business

West Midlands tech list: Which companies are the ones to watch

We take a look at some of the technology firms making waves with innovation across the West Midlands

(Image: Rui Vieira/PA Wire)

Technology and innovation can be found in companies across all sectors of the West Midlands' economy.

These can include web development, new apps, life sciences and manufacturing.

We've taken a look at just some of those businesses in Birmingham and the West Midlands which are doing innovation and interesting things aimed at improving our lives.

Hopper HQ

Location: Birmingham

Established: 2015

Reason: Hopper HQ has created what is believed to be one of the only, if not the only, fully automated planning and scheduling tool for photo sharing website Instagram.

It enables brands, agencies and individuals to manage better their social media presence on the website and, more loosely, can be described as "Tweetdeck for Instagram".

It now has nine staff, including full-time and contractors, and is predicting turnover will hit £1 million in the year to May 2018.

Co-founder Mike Bandar was even awarded a BEM in the 2017 Queen's Birthday Honours list for services to young entrepreneurs in the West Midlands.

Mike says he hopes the company will continue to bring additional efficiencies into the lives of people who use digital marketing.

Mike Bandar, co-founder of Hopper HQ

 

BS Net t/a brokenStones

Location: Lichfield

Established: 2006

Reason: There is more awareness of data security, particularly since the Ransomeware crisis hit the NHS earlier this year.

brokenStones is helping businesses combat this and the firm now turns over £750,000 a year.

The company is already providing both remote and on-site support to businesses all across Staffordshire, Derbyshire and the West Midlands.

Director Chris Blunt says recruiting the right people is a big challenge.

He added: "We need to bring in some standardisation and agreement on how services are run - it can be a bit of a wild west out there at the moment.

"Your IT systems are critical to your businesses survival and they need to be looked after properly and professionally."

Chris Blunt, director of brokenStones

 

Smart Antenna Technologies (SAT)

Location: University of Birmingham

Established: 2013

Reason: SAT specialises in designing and developing the next generation of smart multi-band, multi-functional, multi-port antenna technology for laptops, tablets, smart phones and other portable devices for manufacturers.

The business was formed based on research from a number of the academics at the university in response to the growing market demand for improved antenna design, functionality, efficiency and performance to keep up with technological advances in portable devices.

The company raised £1 million in new funding in early 2017 and it is owned by its management, a venture capital fund, a small number of private investors and the University of Birmingham.

SAT says these equipment manufacturers are demanding antenna systems which are smaller and more technologically advanced than the previous generation and future proofed.

FlashSticks

Location: Birmingham

Established: 2013

Reason: FlashSticks is an app designed for learners of foreign languages.

Created by Learning Labs, the system was initially very low tech as it used printed Post-it containing a foreign word, translation, visual icon and phonetic to help with pronunciation.

It then created an app which linked notes to pronunciation videos and in 2015 it secured a major deal to supply 100 Tesco Extra stores, joining deals with well-known names such as Staples, Amazon and WHSmith.

Soon after the Tesco agreement was signed, the firm then launched a new app which included what it claims is the world's first object translator.

Users scan an object which will translate it into dozens of different languages.

The business secured more than £500,000 of investment to forward fund production costs, further develop the product in many more languages and fund development of that app.

In 2016, it launched another app called FlashAcademy which includes word games with content catered to different levels of ability, instructive flash cards and hundreds of five-minute lessons.

Director Richard Allen (left) and chief executive Veejay Lingiah, of Learning Labs, with their FlashSticks product

 

Flightcase Warehouse

Location: Tamworth

Established: 1990

Reason: Flightcase Warehouse has made a name for itself designing and manufacturing bespoke, high-tech casings for worldwide brands including Mercedes, Rolls Royce, BAE Systems, Sony, Samsung and Microsoft.

It is a family-run business which employs 30 people across the West Midlands, with turnover last year of £3.5 million and a growing international presence.

The firm intends to expand in markets such as aviation and medical, key areas where innovation is a driving force and new technologies are being deployed every single day.

Its bespoke brand is Pro Flightcase which uses some of the most advanced case manufacturing equipment and software.

Managing director Sam Austin says his main aims are to ensure its design and manufacturing technology and product innovations, continue to keep ahead of the curve, both to the benefit of growing our business internationally and in the UK.

Sam Austin, managing director of Flightcase Warehouse

 

Lucideon Group

Location: Penkhull, Stoke-on-Trent

Established: 1911 as the British Ceramic Research Association and re-branded as Lucideon in 2014

Reason: Lucideon is a global expert in materials testing, analysis and consultancy and works to create and deliver game-changing technologies to develop the products of the future.

The company, which has a 228-strong workforce, 166 of which are based in the West Midlands, champions the application of ceramic materials and processes to new sectors and many of the world's leading companies in the aerospace, healthcare and construction sectors.

It currently has a turnover of £19 million but expects to reach £60 million within the next five years.

Chief executive Tony Kinsella is also helping to launch an Applied Materials Research, Innovation and Commercialisation Company in Stoke-on-Trent which is an initiative to create an international research and testing facility for advanced ceramics, metals and polymers.

Tony Kinsella, chief executive at Lucideon

 

Touchretail

Location: Cheadle, Stoke-on-Trent

Established: 2002

Reason: Touchretail supplies computer systems to retail businesses based throughout the UK and Ireland, comprising software requirements to run their business.

This includes services such as stock control, point of sale, electronic payments, customer loyalty and retail accounting and all associated specialised hardware including tills, mobile devices and label printers.

All the software is developed in-house, maintained and supported by the company, which employs 16 staff and is on target to achieve a turnover of £820,000 this year.

Over the next five years, the company aims to market and sell its 'TRIMS' stock management system to a wider audience and target larger businesses.

Touchretail now has several customers with an international presence (stores in European and US cities) and bosses expect this to trend to continue to grow.

The team from Touchretail

 

Assured Systems (UK)

Location: Stone, Staffordshire

Established: 2011

Reason: Assured Systems (UK) services the embedded, industrial and digital out-of-home markets with innovative, applied computer and display solutions.

The company supplies and integrates hardware solutions to commercial and industrial projects which can include everything from digital signage for banks to intelligent gateway computers for factory automation.

The company employs ten staff and boasts a turnover of £2 million.

This year, Assured Systems has expanded its remit into end-to-end solutions and is working collaboratively with stakeholders to develop software and hardware that meets emerging needs in various sectors, such as renewable energy.

James Priest, chief executive of Assured Systems

 

Connexica

Location: Stafford

Established: 2006

Reason: Connexica develops CXAIR, one of the UK's leading search-powered data discovery platform.

The company's products help organisations in both the public and private sector - including local authorities and the NHS - to gain powerful insight from their data and allows users of all technical ability to carry out their own data analysis and reporting.

The award-winning company, which employs 32 people and has a turnover of £1.3 million, is now looking to build useful applications off its CXAIR platform to help organisations understand better their data and allow them to join the information with other data sources.

Chris Lewis from the firm said: "Having one source of the truth can democratise decision making and help users trust the information they are using.

"There is no point making decisions on data if the data is incorrect or incomplete."

Cobra Biologics

Location: Keele, Staffordshire

Established: 1998

Reason: Cobra Biologics is a biologics and pharmaceuticals company which specialises in the manufacturing of the raw materials used in gene therapy - a medical process used to correct genetic disorders.

The company has 258 staff - 92 within the West Midlands - and in 2016, enjoyed revenue of £25 million.

It recently announced plans for a £15 million expansion which will see the creation of up to 50 new jobs and result in increased manufacturing and production capacity at its Keele base and the company's two facilities in Sweden.

Silson

Location: Southam, Warwickshire

Established: 1994

Reason: The high-tech manufacturing firm makes ultra-thin membranes for use at the cutting edge of science around the world.

They are sold to around 600 customers in 35 countries around the globe, which include research institutes working with x-ray and electron beam technology.

It is now expanding after receiving backing from Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking and the University of Warwick Science Park.

Silson has invested around £1 million in its future growth over the past two years by moving to the new base on Insight Park and purchasing new, advanced machinery.

This include a £373,000 funding package from Lloyds Bank which supported the establishment of the new, state-of-the-art premises while a £35,000 grant from Warwickshire County Council helped it buy new equipment.

These moves are intended to increase Silson's annual turnover by introducing x-ray filters to its range of products.

The team from Silson (from left): Dirk Schafer, Noshad Khowaja and Peter Anastasi, with research assistant Carmen Sánchez de Rojas Candela (seated)

Torc2

Location: Coventry

Established: 2013

Reason: Torc2 has created a new form of plastic that could revolutionise the way limb conditions and injuries are treated, claimed to be a world first.

It has also established a new process method using its flexible, durable compound that can be re-shaped at temperatures safe for patients.

Gary Blundell and Ron Taylor, who are part of the team that runs the firm, have a background in engineering and plastics and originally developed the new material as a potential replacement for the traditional Plaster of Paris casts.

They sought expertise from the industry, including surgeons at University Hospital Coventry & Warwickshire, before turning their attention to devices such as splints and supports for the treatment of cerebral palsy, talipes (club foot), hip dysplasia, idiopathic toe walking and liners that can be reshaped for lower limb prosthetics.

It has received grant funding from Coventry City Council under the Coventry & Warwickshire Innovation Programme, the first SME to be awarded a grant through the programme.

LightwaveRF

Location: Birmingham

Established: 2007

Reason: LightwaveRF is a listed, 'internet of things' company which has developed a product to control and monitor functions in the home such as lighting, heating, power and security functions through electronic devices.

Earlier this year, it revealed its entire product range had been added to Google Home's voice-controlled Google Assistant.

In 2016, it secured a £1.1 million funding deal with Santander and also shifted its banking operations to the Spanish group.

The capital is being used to help expand its UK and international distribution operations and predicted a threefold increase in sales on the back of the Santander deal.

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