Current SP 10.75p
Market Cap: £2.9m
There are plenty of reasons why private investors are sceptical of putting their money into AIM-listed investment companies and rightly so in my opinion. Many investment companies tend to invest relatively small amounts, taking tiny percentage holdings in a multitude of unlisted or listed companies. The former tend to disappear without a trace and the latter the private investor could have just invested their own money directly into the company and cut out the middleman! Even if they do strike it lucky with one of the investments the holding isn’t usually large enough to move the dial. At some point, the investment company then runs out of cash to pay the Plc costs and has to do a discounted placing leaving shareholders out of pocket with little chance of redemption.
The above is probably a view shared by many and possibly results in a negative bias towards all investment companies. This brings me to Braveheart Investment Group which as suggested in the name is an investment company, but offers three key differentiating factors from the standard AIM investment company fodder.
Firstly, the company holds five ‘strategic’ investments (more on those later) where Braveheart’s ownership ranges from 18% to 56%. Each of these investments could be described to have ‘blue sky’ potential within their respective fields. Should just one of these investments deliver then that alone would, in my view, dwarf the current market cap of Braveheart.
Secondly, the company has been cash generative through its fund management business. This has covered the Plc costs for the group. Part of the fund management business has subsequently been sold off in April 2019 for a cash consideration and the waiving of a loan due by a Braveheart subsidiary however Braveheart is still operating a fund and tendering for business.
Thirdly, the cash position of the group was £1,105,000 as at the interim results reporting date of 30th September 2018 compared to £1,133,759 at 30th March 2018 and £998,769 at 30th September 2017. A similar cash balance can probably be expected for the period to 31st March 2019.
On the flip side, liquidity is certainly an issue with Braveheart and I would say it is one of the most illiquid shares that I have owned. Of course, this works both ways and with several ‘irons in the fire’ as detailed below I am hoping that we will experience the positive side of being in an illiquid share soon.
Prior to the arrival of Trevor Brown as CEO of Braveheart in August 2015, the group very much fell into the category mentioned at the beginning of this article. Burning cash with a hotchpotch of small percentage holdings in mainly unlisted companies. There are still some legacy investments held by the company and occasionally these do pay off, as was the case in September 2016 with the disposal of mLED Limited to Oculus for £367,000. However, I feel the real value driver here will be one or more of the five strategic investments listed below progressing to a trade sale or partnership with a major company operating in their respective fields.
Braveheart ownership 37.65%
Kirkstall (http://www.kirkstall.com/) sells products for in vitro cell culture and operates in a worldwide market sector that is projected to grow by 38% annually.
Kirskstall’s distributor, Lonza, a US$ 24 billion market cap company have reported that their sales team have found a growing interest in Kirkstall’s products in the US market. The two companies are now working closely to promote technology in both the USA and Europe and are developing new product ideas and training many more users.
Kirkstall commenced work on 1 October on a €4.7million EU Grant awarded to a consortium which includes the Universities of Wageningen (NL) Edinburgh (UK) Dusseldorf (D) and ETH Zurich (CH). Kirkstall has recently appointed Dr Bhumika Singh as Chief Scientific Officer and she will lead the Kirkstall contribution to this project as well as accelerating the development of added value applications aimed at industrial customers in the pharma, cosmetics and nutraceuticals sectors.
A key advantage of the Kirkstall Quasi Vivo® system is its ability to support homeostasis in long term cell culture. This is particularly important for studies of disease and drug therapies to cure them. Three current research programmes taking advantage of this technology are: Alzheimer’s Disease at Southampton University; Macular Degeneration at Liverpool University and Breast Cancer at Westminster University in London.
Given the success and share price appreciation on Integumen (SKIN) which is a similar business to Kirkstall (albeit for skin rather than internal organs) along with the regard held for Kirkstall by their peers within this niche space, in my view it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Lonza will make a bid for the company or perhaps Kirkstall will float the business themselves.
Braveheart ownership 56.5% (42% fully diluted)
Paraytec ( http://www.paraytec.com/ ) develops high-performance specialist detectors for the analytical and life sciences instrumentation market. The company is based in York in the United Kingdom and the patented technology that it has created is based upon the wide area imaging of UV absorbance. The detectors developed by Paraytec are sold into analytical laboratories and life science researchers within pharmaceutical companies and universities and are also integrated into high-value instruments developed by third-party OEMs. The use of Paraytec’s patented technology allows the user to materially speed up drug development efforts by providing data in a real-time manner that would otherwise be unavailable.
Paraytec is now profitable and cash positive. Revenues have been derived from the royalty income stream from its two main licensees and income from two key grant-funded R&D projects to develop new products.
The first key R&D project is in Paraytec’s traditional market of research instrumentation for the biopharmaceutical sector. Paraytec is a key member of a consortium including Malvern Panalytical, GSK, Medimmune, Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies and others who have developed prototype instruments which will shortly be evaluated by the drug development partners. These instruments are aimed at protein-based pharmaceuticals, to detect instabilities that can cause drug molecules to aggregate resulting in a reduction of their therapeutic effectiveness and possible unwanted side-effects for the patient.
The second key R&D project is aimed at developing a new point of care diagnostic device for cancer detection and monitoring. Initially, this is focussed on bladder cancer, but the technology could be applicable to the detection of other cancers. The results for detecting bladder cancer in laboratory samples are extremely promising and performance trials are now being conducted at the University of Sheffield. Discussions are ongoing with a leading UK urology clinic to conduct an initial clinical study to compare performance against existing methods.
On 7th June 2019 it was announced that Paraytec has recently spun out to its shareholders, Sentinel Medical Limited, a company which will seek to exploit the technology developed by Paraytec to detect cancer cells in urine. Braveheart now holds a 32.8 per cent. interest in Sentinel Limited and considers this to be a separate Strategic Investment.
Braveheart ownership 18%
GyroMetric (https://gyrometric.systems/) has developed a patent-protected system of hardware and software to accurately monitor the run-out in rotating shafts. Warnings generated by this system help prevent expensive and untimely breakdowns in industry and transport. Its products are used to measure the performance of rotating shafts in a wide variety of applications such as marine engines, wind turbines and industrial machine tools.
Remote Monitoring systems acquired some of Braveheart’s stake in Gyrometric which previously stood at 47% and commented in their annual results released on 25th June 2019 that “GyroMetric, which will be conducting trials for two major wind turbine manufacturers in 2H 2019, has recently signed a contract for a technical cooperation with a major UK supplier to the energy and petrochemical industries and as a result of the recent successful recruitment of a Technical Sales Director, a number of promising opportunities in new sectors, where lead times are typically shorter, are already being pursued.”
PhaseFocus Holdings Limited
Braveheart Ownership 21.2%
It was announced on 7th June 2019 that Braveheart has recently acquired a 21.2 per cent. interest in PhaseFocus Holdings Limited which owns 100 per cent. of the issued share capital of Phase Focus Limited (https://www.phasefocus.com/), a revenue-producing company which uses novel computational methods to enhance image quality in both optical and electron microscopes.
Braveheart Ownership 33% with a view to increasing to 54%.
The most recent investment for Braveheart was announced on 8th July 2019 and looks very interesting indeed.
Pharm2Farm Limited (“P2F”) is a spin-out from Nottingham Trent University (“NTU”) and is based in Nottingham, UK. The company have developed and patented a process to increase the bioavailability of trace minerals in plant feeds. Their patented process uses nanotechnology to dramatically improve trace element take-up in both flower and crop farming. P2F produce and sell these products through an exclusive licence to this technology from NTU.
This pioneering technology was initially developed to enrich the nutritional value of potatoes, in conjunction with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (“AHDB”) which represents farmers. Preliminary results not only showed a 20 per cent. increase in iron uptake by the tubers, but also an increase in yield and an approximate two-week reduction in the time to harvest. This patented technology has now been developed for use in the growing of other commercial crops, both in soil and hydroponically.
Subsequently, on 15th July 2019, there was an interview with Gareth Cave of Pharm2Farm who stated that the technology had been used in the growing of tomatoes hydroponically which had resulted in a 40% increase in yield and a 20% reduction in growing time.
There have been rumours that this technology has already been used within the area of Cannabis growth-producing very positive results, similar to those above. Obviously, this is a huge and growing market and should the P2F product be produced and marketed in sufficient quantities then there is the possibility that the opportunity here could dwarf all of the other Braveheart Investments combined.
I believe that Braveheart offers a unique proposition on AIM given that it is an investment company that is self-funding and has a good level of cash. The investments offer exposure to a variety of different sectors and are each at meaningful enough levels that should any one or more strike gold then Braveheart shareholders will reap a significant benefit. With 5 strategic investments (6 including the Paraytec spin-off company) there should be more regular newsflow going forward to put Braveheart on to investors radar and more importantly keep it there!
Bravehearts Trevor Brown talks about the latest developments with Andrew Scott
The author was not remunerated for this article but holds shares in Braveheart