Williams Advanced Engineering celebrates £50 million raised to help 20 UK SMEs

Photo shows: Open Bionics of Bristol
Open Bionics

Oxfordshire-based technology and engineering company Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE) has announced that its technology investment partnership with private equity investor Foresight Group has hit a milestone of £50 million raised, helping a total of 20 UK-based SMEs and start-ups take their innovative products to market.

The Foresight Williams Technology EIS fund launched in 2016 to help grow small and medium-sized UK technology and engineering businesses, giving them access to expert technical expertise and investment.

The inspiration for the fund followed a partnership between WAE and Aerofoil Energy which rolled out an energy-saving refrigeration system across most of the UK supermarkets, preventing cold air from spilling into the aisle and  delivering significant energy savings and reducing CO2 emissions.

Harnessing WAE’s technology development and commercialisation experience, including specialist skills across electrification, lightweight materials, aerodynamics and thermodynamics as well as low-volume production, with Foresight’s 36-year track record of fund raising and investing, the fund invests in UK businesses with high-growth potential and defensible technologies beyond the Proof of Concept stage.  As well as technical support, WAE brings commercial and promotional support.

The 20th and very latest company to benefit from Foresight Williams Technology EIS Fund investment is Southampton-based Audioscenic, which uses small arrays of speakers and advanced head tracking technologies to create immersive 3D Sound systems, meaning that headphones or speakers located all around a room are no longer required; tapping into the growing $3.8 billion audio market. The fund has invested £1 million as part of a £1.6 million round.

The Foresight Williams Technology EIS Fund has also invested £1.5 million into a Cambridge University spin out, Flusso, which has developed the world’s smallest flow sensor, with WAE sharing market research into automotive applications and making introductions to potential customers.

Some £2.95 million has been invested in Inovo, a collaborative robotics company whose USPs are its ease of installation and a modular robotic arm which can be adapted depending on the application – ideal for low volume or batch manufacturing. WAE has been supporting Inovo since 2018 with customer introductions, programme management reviews and are currently installing a Cobot into WAE’s battery build facility.

Illustrating the diverse nature of the fund, the ninth investment of £1.5million was in Bristol-based Open Bionics, which is building and developing the next generation of bionic limbs using 3D printing and simplified mechanical systems opening up attractive new markets for whom bionic functionality was until now too expensive. The company’s first commercial product, its Hero Arm, has combined competitive pricing with commercial licences from Disney, Marvel and Pixar, positioning the Hero Arm with children as young as eight and adolescents, changing their perceived disability into superhero status.

Following the success of the EIS fund, a new VCT share class has also been launched which can invest funds alongside the EIS fund.

Craig Wilson, managing director at Williams Advanced Engineering, said: “We’re extremely proud that the Foresight Williams Technology EIS Fund has hit a milestone of £50 million and 20 innovative UK company investments.

“The opportunity to collaborate with start-ups who demonstrated transformational technology and could benefit from WAE’s expertise to develop, commercialise and scale, has allowed us to address the challenge facing most new start-ups  – funding. Foresight Group have allowed us to solve that issue and have been the perfect partner from the start.

Bernard Fairman, Group Chairman, Foresight Group added: “Since being introduced to Williams Advanced Engineering in 2015 and making the decision to launch an innovative and collaborative fund structure with them, I’ve been delighted by the significant progress that the Foresight Williams Technology EIS and VCT funds have made.

“I founded Foresight in 1984 to make investments into UK SME’s and over the last 36 years Foresight has supported hundreds of companies. It wasn’t until the launch of the Foresight Williams Strategy that we invested in collaboration with a design and engineering partner but having just completed our twentieth investment with WAE we have evidenced that such an approach brings real positives to the investment and portfolio management process.”

Matthew Burke Head of Technology Ventures at Williams Advanced Engineering, said: “When looking for businesses to invest in the ones that stand out are those with exceptional teams and defensible technology that addresses high value market needs.

“It is hugely satisfying to be able to combine WAE’s technical expertise with Foresight’s track record in investment and help so many early stage UK companies make the leap over the ‘valley of death’ to market.”

In 2010, Williams Grand Prix Engineering Limited began diversifying its operations, leading to the establishment of the Williams Advanced Engineering division, which became Williams Advanced Engineering Limited.

In December 2019, Williams Grand Prix Engineering agreed to the sale of a majority equity stake in Williams Advanced Engineering to EMK Capital, with Williams retaining a significant minority stake in the business. Williams Advanced Engineering has grown from an embryonic business in 2010 to a company employing 350 people engaged in many innovative and transformative technical areas for a growing list of clients. The investment by EMK represented a natural next step in the evolution of the company, unlocking the potential for further growth.