Durham science firm faces race against time to survive

DIRECTORS of a science firm which has been thrown into crisis are in a race against time to raise the £500,000 needed to secure its future.

DIRECTORS of a science firm which has been thrown into crisis are in a race against time to raise the £500,000 needed to secure its future.

Bosses at nanotechnology firm ANTnano, based County Durham, say they have until Christmas to raise the investment needed to make a last-ditch rescue of the business.

The Sedgefield company was forced to axe its 16-strong workforce – made up almost entirely of North East PhD graduates – last week after trading of its shares was suspended due to a major cash flow problem.

Despite having a strong pipeline of orders for its air-monitoring equipment, the firm blamed software issues for an unexpected six-month delay in manufacturing one of its product lines.

This left the company just two weeks to seek investment to fill the £500,000 shortfall created by the lack of sales, or face being suspended under the rules of PLUS market and the likelihood of being wound up in the interests of its creditors.

However, although the company has effectively ceased trading, chief executive Joe Arend has not given up hope that the firm could be rescued before the year is out.

Alongside his fellow directors, Mr Arend has spent recent weeks in a fruitless search for new investment from a number of banks and regional agencies. Ultimately he was unable to attract the funding needed to pay the creditors, but he does believe there may still be interested investors out there whose backing could stop the liquidation process in its tracks.

He said: “We started to go to the banks but they are not very receptive at the moment and wouldn’t support us. We also went to some local government funding agencies in the North East but they didn’t have the budget. We are frantically still trying to raise the £500,000 but whether we can or not before the full liquidation is an open book.

“If investors or other interested parties invested the cash [before Christmas] we could go ahead and put our staff back in place this week.”

In its five-year history, around £5m has been invested in ANTnano, while it has won a number of commercial deals following its emergence from the research and development stage – including large contracts with corporate giants Unilever and Procter & Gamble.

The firm was spun out of Sunderland University to exploit technology developed at the university to detect airborne pollution.

In August last year it received £3.7m from the Singapore government to help in its work to detect the presence of bird flu. This was followed a few months later by a £79,000 grant from the Economic Development Board of Singapore for its work in detecting MRSA.

If the company’s liquidation is finalised, administrators will look to sell off the patents to its groundbreaking products to fellow nanotechnology firms around the world.

 
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