North West business briefs: BEP Surface Technologies; Specscart; iiCON; Manchester Marathon; Optimum Coatings

Radcliffe-based BEP Surface Technologies, a metal surface specialist, has launched an innovation arm, BEP Solutions, to accelerate international R&D partnerships to solve global challenges.

Leveraging 54 years of engineering know-how and using leading edge digital techniques, BEP Solutions will build on its strong track record of collaborating with governments, academia and businesses to address challenges within existing and emerging industries.

From its innovation lab the venture will target new partnerships to develop solutions for long standing barriers in manufacturing and engineering. The consultancy is poised to make significant contributions in areas such as optimising chill roll processes for packaging manufacturers and designing copper-coated canisters to secure long term nuclear waste storage, prioritising safety and sustainability.

BEP works in the plastics, defence, energy, power generation and nuclear sectors and offers unique capabilities to solve contemporary challenges in cutting edge new industries such as hydrogen and EV battery production.

Andrew McClusky, Managing Director of BEP Surface Technologies, said: “For more than half a century BEP has cultivated a research and development mindset to find innovative solutions to metal surface engineering challenges. This has established us as the go-to partner for an impressive list of businesses, universities, and government agencies around the globe. The launch of BEP Solutions formalises our commitment to further leverage our unique expertise, to strengthen existing partnerships, and to create new ones. A dedicated arm for R&D and innovation offers a conduit to drive transformative advancements to address global challenges.”

BEP’s previous collaborations include the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) to develop a novel graphene-impregnated copper coating, a leading global food packaging manufacturer to achieve chill roll process optimisation, a major defence supplier undertaking multi-faceted research programmes into surface coatings, and a global nuclear waste management organisation, driving research into the development of copper-coated containers. Other R&D partnerships have included the University of Sheffield Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), part of the High-Value Manufacturing Catapult, Innovate UK, the UK’s national innovation agency, and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the UK’s National Metrology Institute.


Sid Sethi at Specscart’s Bury HQ

The founder of Bury-based eyewear company, Specscart, has been named on the prestigious Forbes 30 under 30 Europe list 2024. The annual list recognises Europe’s best innovators and entrepreneurs who are transforming their fields.

Specscart founder and managing director, Sid Sethi, has been listed in the retail and e-commerce category for disrupting the UK eyewear industry. Sid kick-started Specscart in Manchester in 2018. Since then, the business has grown into a global retail and online force and is on track for a 2024 turnover of £5m.

Sid said: “Being named on this year’s Forbes 30 under 30 Europe list is like winning the National Lottery, an Oscar and the Premier League all in one day. It might be my name on the list but Specscart wouldn’t be flourishing as it is now without the dedication and hard work of everyone who works here – from back office staff and our lab technicians to our tech team and sales assistants. This is a well earned pat on the back for all of them, too.

“Specscart will be using this hugely prestigious win as rocket fuel in our business. This accolade is a triumph for me, and everyone at Specscart, but it’s also a win for Manchester, the North West and UK plc.”

Specscart already ships to more than 120 countries worldwide – from the Maldives and Saudi Arabia to the Falkland Islands and Cape Verde.


Prof Janet Hemingway

The Infection Innovation Consortium: iiCON, has launched a new agreement with the Centre of Excellence for Long-Acting Therapeutics (CELT) at the University of Liverpool that will enable iiCON partners and collaborators to access the expertise and capability at CELT.

CELT is a cross-faculty research centre with expertise in pharmacology and materials chemistry. It supports the development and understanding of long acting medicines, aiming to change the global landscape of drug administration. iiCON has 11 platforms, each offering companies and collaborators access to specific facilities and world leading expertise to support infection R&D. The platforms feature a wide range of expertise and capability including highly advanced anti-microbial modelling, all the way through to first in human clinical trials, regulatory support, and product trials and testing.

As part of the agreement, CELT will launch and operate a platform within iiCON, enabling iiCON partners and collaborators to access the centre’s world leading expertise and facilities in long-acting therapeutics, supporting impactful collaborations to enhance product and therapeutic efficacy and drive innovation. Long-acting therapeutics can have a huge impact for treatment and prevention of chronic diseases and other applications for acute diseases where multiple pharmaceutical doses are required for successful therapy.

Prof Janet Hemingway, iiCON director, said: “Long-Acting Therapeutics is an incredibly exciting area with huge potential to transform the treatment of a number of diseases, such as TB or malaria prophylaxis. The centre has world leading expertise and facilities that companies of all sizes will be able to access through iiCON and we look forward to seeing the innovation this collaboration will support.”

Prof Andrew Owen, co-Director of CELT, said: “We very much look forward to working closely together with our colleagues within iiCON as we strive to expand understanding of long-acting drug delivery and apply technologies and know how to catalyse medicine development for treatment and prevention of infectious diseases. We are proud to bring our expertise into the consortium which we hope will help support innovation in global health.”


Greater Manchester residents are being reminded that the adidas Manchester Marathon is returning to the region this weekend (April 13-14), with road closures affecting journeys by car.

On Sunday, April 14, around 32,000 runners are due to take part in the race, which is one of the most eagerly anticipated events in the running calendar, with thousands more expected to come and watch. The 26.2-mile route starts below the Trafford Arch before cruising into the city centre and taking in areas such as Sale, Altrincham, Timperley, Chorlton an Hulme. Runners will finally cross the finish line close to Emirates Old Trafford and UA92.

The transport network in Manchester and Trafford will be very busy before, during and after the race, with a significant number of road closures in place. Many bus services will be on diversion and even those not directly impacted by the marathon closures could still be affected by displaced traffic and congestion. Tram will be the best way of getting around for most, and dedicated travel advice for spectators and the wider travelling public can be found on the TfGM website.

People are advised to ‘travel smart’ and leave the car at home to avoid expected congestion on the roads, or to use park and rides and travel to their destinations by tram. If you’re out and about, you can download the Bee Network app to plan your journey, take a look at live departures from your tram stop or visit our travel alerts hub.

Metrolink will be operating a seven and a half minute frequency on the Altrincham line with more double trams and increased capacity on the network. However, services are expected to be extremely busy throughout the day. If you can travel flexibly, the predicted quietest time to travel is after 4pm. If you’re a spectator who needs to drive, a great option is to park at Parkway and hop on the tram to Wharfside to cheer your runner on. From there you can get back on the tram to Deansgate-Castlefield to celebrate with them afterwards.


Morecambe-based Optimum Coatings, a supplier of complex ophthalmic lenses and lens coatings, has become employee-owned.

It has been sold by its owners to its 71 employees through the creation of an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) which purchased 100% of the company’s shares. This new business structure ensures that every employee-owner shares in the rewards of their hard work and contributes to the company’s future success. It promotes a culture of inclusivity and shared responsibility, where each employee’s role is critical to the company’s overall performance and sustainability.

Optimum directors, Paul Bailey and Mark Marland, said: “We deeply value the talent and dedication of our team members. That’s why we’ve embraced this change to acknowledge their hard work in a meaningful way. Our employees now have a stake in the company through trust, solidifying our commitment to long-term success and sustainability. We see this change as an incredible opportunity for growth and innovation.”

The firm was advised by accountants and business advisors, Beever and Struthers, and law firm, Brabners. The Beever and Struthers team was led by corporate finance director Dean Curtis with support from corporate finance manager Patrick Wilson and audit partner Iain Round.

Dean Curtis said: “Employee Ownership Trusts have become increasingly popular as an exit route for business owners. The EOT structure offers a route for businesses to preserve their independence and culture, as well as maintaining the integrity of the business.”