Sale of hospitality tech firm provides exit for investor

Airship – a Sheffield-based hospitality technology company – has been acquired by Edinburgh-based Zonal for an undisclosed sum.

The deal represents an exit for NPIF – Mercia Equity Finance, which is managed by Mercia and is part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund (NPIF) and which first invested in Airship in 2019. It achieved a considerable return on investment.

Airship and Zonal already have a long-term partnership with over 100 shared customers benefiting from integration that enables hospitality businesses to drive visits and generate pre-visit revenue.

The acquisition will further integrate the products they offer, giving operators new ways to grow profits and consumers a smoother customer journey.

Airship was founded by former pub landlord Dan Brookman and IT specialist Rob Marcer.

The company has received £1m in NPIF investment, which enabled it to redesign its existing customer relationship management software and launch a new product, Toggle, to help operators sell gift cards and experiences.

Since the start of the first lockdown it has grown annual recurring revenue by 300% to over £2.4m and increased staff numbers by 25 to over 40.

The two founders will stay with the business, with Brookman as CEO continuing to lead the team from the existing Sheffield office.

Zonal, which is based in Edinburgh, is a major hospitality tech provider with three offices in the US.

Stuart McLean, Zonal’s CEO, said: “Over the last three years Zonal and Airship have enjoyed a very successful partnership and we are all very excited to welcome Dan and the team to the Zonal family.

“This move will further integrate our products and represents a huge opportunity for our customers, who will benefit from the data-driven, business-building, and revenue-driving benefits that this integration will bring.”

Brookman said “Since the initial investment in 2019 Mercia has provided support and guidance to help us maintain our trajectory.

“We could have been very easy to write off at the start of the pandemic, being so focused in hospitality, but Mercia recognised that we could thrive and continued to provide support.

“This next chapter with Zonal gives us a springboard in the UK and US and I’m really excited to see what we can achieve together.”

Will Schaffer of Mercia said: “The Airship team saw the potential to use technology to help hospitality businesses drive revenue growth.

“The NPIF funding supported them through the early stages and helped them build and scale their products.

“The business has gone from strength-to-strength. The acquisition will open up new opportunities in the UK and provide access to the US market.”

Ken Cooper at British Business Bank added: “Beyond the impact on its sector, since securing investment from the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, Airship has created new jobs and opportunities in the local area.

“It’s a great example of the impact NPIF’s equity finance option can have as a tool for growth, helping many innovative and fast growth businesses across the North of England to realise their potential.”