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Launch unlocks millions in funding

The British Business Bank has launched its £400 million Midlands Engine Investment Fund II, unlocking additional funding to help smaller businesses in Shropshire prosper and thrive.

The fund will drive sustainable economic growth by supporting new and growing businesses across the whole of the Midlands, through investment strategies that best meet the needs of these firms. It includes a range of finance options with loans from £25,000 to £2 million and equity investments up to £5 million to help small and medium-sized businesses start up, scale up or stay ahead.

The Midlands Engine Investment Fund II aims to build on the success of the inaugural Midlands Engine Investment Fund), a £300 million fund which has already supported 440 smaller businesses in the West Midlands since its launch in 2017.

The new fund will help hundreds more businesses to achieve their potential and further increase the supply and diversity of early-stage finance by providing options to firms that might otherwise be unable to secure investment. Funding is designed to help businesses with activities including expansion, product or service innovation, new processes, skills development, and capital equipment.

Three fund managers have been appointed to manage the fund in the West Midlands. BCRS Business Loans will manage the smaller loans part of the fund (£25,000 to £100,000), Frontier Development Capital will be responsible for larger loans (£100,000 to £2 million), and Mercia Ventures will manage equity deals (up to £5 million).

Louis Taylor, chief executive officer of the British Business Bank, said: “Small businesses are at the heart of the Midlands’ economy. Since launching in 2017, the first Midlands Engine Investment Fund has so far created more than 4,000 jobs across the region by backing 739 smaller businesses.

“The first Midlands Engine Investment Fund provided a blueprint for how we can support entrepreneurs and founders, whoever they are and wherever they are in the region, to access the funds and support they need. This new fund will allow us to continue supporting business owners across the Midlands, whether they’re at the start of their journey or are already running an established firm.

“Promoting growth by ensuring entrepreneurs can access the finance they need regardless of where and who they are is one of the Bank’s strategic objectives, and vital to unlocking the full potential of the UK’s smaller businesses.”

Exchequer secretary to the Treasury Gareth Davies said: “Small businesses are the engine of the economy, which is why having access to funding like this is vital to help them thrive and grow, creating jobs and spreading opportunity everywhere. 

“As the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, the Midlands propelled the UK into a new era of technological and economic growth and now the next generation of entrepreneurs will have the support they need to continue this success.”

Earth Rover, a Shropshire start-up which uses cutting-edge technologies to help farmers improve crop yields, received a six-figure fund from the MEIF Proof of Concept & Early Stage Fund in 2020.

The funding allowed Earth Rover to launch its first product, a ‘crop scouting’ system which predicts the size and timing of harvests. The Earth Rover system uses cameras fitted to a tractor to scan the plants and measure their growth as the vehicle passes through the fields on routine farm operations. The data is then analysed using artificial intelligence (AI) housed in a supercomputer on board the tractor.

James Miller, CEO of Earth Rover, said: “Technologies such as AI and robotics have revolutionised manufacturing in recent years, yet agriculture has suffered from a lack of investment and still relies on traditional techniques.

"At a time when we face the challenge of feeding a growing population with limited land and labour supplies, it is time for agriculture to undergo the same transformation. At Earth Rover, we aim to play a leading role in the digitisation of farming to make the industry more productive and sustainable. Thanks to the Midlands Engine Investment Fund, we have been able to start making these aims a reality.”

Following the launch, the British Business Bank will be holding a series of information roadshows aimed at people working with smaller businesses including enterprise agencies, advisors, accountants, law firms and more. The first of these sessions will be held in Lincoln on March 11, 2024, with additional sessions held in Leicester, Wolverhampton, and Coventry, with further locations planned for April and May 2024.

To find out more and apply for funding, visit: www.midlandsengineinvestmentfund.co.uk