TThe upheavals of recent years have posed huge challenges for established companies, but for others the rapid change can mean great opportunities. Entrepreneurs are breaking ground in important new fields, from artificial intelligence to biotechnology to super-smart energy meters. Here, we look at six companies that are making the most of the moment.
Green Energy Options
Watch this year for Cambridge-based energy company Green Energy Options. The company, known as Geo, was founded in 2006 as a conventional smart meter business and has grown quietly, shipping more than 8.5 million devices to date. The energy crisis could lead to a further rise in business as households consider their use more carefully to cut costs.
Geo’s energy management system can sense when a home is empty and turn off the heating. It can also automate the operation of appliances so they are used when electricity is cheaper, which can save around 10p per kilowatt hour (kWh) or more. This can reduce demand for fossil fuel power generation, which still relies on peak periods. Geo’s technology also charges electric vehicles at off-peak hours to save on driving costs, and the company estimates it has saved customers £800 million and 20 terawatt hours of energy in total.
Initially available from energy suppliers as part of the smart meter rollout, the devices could eventually be retrofitted to any home that has a smart meter.
The private company saw losses widen last financial year and a drop in turnover as the pandemic limited access to homes. However, this year sales are expected to rebound, more than doubling to around £25m. Alex Lawson
In the UK biotech sector, Autolus could be in a position. Launched by University College London in 2014, the company develops programmed T-cell therapies: also known as living drugs, they reengineer patients’ immune systems to recognize and attack cancer.
Four years ago, Autolus floated on the Nasdaq, raising $160m and has just raised another $150m (£125m) from investors including UK life sciences investment firm Syncona. Its backers include Blackstone Life Sciences, which has invested up to $250 million in one of the largest private financings of a British biotech company.
Autolus also has partnerships with larger pharmaceutical companies Bristol Myers Squibb and Moderna. This month, it published what Numis analysts described as “impressive” results from interim clinical trials of a treatment for adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a serious form of blood cancer that is fatal without treatment. Autolus plans to submit the treatment – its most advanced yet – for US regulatory approval in 2023.
Confident of its success, the company is already preparing to start production: it has commissioned a cell manufacturing facility capable of producing at least 2,000 patient products per year. Julia Kollewe
Britain’s once-comfortable banks face dual threats: on the one hand, junk companies like Monzo, Revolut and Starling Bank, and on the other, formidable Wall Street rivals drifting into retail banking.
A big name among US raiders is JP Morgan. The Chase UK current account launched in September 2021, more than three years after Goldman Sachs introduced the Marcus savings account to the UK public. But within 12 months, America’s biggest bank by assets managed to surpass Marcus’ 750,000 account holders with a million of its own UK customers, offering benefits such as cashback and competitive interest rates. Chase will offer 2.7% in savings starting January 4th.
While it still lags behind Monzo’s roughly 6 million users and Starling’s 3 million accounts, the rate of adoption is impressive. Between May and September this year, Chase doubled its user base and secured more than £10bn of deposits.
JP Morgan appears to be acquiring clients at a loss in order to achieve long-term profits. The bank revealed in May this year that it was set to lose more than $1 billion from the venture over the next few years, not expecting to break even until 2027-2028.
With mortgages, credit cards and other traditional banking products on the horizon, Chase UK will be one to watch in 2023. Kalyeena Makortoff
Dott, Voi, Lime … e-scooter and bike operators are flocking to city streets up and down the country looking for customers, but who will emerge victorious?
Bird, one of the biggest US players, has warned of possible bankruptcy. Voi and Superpedestrian have laid off staff. The sector seems ripe for consolidation. Lime, backed by taxi app company Uber, is the best capitalized, but European players have a firm foothold on the continent. Berlin Tier is one of the top European contenders.
Tier is led by Lawrence Leuschner, who co-founded it in 2018. It has raised more than $600 million in equity and debt, including from Japan’s Softbank and Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Mubadala. However, Tier has been caught up in the wider tech company crash through 2022 and in August duly cut 16% of its workforce – 180 people – to “focus on profitability”.
In this tough environment, Tier and its competitors will have to strike a difficult balance between continuing to spend on expansion into new cities and looking for real profits now that investors’ patience with a multi-year wait for startup profits is showing to be exhausted. Who will continue to pedal? Maybe Tier. Or maybe someone else. Gwyn Topham and Jasper Jolly
No Chinese car brand has ever become a household name abroad, partly because the country has never been able to develop a reputation for high-quality petrol or diesel cars.
Going electric – with designs starting from a blank sheet of paper – changes all that. Chinese automakers are hoping to go global with battery models, and BYD, based in the Shenzhen power plant, is likely to be among the leaders of the pack in 2023, with European expansion on the cards.
BYD is already the world’s largest producer of electric cars, having overtaken Tesla in July, and has been backed by Warren Buffett, the world’s most famous investor, since 2008 (a bet that earned his company, Berkshire Hathaway, billions of dollars ). It is now launching three new models in Europe, with major Western brands.
BYD is also the third largest automaker by market value. If it manages to crack Europe, it could be in for Tesla’s crown. Jasper Jolly
Founded in 2020 by former hedge fund analyst Emad Mostaque, Stability AI develops artificial intelligence software that it allows other businesses to use for free, though customers can pay if they want additional bells and whistles. It describes itself as a “community” with projects producing music or applying machine learning to problems in biology and pharmaceuticals, but its flagship product is an automatic image generator.
Stable Diffusion can take regular English sentences and turn them into high-quality images in seconds. The technology has been used by newsletter writers to create illustrations for their emails, by artists to create backgrounds or details for their work, and by game developers to create a new kind of multiplayer experience. Developed with £500,000 of Mosaque’s own money and then given to developers on an open source model, it has reached a wider audience than some competitors.
Based in Notting Hill, London, the company has received $101 million in outside funding, valuing it at more than $1 billion, and released a second version of Stable Diffusion that creates better images while working harder to avoid copyright infringement and obscene images. The long-term plan is to continue to offer the basic trained model for free, while monetizing a hosted version of the API that businesses can use if they don’t want the technical expense of running and customizing an AI model themselves. Alex Hearn