News

Music events startup Sofar Sounds has announced a partnership with Irish whiskey brand Jameson to promote emerging musicians through a series of virtual gigs.
 
Sofar’s Seen & Heard Listening Room, which launches today (14 January), will showcase 15 up-and-coming artists in a two-week series of 20-minute stripped back sets at 7pm each night. All of the performances were recorded ahead of the latest lockdown.
 
Acts include alternative hip-hop artist and poet Otis Mensah, funk band I.M.O, and alt-pop poet Tiërny.
 
“The Jameson Seen & Heard platform proudly champions new music and we’re excited to be partnering with Sofar Sounds once again to support performing artists and create real impact in the music space,” said Laura Stephen, Brand Director at Pernod Ricard UK. “It continues to be a challenging time for live music and we hope by giving some of the UK’s brightest emerging talents a virtual stage, passionate music lovers will join in and support local artists in the community.”
 
Alongside the series, which follows Jameson’s previous link-up with Sofar in 2019, three of the participating artists will feature in virtual ‘behind the scenes’ conversations and Sofar will curate a Spotify playlist featuring tracks from the musicians featured in the series. All performance and interview content will go live on YouTube and be supported by social content across Instagram and Facebook.
 
The partnership was developed in collaboration with Havas Media and Jump, Havas Media Group’s content and partnerships hub.
 
“Throughout 2020, Sofar Sounds has focused all its efforts on supporting artists through our Listening Room, a global artist fund and our In Session webinars,” said Matt McDonagh, VP of Global Commercial Partnerships at Sofar Sounds. “We’re delighted to be able to spotlight these 15 talented UK artists through Seen & Heard; working with Jameson to bring their creative ambitions to life and creating spaces where music matters. For Sofar to be able to spotlight these artists in and around our UK hometown, makes it all the more powerful for us.”

Yorkshire-based milk delivery company The Modern Milkman has raised fresh funding.
 
In a recent move, The Modern Milkman just announced that it raised £5M funding from EFT Partners. The company will use the investment to provide an impact in the UK during 2021.
 
Simon Mellin, the company’s founder and chief executive, said “ETF Partners’ insight, skill and experience in the sustainability space will help us deliver the positive impact we strive to have on the environment at pace, as we move forward with our expansion plans across the UK over the course of 2021”.
 
Tomer Strikovsky, Investment Manager, ETF Partner, said: “In today’s world, many of us want to reduce our environmental impact on the planet, but convenience remains the key to our daily lives. We are fully convinced that modern milk deliverers will play an important role in changing the way we consume our food, and we continue to be impressed with the founders and their commitment to sustainability.“
 
As per The Modern Milkman, it has witnessed increased revenues of up to tenfold in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
It is one of the companies that have been benefited during the pandemic crisis. The Modern milk deliverers have enjoyed a strong demand during uncertain time. Given that it has to deliver tens of thousands of milk bottles weekly in Manchester, Leeds and Lancashire, customers can order by 9 PM and get the same delivered by 7:30 AM the next day.The Modern Milkman claims to have reduced the use of 9 tonnes of disposable plastic through a service that develops returnable and reusable packages.
A new Which? investigation has uncovered gaps in online banking security systems that could help criminals to scam customers, reinforcing why banks must do more to protect their customers and reimbursement of bank transfer scam victims must be made mandatory.
 
Which? conducted an investigation with independent security experts 6point6, scrutinising the online banking safety measures in place across the largest current account providers.
 
The investigation found that some of the biggest banks, such as Santander, Tesco Bank and TSB, have concerning vulnerabilities in security that could leave their customers exposed to fraud.
 
While online banking is a largely safe way to manage money and this is being enhanced by measures such as behavioural biometrics, where firms analyse the unique way you hold a device, to stop fraud, Which? is concerned that the issues exposed by its investigation highlight that banks could do more to prioritise security above all else.
 
In some of these instances, there is the potential for scammers to access information which could be used as the building blocks of a sophisticated scam – arming a fraudster with enough sensitive information to pull off convincing cons, such as posing as a bank employee to persuade a customer to transfer money from their bank account to a fraudulent one.
 
Many victims of these scams – which potentially have lax bank security measures at their heart – then face a double blow as some banks disregard the obligations to reimburse victims that they signed up to last year.
 
Tesco Bank received the poorest rating for online security in Which?’s testing, with an overall score of just 46%. Researchers found multiple security headers missing from its webpages. These are important as they protect against a range of cyberattacks, by telling your browser how to behave when it communicates with the website. It also failed to block testers from logging in to the website from two computer networks at the same time. In addition, it failed to log out testers when switching to a different website or using the forward/back button to leave the session and return to it.
 
TSB finished second from bottom with a score of 51%. Among the issues identified in Which? testing, the most serious was the firm’s login process, which did not meet new regulations on ‘strong customer authentication’ (SCA), introduced in March. When Which? reported TSB’s non-compliance to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), it was told that it doesn’t comment on specific firms and would not confirm how many firms have been granted an effective SCA extension in relation to online banking.
 
TSB told Which? in November 2020 that it is compliant with the regulation for all new customers and that SCA is being rolled out for existing online and mobile customers, but could not say when this will be completed. The forced upgrade has since been completed for mobile app users but is still being rolled out for online banking users.
 
TSB customers do at least enjoy some peace of mind due to the bank’s fraud refund guarantee, which ensures the vast majority of scam victims get their money back.
 
Santander rounded off the bottom three, with a score of 62%. Testing found that authentication checks when logging in can be bypassed if a user designates a device as ‘trusted’. While the firm said it does ask for reauthorisation if it detects unusual activity, there’s no option to view or ‘distrust’ these devices.
 
Several Banks Demonstrated Strong Security Measures
 
Starling came out on top, with a score of 85% Experts found nothing concerning with its recently launched online banking website. This is partly due to limited functionality, as users can only change sensitive data via the app.
 
Barclays, HSBC and First Direct tied for the second spot, with a score of 78%, but had areas for improvement.
 
Many of the banks included in Which?’s investigation are signed up to the industry code on bank transfer scams, which pledges to reimburse scam victims who are not at fault. However, the number of victims who get their money returned by banks is worryingly low, standing at around the 40% mark. Because firms apply the code inconsistently and are not required to publish their reimbursement rates, scam victims face a lottery when it comes to getting their money back.
 
Which? is calling for the voluntary bank transfer scams code to be overhauled so that stronger consumer protections and reimbursement for scam victims become mandatory for all banks and payment providers. The regulator should also be required to regularly publish reimbursement rates of individual banks so consumers can check on their account provider’s performance.
 
Harry Rose, Editor of Which? Magazine, said: “Banks must lead the battle against fraud, yet our security tests have revealed a big gap between the best and worst providers when it comes to keeping people safe from the threat of having their account compromised.
 
“The serious failings we have exposed with some providers reinforce the need for banks to up their game on scam protections, and for greater transparency and stronger standards on fraud reimbursement to be made mandatory for all banks and payment providers.”
A period of record performance has been reported by online fashion retailer, Sosandar, which was founded by former fashion journalists and co-chief executives Ali Hall and Julie Lavington.
 
A trading update covering the three months to December 31, 2020, showed revenues of £3.98m, up six per cent year-on-year, delivered with a £1.61m (66%) reduction in marketing spend. The EBITDA loss was reduced by approximately 60% compared with the same period in the prior year. December revenue was equal to revenue in September 2020, significantly better than anticipated given the pivot to minimal marketing spend during the month.
 
The business says it has strong sales with John Lewis and Next, with December being the highest month to date reflecting continued expansion of the product range. Net cash of £3.90m as at December 31, 2020, reflects the strong trading performance and continued careful cost management, the business said.
 
Following growth in the customer database through Autumn, the company said it is well placed to successfully navigate the next few months, with the focus being mostly on engaging with existing customers as well as prospects while the current lockdown measures endure.
 
Ali Hall and Julie Lavington said: “We are extremely pleased to report another period of record performance, particularly given the significantly reduced marketing spend and extremely strong comparatives achieved in the prior year. It is testament to the relevance and quality of our product that we have been able to deliver such a performance without the seasonal strong sales of party dresses, and shows our ability to understand and cater to our customers’ needs.
 
“The agile nature of our business has enabled us to adapt quickly to the challenges and uncertainties within the retail sector. The resilience that the business has shown, both operationally and financially, demonstrates the strength of our business model and relevance of our products and customer engagement across a large end market.”
Scotch malt whisky company Glenmorangie has announced two senior promotions in its marketing and communications functions.
 
Caspar MacRae has taken on an expanded role as the director of marketing and business development.
 
He will oversee the commercially focused department with end-to-end responsibility for stewarding The Glenmorangie Company’s brands as well as driving key markets and sales.
 
Ellie Goss takes up a newly-created role on the executive team, as director of corporate affairs and hospitality.
 
Ms Goss, who joined the company in 2014 as head of communications, will be responsible for promoting the visitor attractions.
 
She will also oversee the Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton owned company’s CSR initiatives. She will take the lead on internal communications, and continuing her role as chairman of the Scotch Whisky Association’s communication working group.
Online homeware sales skyrocketed last year as the work-from-home (WFH) revolution saw shoppers invest in their home offices.
 
According to a new study from online homeware giant Made.com, 68% of Brits bought items online for their home at least once a month last year, while 20 per cent did so multiple times a week.
 
Of the 1000 adults polled by Made, 40% said they had bought new homeware last year, while a further 40% said they had renovated their gardens.
 
This saw sales in Made’s outdoor range jump 110% compared to 2019, including a 125% rise in planter sales and a 273% jump in search impressions for plant stands.
 
With almost all of the nation having to work from home at some point during 2020, compact desk sales skyrocketed 600% compared to a year earlier.
 
“This past year has made a big difference to the way we view our homes,” Made’s design director Ruth Wassermann said.
 
“No longer are they solely a place to lay our heads at night but they’re our work out space, our office space, our local pub, and even school classrooms! Our research has shown that we care more about our homes than ever before and it’s great to see people turning their hand, some for the first time, to decorating and designing their happy place.”
 
“Our survey reflects how we have all adapted and spent our time at home in 2020. We have seen a spike in demand on key items, spanning from our office furniture range to increasing demand in our outdoor range, portraying how we are all re-evaluating our spaces at home.
 
“The newfound value in our homes has also been reflected by the rapid acceleration in the shift to online shopping.”
The UK Space Agency (UKSA) is to partner with Rolls-Royce in the first study into how nuclear power could be used to push the boundaries of space exploration.
 
Under the partnership, planetary scientists will work together to explore whether nuclear power could be used as a source of energy to propel spacecraft deeper into space in the coming decades.
 
Nuclear propulsion – first proposed and attempted in the 1950s – would involve harnessing the energy released in the splitting of heavy atomic nuclei to accelerate propellants such as hydrogen in order to drive the spacecraft onwards. An engine based on nuclear power could be twice as efficient as conventional chemical engines which power today’s spacecraft.
 
A spacecraft could conceivably complete a trip to Mars in just three to four months using nuclear propulsion, making crewed missions to the Red Planet more feasible. In addition to saving time, this would cut the dose of radiation astronauts are exposed to during the trip
 
Using a small nuclear generator on a spacecraft could also prove more reliable in deep space exploration, where sunlight is too dim to rely on solar panels.
 
“As we build back better from the pandemic, it is partnerships like this between business, industry and government that will help create jobs and bring forward pioneering innovations that will advance UK spaceflight,” said Amanda Solloway, the science minister.
 
“Nuclear power presents transformative possibilities for space exploration and this innovative study with Rolls-Royce could help to propel our next generation of astronauts into space faster and for longer, significantly increasing our knowledge of the universe.”
 
Dr Graham Turnock, head of UKSA, commented: “Space nuclear power and propulsion is a game-changing concept that could unlock future deep-space missions that take us to Mars and beyond. This study will help us understand the exciting potential of atomic-powered spacecraft and whether this nascent technology could help us travel further and faster through space than ever before.”
 
Dave Gordon, UK senior vice-president of Rolls-Royce Defence, added: “We are excited to be working with [UKSA] on this pioneering project to define future nuclear power technologies for space. We believe there is a real niche UK capability in this area and this initiative can build on the strong UK nuclear network and supply chain.”
 
“We look forward to developing this and other exciting space projects in the future as we continue to develop the power to protect our planet, secure our world, and explore our universe.”
 
The government hopes that this project could create new skilled jobs across the UK. The government is hopeful that an innovative space economy could blossom in the UK, throwing support behind Nasa’s ambitious Artemis program, purchasing a large share of the bankrupt satellite company OneWeb, and with plans in the pipeline to build a spaceport in Scotland.
Food ingredients business Real Good Food said its two divisions have continued to improve, even in the face of pandemic shutdowns, in a trading update.
 
The business comprises a cake decoration operation trading as Renshaw and Rainbow Dust Colours, and a food ingredients arm trading as Brighter Food.
 
The group said they are getting stronger and more resilient after a tough first half and while the near-term outlook continues to hold challenges due to COVID-19, improved third quarter trading demonstrated encouraging progress and provides confidence for the future.
 
Following the easing of some COVID-19 restrictions, encouragingly Q3 (September-December 2020) revenues and EBITDA were in-line with last year’s third quarter at £19.4m and £1.7m, respectively, as well as being in line with board expectations.
 
The group said once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Brighter Foods is well placed to recommence the growth reported in 2020, capitalising on its additional capacity, market opportunities and new product innovation capabilities, while Renshaw should benefit more fully from its restructuring and greater focus on product innovation and customer service.
 
Executive chairman, Mike Holt, said: “It is pleasing that both businesses are getting stronger and more resilient, despite the current economic challenges and that the group’s Q3 performance was much improved on the first half and in line with last year and board expectations. The board remains committed to reducing the group’s debt burden and reviewing all initiatives to improve its capital structure.”
Consumer insights business Vypr is planning expansion with £2.5 million of new funding.
 
The Manchester firm intends to move into new sectors and overseas markets with the growth capital investment backed by YFM Equity Partners (YFM) through its British Smaller Companies VCTs.
 
Founded in 2013 by Ben Davies, Vypr has built a cloud-based data validation platform that enables manufacturers and retailers to save time and costs on new product development by providing insight into what customers want to see on the shelves. 
 
It combines research into behavioural science with a segmented consumer panel, allowing the client to test every aspect of product innovation, from packaging, pricing and naming to product claims and ranging.
 
Vypr works with leading retailers such as The Co-op Food and brands like Weetabix and Müller. The 15-strong team expanded its consumer panel into France and Germany in 2020.
 
It has developed a number of additional products such as an analytics tool for profiling multiple products within a given category or classification; a function which assesses consumer value perception of products and models pricing elasticity; and a brand sentiment tracker.
 
The investment from YFM will enable the business to grow its sales and marketing team as it builds on its strong customer base among food manufacturers, retailers and FMCG brands and moves into new vertical sectors. 
 
Vypr will also continue to invest in product development as well as exploring further international markets, building on its European presence.
 
Chair of Vypr, Richard Law, an expert in data and data analytics driven disruption, commented: “With ever-increasing consumer demand for interesting products driving innovation, our clients are looking to launch fewer but more successful products as well as optimising their share of the available market.
 
“The Vypr platform has proved able to provide them with this valuable intelligence in less than an hour – it eliminates the need for expensive research and reduces the number of failed product launches. We’ve had phenomenal feedback from clients who say it has transformed the way they work.
 
“The success of Vypr is down to the vision of our founder and the world-leading team of people that we have managed to bring together. I’m confident of Vypr’s long-term strategy and its continued success.”
UK-based battery storage startup Connected Energy makes use of electric vehicle batteries that are at the end of their in-car first life to create energy storage systems.
 
The company combines as many batteries as needed for customised solutions with capacities from less than 100 kilowatt hours to up to 15 megawatt hours or higher.
 
Now, ENGIE New Ventures, the corporate venture fund of ENGIE announced that it has pumped in funds into Connected Energy. The £1.2M funding round welcomes Low Carbon Innovation Fund 2 along with existing investors ENGIE New Ventures, Sumitomo and Macquarie among others. Also, there is a R&D grant from Innovate UK as part of the ENGIE and UKRI Clean Growth Innovation Fund.
 
“We almost double the working life of the batteries for vehicles and thereby greatly increase the value created from the resources already embedded in them. Our objective is to provide our end-customers with bankable energy storage systems and our battery supply partners with reliable routes to market for their second-life batteries,” said Matthew Lumsden, CEO of Connected Energy. “With this additional investment we aim to capitalize on our system data to further optimize our technology and continue to scale up our development plans.”
 
“Connected Energy offers ingenious solutions to answer this need while offering a second life to electric vehicle batteries. Its approach provides a strategic fit with ENGIE’s ambition to accelerate the transition towards a carbon-neutral world. Our investment in Connected Energy is a key example of developments in our distributed energy management business like Zero Emissions Services (ZES) in The Netherlands and other projects in Belgium,” stated Johann Boukhors, Managing Director at ENGIE New Ventures.
 
“Investing in British innovators with solutions for the transition to a clean economy and achieving net zero by 2050 is of paramount importance as we aim to build back better from recent challenging times. It is great to see this first investment through the clean growth investor partnership come to fruition, and we are looking forward to this being the first of many investments that brings together SME innovations, private finance into those businesses, and government funding to enable de-risking of the technology with sustainable outcomes,” stated Christian Inglis, Head of Urban Systems at Innovate UK.
 
Founded by Matthew Lumsden in 2010, Connected Energy’s stationary energy storage technology – E-STOR extends the life of electric vehicle batteries by 5 to 10 years. It is deployed whenever there is a need for modular, flexible and short or long-term electricity storage systems.
 
With E-STOR commercial scale energy storage systems, it is possible for end users to generate new revenues, save energy costs and make better use of renewable energy generation. The aggregated battery systems are capable of helping stabilise the existing electricity grid or be used to build autonomous mini-grids. In construction sites that require high levels of power for short periods, these compare to generator systems that have limited use by emissions restrictions and noise regulations.
 
Currently, Connected Energy has systems operating in the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Also, it is looking for opportunities in other European countries Japan, US and other global markets.
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