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The team standing in front of the University's Physics building
Manjinder Kainth, Robert Stanyon, George Bartlett, Austin Tomlinson, who developed the automated grading system called Graide, and Professor Nicola Wilkin, Director of Education, College of Engineering and Physical Sciences

The funding has come from the MEIF Proof of Concept & Early Stage Fund, which is managed by Mercia and part of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund, Mercia’s EIS funds and capital from angel investors.

Graide, as the platform is known, arose from a PhD thesis written by Robert Stanyon. He and his co-developers, Manjinder Kainth and George Bartlett, recognised the need for the system while working as teaching assistants during their post-graduate studies.

Graide is aimed at STEM departments of higher education institutions and can be used to mark both coursework and exam papers. It can not only assess the final answers, but also a student’s workings. The system, which incorporates artificial intelligence, learns an assessor’s marking style so they do not have to grade the same answer twice. As the assessor works through the paper, Graide automates more and more of the feedback.

The team estimates that the system can reduce grading times by an average of 89 per cent while giving students seven times as much feedback. Graide is already being piloted at six universities in the UK.

The developers set up a company to commercialise the software. 6 Bit Education is based at the Birmingham Research Park on the University of Birmingham campus. The funding will enable it to build its team, creating two new jobs, and adding additional features to the platform.

As part of the investment, Mercia has introduced two EdTech specialists from its Non-executive Director Network. Andrew Doyle has been appointed as Chair while Tony Austwick joins as an adviser. Both have significant experience in early and growth stage technology companies, and the education sector.

Manjinder Kainth, CEO of 6 Bit Education, said: “Providing high quality feedback is essential for students, but it is time-consuming to deliver and can be plagued by inconsistencies. Graide addresses this challenge. This investment will accelerate our traction by increasing the size of our commercial team. It will also fund some exciting features on the product roadmap that could see Graide extend from science and maths departments to roll out across the whole campus.”

Kiran Mehta, Investment Manager at Mercia, said: “Manjinder and the team have done an excellent job building a product that increases staff efficiency while generating a strong sales pipeline both at home and early market exploration in the US. It’s been a pleasure supporting the team to bring in this significant investment and to enhance the strategic direction of the business. I look forward to working with the enlarged 6 Bit team on the next stage of their growth journey.”

Mark Wilcockson, Senior Investment Manager at the British Business Bank, said: “The MEIF is here to support innovative businesses expand and grow. With this latest funding round, 6 bit will be able to introduce its automated marking software into more UK universities, as well as expand into overseas markets. We encourage other tech companies in the Midlands to consider MEIF funding to support their business growth plans.”

Anita Bhalla, Interim Chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) said: Seeing digital technology businesses like 6 Bit secure funding reinforces how digitisation can create solutions and efficiency in business processes. This MEIF funding will support 6 Bit in growing its team and increasing their budget as their product is rolled out to more universities across the country. Allowing businesses to unlock their potential like this is critical to GBSLEP’s mission of driving inclusive economic growth.”

The Midlands Engine Investment Fund and Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund projects are supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.

About 6 Bit Education

The founders of 6 Bit Education are current and former educators, and they recognise the value of providing high quality feedback to students in order to help them learn and improve. Unfortunately, providing this feedback is time consuming, and often this burden is placed on already time constrained teachers. Fortunately, the team had extensive experience with education technology, artificial intelligence, and machine learning which they used to build Graide. A platform that uses AI to be an aide for educators marking student's coursework, homework and examination papers, with the ability to reduce marking times by over 70% and increase feedback by seven times. Graide is currently being used in some UK university STEM departments.

About Mercia Asset Management PLC

Mercia is a proactive, specialist asset manager focused on supporting regional SMEs to achieve their growth aspirations. Mercia provides capital across its four asset classes of balance sheet, venture, private equity and debt capital: the Group's 'Complete Connected Capital'. The Group initially nurtures businesses via its third-party funds under management, then over time Mercia can provide further funding to the most promising companies, by deploying direct investment follow-on capital from its own balance sheet.

The Group has a strong UK footprint through its regional offices, 19 university partnerships and extensive personal networks, providing it with access to high-quality deal flow. Mercia currently has c.£800million of assets under management and, since its IPO in December 2014, has invested over £96million into its direct investment portfolio. Mercia Asset Management PLC is quoted on AIM with the epic "MERC".

The Group raises its own Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs) and Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) Funds and details about open offers can be found through Mercia’s website.

Mercia Asset Management PLC is quoted on AIM with the epic "MERC" and includes the following wholly owned subsidiaries -

  • Mercia Fund Management Limited is authorised and regulated by the FCA under firm reference number 524856
  • Enterprise Ventures Limited is authorised and regulated by the FCA under firm reference number 183363
  • EV Business Loans Limited is authorised and regulated by the FCA under firm reference number 443560

www.mercia.co.uk

 

About the Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF)

The Midlands Engine Investment Fund, supported by the European Regional Development Fund, will invest in Debt Finance, Small Business Loans, Proof-of-Concept and Equity Finance funds, ranging from £25,000 to £2m, specifically to help small and medium sized businesses secure the funding they need for growth and development.

The Midlands Engine Investment Fund is operated by British Business Financial Services Limited, wholly owned by British Business Bank, the UK’s national economic development bank. Established in November 2014, its mission is to make finance markets for smaller businesses work more effectively, enabling those businesses to prosper, grow and build UK economic activity.

The Midlands Engine Investment Fund is supported by the European Regional Development Fund, the European Investment Bank, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and British Business Finance Limited, a British Business Bank group company.

The MEIF covers the following LEP areas: Black Country, Coventry & Warwickshire, Greater Birmingham & Solihull, Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, The Marches, and Worcestershire in the West Midlands; and Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham & Nottinghamshire (D2N2) Greater Lincolnshire, Leicester and Leicestershire, and South-East Midlands in the East and South-East Midlands.

The project is receiving up to £78,550,000 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The programme will continue to spend to the end of 2023.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding.

The European Investment Bank is providing £122,500,000 to support the Midlands Engine Investment Fund. This follows backing for the Northern Powerhouse in 2017 and backing for the newly launched North East Fund. For further information visit www.eib.org

The funds in which Midlands Engine Investment Fund invests are open to businesses with material operations in or planning to open material operations in the West Midlands and East & South-East Midlands.

The British Business Bank has published the Business Finance Guide (in partnership with the ICAEW, and a further 21 business and finance organisations). The guide, which impartially sets out the range finance options available to businesses and provides links to support available at a regional level, is available at https://thebusinessfinanceguide.co.uk

About the British Business Bank

The British Business Bank is the UK government’s economic development bank. Established in November 2014, its mission is to make finance markets for smaller businesses work more effectively, enabling those businesses to prosper, grow and build UK economic activity. Its remit is to design, deliver and efficiently manage UK-wide smaller business access to finance programmes for the UK government.

The British Business Bank’s core programmes support nearly £8bn[1] of finance to almost 94,800 smaller businesses[2]. Since March 2020, the British Business Bank has also launched four new Coronavirus business loan schemes, delivering almost £73bn of finance to around 1.6m businesses.

As well as increasing both supply and diversity of finance for UK smaller businesses through its programmes, the Bank works to raise awareness of the finance options available to smaller businesses. The British Business Bank Finance Hub provides independent and impartial information to businesses about their finance options, featuring short films, expert guides, checklists and articles from finance providers to help make their application a success.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic and EU Exit, the Finance Hub has expanded and it now targets a wider business audience. It continues to provide information and support for scale-up, high growth and potential high growth businesses, but now provides increased content, information and products for businesses in survival and recovery mindsets. The Finance Hub has been redesigned and repositioned to reflect this, during this period of economic uncertainty.

British Business Bank plc is a public limited company registered in England and Wales, registration number 08616013, registered office at Steel City House, West Street, Sheffield, S1 2GQ. It is a development bank wholly owned by HM Government. British Business Bank plc and its subsidiaries are not banking institutions and do not operate as such. They are not authorised or regulated by the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) or the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). A complete legal structure chart for the group can be found at www.british-business-bank.co.uk.

[1] Figures as at end of June 2020

[2] Figures as at 28 January 2021