-Ventures PLC in 2020, to identify and capitalise upon investment opportunities in the high growth natural wellness sector and build a consolidated group sharing infrastructure and capital. Prior to S-Ventures, Scott focused full-time on the Westlab group as Founder and CEO, a bath and body care business he founded in 2004 which is now a global wellness brand with factories in the UK and USA with distribution across multiple countries.  Scott has also been an active and engaged investor across consumer and finance industries and at an early age of 23 listed his first business in 2000 on the OFEX junior stock market, which was eventually sold in 2005.

Scott is a member of YPO, Young Presidents Association, a serving member in various community charities and also serves as a non-executive on a number of boards. 

Scott is supported on the board by the highly experienced Bhanu Choudhrie, Nick D’Onofrio and Alex Phillips. An advisory board comprising leading and successful entrepreneurs has also been established and their expertise can also be drawn on for the benefit of target companies.

The period since listing has been one of rapid and significant progress with the Company acquiring majority stakes in five fast growing companies and investing in two more. Within only 18 months of listing S-Ven already has an exciting portfolio of investment companies with great potential for added value and exciting future prospects.

In May 2021 the Company raised an additional £3m of working capital at a price of 15p compared to its listing price of 4p in September 2020 and in December 2021 the Company raised an additional £3m of working capital at 70p per Share, demonstrating the ability of Aquis to support growing companies.

Our success in 2021/22 is essentially attributable to our management team’s energy and ability to identify suitable acquisition targets and apply its experience to acquire them on attractive terms for S-Ven shareholders. This is only possible when the target vendors themselves see a clear opportunity to unlock and benefit from the potential in their businesses alongside S-Ven.

S-Ven also benefits from its very clear investment focus and as its portfolio builds opportunities grow to cross fertilise ideas and share resources across the Group.

Shepherd Neame Ltd

ritain’s oldest brewer Shepherd Neame has been based in the market town of Faversham, Kent for over 300 years. Perhaps best known for great British classic ales such as Spitfire Amber, which carries the Royal Warrant, its diverse portfolio includes Five Grain Lager, Bear Island East Coast Pale Ale and Bear Island Triple Hopped Lager, and the Whitstable Bay Collection. It also brews international lagers under licence including Samuel Adams Boston Lager and premium Thai lager Singha. The fifth-generation independent family business boasts an award-winning visitor centre and more than 300 pubs and hotels throughout London and the South East, from the historic heart of the City to the Kent coastline. It has a strong national presence, with premium stockists such as TGI Fridays and Brewhouse & Kitchens, and trades internationally, exporting to 44 countries worldwide including Australia, Portugal, Mexico and China. 

2021/22 was clearly a strong year for the company, to what do you attribute your success?

Our company has been fully tested during the past two years, as hospitality was the sector hardest hit by the pandemic. Our pubs and hotels were closed for more than 300 days, much longer than non-essential retail.

The overriding priority of the Board during this period was the safety and wellbeing of our team members, licensees and customers. We immediately closed the offices and moved to home working, and introduced extensive protections for our brewing team to ensure they were operating in a safe environment. Other actions taken included implementing a buddy system to offer peer-to-peer support, establishing daily communication to all teams and investing in Unmind, a workplace mental health platform now available free of charge to every team member.

We were the first pub company to waive 100% of licensee rent when lockdown came into effect. To date, we have now provided over £7million of financial support through waiving all rent during lockdown periods and continued provision of reduced rent following reopening.

To protect the business, our priority was to conserve cash so immediate actions taken included cancelling the dividend and all capital projects, and minimising expenditure. The Board of Directors and higher paid staff all took a voluntary temporary 20% pay cut, and we accessed the Government Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to furlough up to 97% of all staff.

The pandemic accelerated the need for digital communication, so we took advantage of the lockdown period to develop and invest in this area, including introducing Order & Pay at table in our pubs and a new online ordering portal for our licensees and customers, along with developing our social media strategy and beginning a complete rebuild of our Shepherd Neame and pub websites.

We also used the lockdown period to invest in other key areas including brand development and our signage programme. Our team members were also offered online training opportunities to continue their career development.

Our total losses during this period were £37.4m, with cash losses of £16m, but our revenue has now recovered to the same level as in the first half of the 2020 financial year, pre-pandemic. We have returned to profitability, were able to restore the dividend in April this year, and our net debt (excluding lease liabilities) is the lowest it has been since June 2018. We also returned to covenant in March this year and have been able to resume investment.

This performance has been achieved in spite of difficulties including skills shortages in many pubs; supply chain challenges, both importing and exporting goods to and from the UK; driver shortages in road haulage which have impacted our beer deliveries; substantial inflation in CO² and energy and energy-related products, and the impact of the Omicron variant at our peak trading period.

As an authentic, independent business with a strong community and local presence, our core strategy has remained to focus on our strengths as a brewer and pub operator within our heartland of Kent, London and the South East. Our balance of business between managed, tenanted and brewing divisions, between wet, dry and accommodation sales, and between city, suburban, community and destination outlets has proven extremely resilient. This strong recovery demonstrates not only the financial and operational resilience of the business, but the flexibility and skill of our dedicated and loyal team.

KR1 Plc

KR1 plc is a leading digital asset investment company focused on innovative decentralised and open-source blockchain networks. KR1 plc was incorporated in March 2016 and has one of the longest and most successful track records of investment in the digital asset space. Guided by an experienced management team and as one of the most traded firms listed on the Aquis exchange, KR1 plc is a trusted play for investors looking to gain access and exposure to the fastest growing market in the world.

Since its inception, KR1 plc has gained and maintained momentum, more recently benefitting from investing heavily during the previous bear market cycle in crypto when valuations were low, and this foresight was pivotal in KR1 plc’s subsequent success during the bull market. Major investments such as Moonbeam, Lido or Acala came to market throughout the current and the previous year, highlighting KR1 plc’s ability to pick worthy investments, with these projects delivering great tech and gaining market share.

Crypto and digital assets are attracting more interest than ever before, record numbers of new entrants to the market has created an extremely competitive landscape, but due to its first-mover advantage and deep rooted experience, KR1 plc is well positioned to capitalise on the opportunities available.

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