Health tech firms selected for potential funding boost at ‘Dragons’ Den’ event

Prof Janet Hemingway

Five companies have been selected for potential funding to further develop their next generation solutions to global health challenges.

A ‘Dragons’ Den’-style panel was hosted by the Liverpool-based Infection Innovation Consortium: iiCON, over two days, which featured investors from the global venture capitalist firm, SOSV, aimed at very early stage investment.

The event, organised by members of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, attracted applications from more than 20 companies. The competitive process saw 17 companies looking for investment selected to pitch.

The companies, many of which were early stage start-ups or university spin-outs developing highly innovative technology, pitched their ideas to SOSV investors, alongside an expert panel including Prof Janet Hemingway, director of iiCON, Lorna Green CEO of Lyva Labs, Dr Jonathan Hague chair of the LCR Innovation Board, and Dr Damian Kelly, VP of Innovation & Technology Development at Croda.

Following the event, five companies were chosen to go through to the next stage of the assessment, with investment decisions due in 2024.

SOSV is one of the most active venture investors in the world and makes nearly 300 investments per year, including 100+ pre-seed rounds in new start-ups.

The firm offers multi-stage investment, starting with pre-seed start-up development programmes designed for founders with breakthrough technologies.

Companies receive an investment package of between $250,000-$500,000. Some 215 companies have graduated from SOSV since 2014, and they have gone on to raise $2.6bn, including $163m from SOSV, and in aggregate a valuation of $7.7bn.

SOSV is looking to invest in deep tech companies aimed at solving intractable or difficult problems connected to Human and Planetary Health that will impact more than one billion people.

The company invests in a broad range of areas, including therapeutics, the future of food, biomaterials, biological tools, diagnostics, synthetic biology, genomics, and data analysis.

Prof Hemingway said: “Start-ups and SMEs, particularly within the health and life sciences sector, have a huge role to play in driving forward innovation and helping the lobal community take a collective step forward when it comes to tackling some of the world’s most critical large-scale health issues.

“Unfortunately, it’s an incredibly challenging funding landscape for companies seeking investment at the moment. So, to have attracted the interest of such a significant investment firm is testament to the strength of the pioneering research and innovation activity coming through our health and life science sector.”

She added: “The quality and range of the pitches during the event was outstanding. It’s very encouraging to see the innovation engine within the city region at work – accelerating and supporting such compelling activity. We hope to see at least one company go forward to securing investment with SOSV through this unique opportunity.

“We are also looking forward to welcoming SOSV back to the city region next year when they will be taking part in the city region’s third Innovation Investment Summit, being organised in May.”

John Whaling, lead officer for innovation and commercialisation at the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, said: “Supporting start-ups and companies at the very early stage of their journey is critical to both nurturing the next generation of potentially world changing innovations and ultimately realising our ambition to invest five per cent of GVA in R&D, so we were delighted to welcome SOSV to the Liverpool City Region, attracted by the demonstrable internationally significant potential across our health and life sciences sector.

“The calibre of propositions was excellent and augurs well in terms of doing more, bigger and better next year.

“Brilliant, also, to see the seamless collaboration across leading industry, academic and public partners in action to bring this major new opportunity to life, as that is what characterises our place-based innovation approach.”

Prof Hemingway was named Liverpool City Region Leader of the Year at the 2023 Northern Leadership Awards, held in March this year. She was also hailed as Overall Leader of the Year at the event, hosted by and sponsored by CMS and Quarterdeck.