Posted on April 21, 2017 by staff

Utiligroup could become unicorn after £100m buyout


The boss of an energy tech firm acquired by a US private equity firm for a reported £100m believes it can now become a unicorn company.

Matthew Hirst is the chief executive of Lancashire-based Utiligroup, which has been bought by Accel-KKR through its services company ESG.

More than 60 parties expressed an interest in investing in Utiligroup, whose software helps smaller utility companies compete with the so-called Big Six – British Gas, SSE, ScottishPower, EDF Energy, Eon and Npower.

It has also developed software to help with the rollout of smart meters, which the Government wants in every home by 2020 to help the public track their energy consumption.

In an exclusive interview with BusinessCloud, Hirst said the deal would help the company achieve its target to grow to 500 staff and a £50m turnover in three years.

He said: “Three years ago we did a management buy-out backed by NorthEdge Capital. We’ve been looking for fresh investment during the last 12 months. We’re delighted we’ve got one of the largest tech investors in the world – Accel-KKR – backing us for the next stage of our journey.

“At the time of the MBO we had 80 people in pretty tatty offices. We’ve now got 250 people and have tripled our turnover. One of the crucial things we did was transition to a SaaS business model, where customers can pay us a subscription.”

In total NorthEdge Capital invested £16m in Utiligroup after the initial buyout led by Hirst and COO Andrew Green. NorthEdge has rolled some of its shares into the new business as part of the deal.

“This shows the great faith they have in the team and the business,” said Hirst, who has also has shares in the business. “I love the business. I’ve been it for 17 years since joining as a graduate. I’ve worked my way through the ranks. I’m passionate about the business and the sector and I’m in it for the long-term.”

Hirst said they’d received a lot of interest from private equity houses and trade buyers before choosing Accel-KKR, which he described as being “fantastic news” for Lancashire.

“Our business plan is to get us to 500 people and £50m turnover in three years,” he said. “The majority of these jobs will be in the Lancashire area.”

Hirst believes Utiligroup could become a unicorn business. “People talk about unicorns and we can certainly become a unicorn in valuation terms.”