£1.35m investment in platform for reporting workplace abuse

Stuart Bradley, Gemma McCall and Carl Sadd

A Manchester-based technology business that has created a platform for people to confidentially and safely report workplace harassment has secured a £1.35m investment in a funding round led by Praetura Ventures.

GC Angels joined the round and invested £100,000.

Culture Shift was founded in 2018 following a string of stories about bullying and harassment in high-profile businesses across the UK.

It is led by Gemma McCall, chief executive and a prominent commentator on workplace harassment, chief operating officer Stuart Bradley and chief technical officer Carl Sadd.

The software is designed to empower those who are reluctant to report wrongdoing, by removing barriers to reporting, and ensuring they have a secure and confidential platform in which to do so.

The software also allows victims or witnesses of harassment to access support for what they’ve experienced as well as giving organisations oversight of any worrying trends, helping them to tackle them.

A 2017 survey, taken at the height of the #MeToo movement, revealed that 40% of women and 18% of men had experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace.

However, only a fraction of these incidents are reported to, or acted upon, by employers. Workplace bullying is also estimated to cost the UK economy £18bn a year in absenteeism, staff turnover and lost productivity.

Praetura Ventures’ funding, and the support of its team, will help Culture Shift to develop its proprietary software and accelerate its rollout to business customers, with a focus on FTSE 350 and heavily-regulated sectors.

Culture Shift currently has more than 50 customers, mostly in the higher education sector. However, it is now set to target the professional services sector, which has endured a series of workplace scandals.

Gemma McCall said: “Recent high-profile events concerning bullying and harassment have ignited a long-overdue public debate about how we behave towards each other, both in society and, more specifically, in the workplace.

“This heightened awareness of the issue, along with the clear signal from the public, regulatory bodies, and the courts, has empowered people – both women and men – to report abuse and seek support.

“Though this progress is encouraging, a lack of confidence in employers’ processes for reporting bullying and harassment is still a barrier for many victims of such behaviour to come forward.

“Culture Shift are proud to be both leading that debate and offering a real solution to help overcome that barrier through our innovative, trusted software.”

As well as providing a confidential platform for reporting bullying and harassment, the software allows businesses to analyse data to identify trends that mean they can take appropriate action.

They can monitor any worrying behaviour and intervene early with communications or specific training.

This helps businesses to better support their employees, which, in turn, reduces the cost of workplace bullying-based absenteeism, staff turnover and whistleblowing related costs.

Gemma added: “Our software offers businesses the opportunity to show they take the issue seriously and empowers their employees, while respecting the desire of some to remain anonymous.

“Importantly, it also means senior management can draw insights from the data to create a safe working environment and a culture that aims to stamp out abuse.”

The investment in Culture Shift is Praetura Ventures’ fourth from its Praetura EIS 2020 Fund, which closed in January.

The deal was led by Praetura Ventures’ Louise Chapman, Myrto Lalacos and Pete Carway. Pete will join the Culture Shift board as a non-executive director.

Pete Carway said: “Culture Shift is an impressive start-up offering a way for companies to tackle a serious problem that is afflicting business and wider society, as well as attracting increasing media attention.

“Gemma, Stuart and Carl are passionate about empowering people and giving them the confidence and tools to report abuse, as well as providing firms with the platform to show they are taking the issues seriously.

“There is a clear market opportunity here targeting enlightened organisations that recognise the risks – reputational, financial and cultural – of failing to tackle workplace bullying and harassment.

“With our investment, Culture Shift will be able to take its platform beyond its current core market of universities to professional services firms and SMEs, which we know remain behind the curve in proactively combating the issue of bullying and harassment.”

Jessica Jackson, investor director at GC Angels, who provide early-stage market funding for Greater Manchester businesses, said: “GC Angels are pleased to be investing alongside Praetura Ventures into this fantastic business, who are building a market-leading product with a strong social purpose.”

Praetura Ventures has raised more than £22m since May 2019 to invest in early-stage businesses in the North and across the UK. Its current portfolio includes AI and machine-learning business Peak and online delivery platform Sorted.

Other recent investments include Patchwork, a rapidly-growing healthtech start-up on a mission to solve the NHS staffing crisis, and SteamaCo, a technology provider to energy suppliers in emerging markets.

Matt Noon and Katy Oakes from Hill Dickinson provided legal advice to Praetura Ventures and commercial diligence was undertaken by PMSI.

Lisa Stavropoulos, partner, and Will Munday, senior associate from DWF’s corporate practice, provided legal counsel on the transaction.

Lisa said: “Having advised Culture Shift since its inception, we’re delighted to have advised on this fundraising which will help them to develop their proprietary software and accelerate its rollout to business customers, with a focus on FTSE 350 and regulated industries.

“Culture Shift is leading the charge on, and providing an innovative solution to, long-overdue issues around harassment and workplace bullying and we are proud to have played a part in the business’s next stage of development.”

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