Published: Jul 26, 2022
Focus: NPIF Maven Equity Finance
When Manchester based Tom Pickersgill had a great idea for Orka, a shift-based employment app, he needed capital in order to help him advance the concept. At that stage, the business model wasn't quite a fit for any of Maven's funding but, it was a business Maven wanted to see succeed, after spending time getting to understand the idea, so Tom spent time with Maven’s Senior Investment Manager James Darlington as part of the NPIF 12 Hour Support Programme, which aims to prepare small businesses in the northern powerhouse region for investment in their early stages. Working together, they formed and refined Orka’s business model.
Through the support programme Maven gained a deeper understanding of the opportunity that a worker-tech platform could have in disrupting the target market. This was, and still is, a largely fragmented market that suffers from manual processes, inefficient staff onboarding, vetting issues, and inflexible working structures and payment policies.
Subsequent to the financial model build, Maven provided its first tranche of investment in 2017. This initial funding was used to build out Orka’s digital platform to proof-of-concept stage ready for testing in the market, and after a successful 12 month tech development period, further investment was provided by Maven to ensure the platform was ready for full launch. The funding also aided Orka in increasing headcount to support the commercialisation phase. Tom and his co-founders (James Doyle and Nick Groves) used their networks from previous roles to ensure the commercial traction gathered pace early on. They also built a strong, diverse team with a focus on company culture, which is embedded in Orka’s values today.
In 2018, Maven utilised its network to introduce high-calibre chairman, Nick Bate, to the Orka team. Nick is an experienced Non-executive Director in the region, whose corporate and financial background complimented the founding team’s operational, technical and sales ability. Along with his personal financial contribution the company, Nick's input has been invaluable in shaping Orka’s strategic direction.
Throughout, Maven has delivered funding over multiple tranches, helping Orka to achieve several key milestones including moving to a new office, successfully hiring over 20 staff, landing some large industry clients, releasing new products (Orka Pay & Orka Check), and undertaking a full rebrand. This has all been achieved whilst navigating turbulent economic times, which highlights the resolve and strength of the founders, as well as the quality of the business model.
On the back of the pandemic, Orka’s platform bounced back to high levels of demand for shift workers. This was driven by the industry’s increased awareness of the need for a cost-effective technical solution and, by being in a position to service this demand, Orka was able to double its revenues during a 12-month period. Its platform now supports some of the world’s largest staffing providers including G4S and ISS.
Orka’s impressive growth has not gone unnoticed in the market and the business has recently closed a £3m Series A fundraise provided by Praetura Ventures, another North West investment firm, backed by the British Business Bank. This funding will allow the team to develop enhanced functionality and increased automation for its three main products parallel, in order to take full advantage of their competitive market position. Peter Carway, investment director at Praetura Ventures, worked to secure funding, and Sean Lightfoot, legal director at Hill Dickinson, advised Maven from a legal perspective.
“Over the four years Maven has continued to support the business achieving key milestones such as growing the team to over 30 staff; landing some of the industry’s largest clients; launching Earned Wage Access product, Orka Pay and preparing to launch Orka Check. During this time they've also delivered a full rebrand to offer an integrated operating system for the hourly-paid worker and their employers.
"Maven has been incredibly supportive since they made their initial investment in 2017. James and the team have helped us to steer the business through to this fantastic Series A investment, and we’re confident we have strong support as the team embarks on our next stage of changing the world of work!"
Tom Pickersgill, Co-Founder and CEO at Orka Technology Group
“It has been an exciting journey so far with this team of skilled, motivated and knowledgeable personnel. The Orka investment is a fantastic example of what both Maven and the NPIF fund stands for. Whilst there have been turbulent times over the past five years, we have worked cohesively to ensure the success of the Business for all stakeholders. Orka truly is a market disrupting offering and with the newly strengthened board, and senior hires planned, I am confident the team will deliver on their ambitious aims.”
James Darlington, Senior Investment Manager at Maven
“Orka has been able to use access to finance to create a technological solution to fill a significant market gap. Equity funding is regarded as one of the key ingredients in catalysing business potential, and Orka is a prime example of its impact in practice. NPIF is proud to continue to work in providing access to finance across the North, assisting ambitious businesses with the financial tools they need to navigate successfully through the current economic challenges.”
Sue Barnard at the British Business Bank