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Taxpayer takes stake in Oxford vaccine co-creator

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Vaccitech - Shutterstock
Vaccitech - Shutterstock

The British taxpayer has become a shareholder in an online store for knitting, an at-home beautician service and the Secret Cinema following an effort to rescue startups struggling to survive the pandemic.

The Government’s Future Fund, which was launched in May last year to bail out early stage companies, revealed part of its portfolio for the first time on Tuesday.

The fund provided loans of up to £5m to early stage companies, matched by venture investors, which converted into shares if the company raised a further round of equity. In total, £1.14bn was lent to 1,190 companies.

The Future Fund, run out of the British Business Bank, had until now remained secretive about which companies had benefited from taxpayer cash, citing confidentiality agreements.

It declined to reveal how much the companies had been granted or the full list of companies that had been received loans.

But it did name 158 companies in which the state is now a shareholder. Among them is Secret Cinema, a company that provides immersive film viewings mixed with live theatre and fancy dress. It also includes LoveCrafts, an e-commerce company for knitters and crocheters, AppyParking, a car parking app, and Secret Spa, an on-demand beauty treatment company.

While many of the companies are relative minnows, the taxpayer also now has an equity in early stage firms in high-value sectors such as biotech and 5G communications.

These include Vaccitech, the Oxford company co-founded by Professor Sarah Gilbert and a co-inventor of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. In April, Vaccitech secured a $110m (£79.5m) US float, valuing the Oxford company at $460m (£332.5m).

The fund also has a stake in Blu Wireless, a Bristol company developing semiconductor technology for 5G communications that previously secured investment from Arm.

Ken Cooper, a managing director at the British Business Bank, said: “The Future Fund was created to increase the flow of capital to innovative companies at the height of the pandemic, while ensuring long-term value for the UK taxpayer.

“We’re delighted to see so many companies already going on to raise further private sector capital. As a shareholder in so many promising businesses, the Future Fund is well positioned to support, and benefit from their continued growth.”

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