Leanne Bonner-Cooke MBE was a successful entrepreneur before FinTech 50 star e-bate was even a twinkle in her eye.

Bonner-Cooke founded Evolve-IT Consulting back in 2007 after finding herself limited by glass ceilings in her corporate career – lastly as head of business systems at a large construction company.

I’d always worked in male-dominated industries and could never get to that next level,” she tells BusinessCloud. 

“When applying for internal positions, people were promoted based on length of service – not on capability – while if you went for an external job, you were always down to the final two but never got the position. 

“I never felt it was because I didn’t have the skills or capability or experience… so I decided to set up on my own.”

Bonner-Cooke was able to negotiate an agreement to transfer some contracts and her team, which she acknowledges gave her a “leg up”.

She explains: “Because of the direction of travel they were focusing on, the team that I looked after was a bit of a noise and a nuisance to them, I suppose.

“However, I was completely unaware of areas such as sales, marketing, legal responsibilities, human resources from a legislative perspective… suddenly I was learning all these new skills that weren’t my forte.”

Asking for help

The 2008 recession then set in – “I was like ‘s***, what have I done leaving a cushy corporate job?’” – but nevertheless Bonner-Cooke found great help from outside her business.

“That period taught me that if you ask for help, people very rarely can say no to you,” she says. “People want to help you and they want you to be successful. More so, I’d say, when you’re running your own business.

“When you’re in a corporate environment, and you’re all trying to succeed, it’s not really supportive – it’s like you’re working against each other towards achieving the same objective. So I found the dynamics of how that worked really fascinating.”

‘Every business is about people’ – e-bate CEO

Her work with Evolve saw her awarded an MBE in 2017 for services to women in business. However in 2020 she handed over the reins to the business following a management buyout, having founded e-bate in 2018.

“We had been asked to build rebate management systems and, running a service-based business as I was, there was never going to be a massive amount of value in said business – whereas I could see a solutions-based business software would be more valuable in the long term. 

“So I used the money from Evolve to bankroll e-bate and get it going.”

e-bate helps companies across the supply chain in industries such as pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, consumer goods and construction to manage their rebate and price incentive schemes.


“We designed proof of concept, took that to market, got some traction, and found that there was product-market fit,” she says. “This time around I wanted to do it fast, so we had our first round of VC investment in 2019 [rather than bootstrapping the business].

“Then in 2020 COVID hit – and our pipeline literally dried up. But our investors stood by us, and have done ever since.”

Investors including MEIF Proof of Concept & Early Stage Fund – managed by Mercia and part of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund – Mercia’s EIS Funds and angels have backed Bonner-Cooke with a total £3 million funding over three seed funding rounds from 2019 to 2022.

Rebate management

A rebate is a kind of loyalty scheme for the corporate world. 

“So it cements the relationship to go ‘if you give me this, I’ll give you that’ – but it’s only post the event that it happens. So there’s a stronger commitment there.

“If you go into Tescos and they have 3-for-2 offers on, it’s not Tescos giving you that incentive, it’s the manufacturer,” explains Bonner-Cooke. “We take all the till data, calculate it out then give it back so the retailers can put the claim in from the likes of Unilever and Procter & Gamble.

“We simplify and streamline that process through automation.”

Rebate management specialist to help hundreds of businesses with free tool

Ironically the pandemic proved the value of e-bate’s solution. “In the office, when everyone is collaborating together, it’s easier to manage the process using tools such as Excel compared with when people are working from home. So with hindsight COVID probably did us a favour,” says Bonner-Cooke.

The plan is to close a Series A round of investment this summer. “We’ll increase more in the sales and marketing functions, and more on a global basis as well: today, we’re fundamentally focused on the UK,” says Bonner-Cooke.

“We’ve rolled out a deal with a big American healthcare company which has created a blueprint for us to go into hospital groups throughout the rest of the world – and look at other sectors within the US too. Potentially that will enable us to get US backing and investment.”

FinTech 50 – UK’s most innovative financial technology creators for 2022