£250,000 Smart Grant for Birmingham company

Innovation Birmingham-based Synapse receive funding to enable research for business growth.

Synapse Information Ltd – a business spreadsheet collaboration company based at the Innovation Birmingham Campus – has been awarded an Innovate UK ‘Smart Grant’ of close to £250,000 to diversify its business and grow to over 100 employees within the next five years.

Started in 2012 by serial entrepreneur Brian Donnelly, Synapse currently employs 20 people. Its largest clients include a high street bank and a leading Swedish furniture retailer. The £248,691 Smart Grant award will provide 45 per cent of the total research and development costs for ‘Cloud CFO’; a new technology that will enable the group finance function to automate the consolidation process at both entity and group level.

Brian Donnelly, CEO of Synapse said: “Our existing spreadsheet collaboration product enables an unlimited number of users from one company to work on the same spreadsheet simultaneously, while always providing one version of the truth. All changes to the document are attributed to the user, in order to establish an audit trail. The cloud-based solution also eradicates the margin for error when trying to manage version control.

“The new technology that this Innovate UK Smart Grant will enable us to develop is for the group corporate finance team and the heads of finance from each entity. Rather than the consolidation of group finances being such a painstaking task at the end of each month, Cloud CFO will identify the relevant information from individual group entities’ financial data and automate the process. Group finance professionals can then focus their time on the strategic direction of their business and the available reports will enable them to make reliable, effective and informed decisions based on real-time accurate data.

“While there are products out in the marketplace to carry out this task, they rely on all of the group entities using the same accountancy software package, with uniform headings and formula. The entities of a company group are often very diverse in nature, each with their own set ways of generating financial data. Dictating a uniform approach across a diverse portfolio of companies has inherent inflexibility, would invariably lead to staff unrest, errors and a lack of informative data. Cloud CFO will deliver a radical and innovative solution.”

The concept for the new technology has been developed by Synapse’s team of software engineers, with input from Tineke Booth; the company’s Finance and Operations Manager, who recently joined the start-up from KPMG.

In addition to Cloud CFO’s main function of consolidating group accounts data, a proportion of the 18 month project will be allocated to developing new semantic code. This functionality provides the capability of analysing publicly available company financial statements for the purposes of industry benchmarking and identification of businesses for potential mergers and acquisitions.

The previous linked spreadsheet business founded by Brian Donnelly – Constellar – was relocated from the UK in order for it to grow exponentially in California’s Silicon Valley. Over a series of investment rounds with US venture capitalists, he raised a total of $30 million, enabling the team to grow to 160 with a customer base of 70 large clients, before he exited the business and subsequently returning to the UK.