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Praetura Ventures invests £1.5m into AI start-up Sparkbox

Praetura Ventures has invested £1.5m into a Manchester-based start-up that uses AI and in-depth data to help big brand merchandising teams make better stock buying and pricing decisions.

Sparkbox’s solution, which is trusted by River Island and Matchesfashion.com, enables retailers to forecast demand, optimise their pricing and promotions and plan inventory to reduce waste and the need for big discounts.

Launched in 2019, Sparkbox has seen significant traction in the market to date. In a recent trial with a £500m+ fashion retailer, Sparkbox improved cash margin on markdowns by 34% and paid back its client’s investment in just 34 days.

In addition to protecting retailers from profit losses, Sparkbox’s approach to data also has the potential to aid brand sustainability goals by preventing retailers from over ordering stock, with wide reports that fashion alone is responsible for up to 10% of global carbon emissions.

Sparkbox will use Praetura Ventures’ investment to double its team and onboard further fashion, home and seasonal retailers, where deadstock is a constant challenge across the board.

The company was co-founded by Forbes 30 Under 30 inductees Lindsay Fisher and Matthew Wong, and Kevin Blackmore, who prior to Sparkbox was vice president of Customer Insights at Best Buy and a retail analytics partner at Accenture.

Collectively, the founding team has 50 years of global retail experience, including previous work with Arcadia and The Very Group.

The team started Sparkbox after seeing an opportunity to innovate in a sector that still relies heavily on spreadsheets, guess work and gut feelings to make important commercial decisions.

In line with Praetura Ventures’ commitment to providing more than money support to the businesses it backs, Colin Greene, an operational partner at the VC, who was formerly Apple’s director of US Consumer Retail, will also join Sparkbox’s board.

Sparkbox’s co-founder, Lindsay Fisher, said: “As a team of former retailers, we’ve seen first-hand how the retail industry is advancing in many areas but falling behind when it comes to making data-driven decisions. We know how much potential there is for AI and machine learning to improve profits and reduce waste in retail, and we are thrilled to have Prateura join us on our mission to modernise merchandising and put data behind the important pricing and inventory decisions our users make every day.”

Colin Greene, operational partner at Praetura Ventures, added: “Sparkbox’s approach to inventory optimisation has the power to bring about massive changes in fashion and home retail, which is clearly behind the times when it comes to technology adoption within merchandising. I’m looking forward to working with the team and sharing some of the lessons I’ve learnt from my time at Apple and the other tech businesses I’ve been lucky to work closely with over the years. The wider Praetura team are excited to be backing another fantastic Northern tech business and providing more than money support to make Sparkbox a go-to solution for even more household brands.”

Named one to watch in the North’s growing tech ecosystem, Sparkbox makes up the list of companies selected for Enterprise City’s second start-up exchange programme at Department Bonded Warehouse, which is supported by Praetura Ventures.

A graduate of the Google for Startups UK immersion program, the company is also a current member of Tech Nation’s Applied AI 3.0 cohort and has previously been recognised as a Tech Nation Rising Star. In addition, the team has been named a top retail technology start-up by Retail Week and were winners of Fashion District’s Retail Innovation Challenge in 2019.

The deal was managed by Peter Carway and Louise Chapman from the Praetura Ventures investment team and supported by the legal team at Gateley’s Manchester office. Sparkbox was supported by Adam Kaucher and his team at Irwin Mitchell in Manchester.

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