Disperse, a London, UK-based artificial intelligence construction startup, raised $16M in funding.

The round was led by 2150 with participation from Northzone and Kindred Capital.

The company intends to use the funds to expand operations and accelerate growth.

Led by CEO Felix Neufeld, Disperse provides a platform that enables construction project managers to get things done with actionable insights in a digestible format. Companies can track progress across projects and identify inefficiencies through capturing imagery and using computer vision to spot issues as they happen.

The company’s team is distributed across London, New York, Sarajevo, Mostar and Islamabad. 

Optellum, an Oxford, UK-based medtech company that provides an AI platform to diagnose and treat early-stage lung cancer, raised $14M in Series A funding.

The round was led by Mercia, with participation from Intuitive Ventures, Black Opal Ventures, St John’s College in the University of Oxford, IQ Capital, and the family office of Sir Martin & Lady Audrey Wood.

The company intends to use the funds to scale its base, operations, and commercial launches in the UK and USA; accelerate research and development; and expand its platform into personalized therapy decisions by integrating imaging data with molecular data, robotics, and liquid biopsies.

Led by CEO Jason Pesterfield and Founder Tara Bishop, MD, Optellum is the leader in AI-enabled lung cancer diagnosis, attaining FDA clearance, CE-MDR in the EU, and UKCA in the UK for its software platform Virtual Nodule Clinic. This platform can help physicians identify and track at-risk patients, and optimally diagnose the signs of lung cancer early, so treatment can be started sooner for patients with tumors, and invasive procedures such as biopsies on benign lesions can be minimized.

The company also has strategic collaborations with GE Healthcare and the Lung Cancer Initiative at Johnson & Johnson to accelerate clinical deployments and continue the advancement of the platform. In the UK, Optellum’s solution is being used to predict at-risk lung nodules in a multi-center study with NHS Trusts as part of a major investment in AI for healthcare.

The company also has a U.S. office at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas.

UK retail sales volumes fell by 1.6% in August compared to July, continuing a downward trend that started in 2021. In recent months, rising prices and their impact on the cost of living have been affecting sales volumes.

The figures are the official ones from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and show that all main sectors (food stores, non-food stores, non-store retailing and fuel) fell during the month. The last time that happened was July 2021.

The ONS added that non-food stores sales volumes fell by more than the sector as a whole, with a 1.9% month-on-month drop because of falls in each of its sub-sectors. The ‘other non-food stores’ category was down 2.8%, department stores were down 2.7%, and household goods stores down 1.1%. While clothing stores were also in negative territory, the fact that they dropped just 0.6% is a small crumb of comfort. But compared to February 2020 (that is, just before the pandemic), they were down 5.7%.

Meanwhile, non-store retailing (predominantly online retailers) sales volumes fell by 2.6%, but were still 24.4% above their February 2020 levels, highlighting how essential e-tail is to the wider retail sector in Britain post-pandemic.

Looking at the figures more fully, as well as those month-on-month volume declines, the value of UK retail spending dropped by 1.4% in August when motor fuel is excluded. 

Meanwhile, inflation made its presence felt with volumes (again, excluding motor fuel) falling by 5% year on year, but the value of sales was still up 3.7% due to higher prices.

Compared to the last month before the pandemic started, the value was 12.4% higher last month with petrol taken out of the mix (+13.7% when it was included), while volumes were only up 1.6%, another stark reminder of the impact of inflation. 

Online sales last month made up 25.7% of total retail sales but were down 9.5% year on year. Textiles clothing and footwear e-stores were down 7.4% on the year and 2.9% month on month with e-fashion sales accounting for a slightly higher percentage of the total than the wider retail sector at 25.8%.

The figures paint a gloomy picture and Oliver Vernon-Harcourt, head of retail at Deloitte, said it doesn’t bode well for what should be the business retail season of the year. He said: “Retailers, who are also battling rising costs, may be revising expectations ahead of the critical Golden Quarter, with ongoing uncertainty amongst consumers around how much they will be able to spend over the coming months. In this case, it may get worse before it gets better. However, the festive period will be an opportunity for retailers to showcase the best they have to offer to attract consumer spending.”

Since 2021, the Netherlands’s consumer rights authority has focused on investigating the sometimes misleading sustainability claims made by apparel brands. The Dutch CRA has focused its investigation on two international retailers in particular, H&M and Decathlon, both accused of not sufficiently explaining nor actually proving the sustainable features they claim some of their products have.

“Decathlon and H&M describe their products with generic terms such as ‘ecodesign’ and ‘conscious’ without clearly spelling out their sustainability benefits,” wrote CRA in a statement. As a result of the investigation, both retailers have pledged they will change their working methods and will inform customers more effectively, a commitment that the Dutch CRA will be monitoring for two years.

“Companies that promote their products with sustainability claims must ensure that these are correct, clear and verifiable. Otherwise, consumers will be misled,” added the CRA, which did not however impose sanctions on either retailer.

At the same time, Decathlon and H&M have respectively made donations of €400,000 and €500,000 to various organisations advocating sustainable development, especially in the apparel sector.

Contacted by, Swedish group H&M acknowledged that its website’s sustainability information “could have been provided in a clearer and more comprehensive way,” and stated that “changes are under way,” with the goal of sharing more comprehensive data on its efforts towards sustainable development. The group also pointed out that the issues raised by the Dutch CRA “did not concern the dissemination of false information.”

In addition, H&M has decided to remove from its e-shop the mention ‘conscious choice’, which characterises a number of its products. An ongoing job that will be completed by the end of October.

As for Decathlon, it stated on its Dutch site that it is fully cooperating with the CRA and is currently working to improve how it “communicates about eco-design,” a term that refers, among other things, to material choices and production process optimisation.

Recently, other fashion brands have been singled out for their poor communication regarding the supposed sustainable nature of their products. As was the case of British fashion e-tailer Asos, the subject of an investigation by the UK's Competition and Markets Authority, following which it removed the ‘responsible edit’ section from its site. In June, Zero Waste France filed a complaint against Adidas and New Balance, claiming their commitment to environmentally friendly practices is “mere window dressing.”

Queen Elizabeth II's death means that around 600 of her favourite brands risk losing their royal warrant and must now await the approval of her successor King Charles III.

Fortnum and Mason teas, Burberry raincoats, Cadbury chocolate and even broomstick and dog food manufacturers are among those facing the loss of royal prestige.

If they do not gain the new monarch's stamp of approval, they will have two years to remove the seal that marks them as preferred suppliers to the sovereign.

In his former role as the prince of Wales, Charles issued his own royal warrants to more than 150 brands.

Above all, the warrant is a mark of quality.

Holders receive "the right to display the appropriate royal arms on their product, packaging, stationery, advertising, premises and vehicles", the Royal Warrant Holders Association said.

For some companies, royal endorsement is a powerful selling point, even if it is hard to measure the true impact on sales.

Fortnum and Mason were the grocers and provision merchants by appointment to Queen Elizabeth, and the tea merchants and grocers by appointment to the prince of Wales.

"We are proud to have held a warrant from Her Majesty since 1954, and to have served her and the royal household throughout her life," the luxury London department store said.

Fortnum and Mason has a long and close history with the royal family, having created Royal Blend tea for king Edward VII in 1902.

Twinings also had royal warrants as tea and coffee merchants to Queen Elizabeth and to the prince of Wales.

- Dubonnet and champagne -

Among the other brands that benefited from their association with Queen Elizabeth was the Dubonnet wine-based aperitif -- the key ingredient in her favourite cocktail of Dubonnet and gin.

Launer, which prided itself on supplying the sovereign with her ever-present handbags since 1968, now risks losing its precious cachet.

However, Barbour jackets, particularly suited to country life in the British weather, were the official manufacturers of waterproof and protective clothing to both Queen Elizabeth and her eldest son.

But for brands less well-associated with Queen Elizabeth in the public mind, the royal warrant is "above all, the recognition of know-how and tradition", Christian Porta, the managing director of global business development at Pernod Ricard, which owns Dubonnet, told AFP.

The French wine and spirits multinational holds warrants for Dubonnet and also for Mumm champagne.

However, in this field it has some competition: Bollinger, Krug, Lanson, Laurent-Perrier, Louis Roederer, Moet and Chandon and Veuve Clicquot also hold royal warrants.

- Tougher criteria -

Consumer brands also have the royal seal of approval, including Heinz, known for its ketchup and its tins of baked beans, adored by Britons.

For Kellogg's cereals, as a US company, "it's nice to have such a strong connection to the UK", said Paul Wheeler, the brand's spokesman in Britain.

He said the company had been supplying the royal family continuously during Queen Elizabeth's 70-year reign.

"We used to have a special van, called Genevieve, only to deliver cereals to the royals straight from the factory," Wheeler said.

There is no cost to obtaining a royal warrant, and suppliers continue to provide their services to the grantor on a commercial basis, while the royals are also free to use other suppliers.

Royal warrants last for five years, but the criteria for renewal have been tightened.

"It's not only about giving a perfect service," said Wheeler. "You have to show you're a good business," particularly with respect to human rights.

As a result, the royal warrant is therefore a guarantee of quality which some Britons will use when choosing their goods and services.

British insurtech Laka is launching its micro-mobility insurance in Germany following its Series A raise.

Porche Ventures invested $1.5m (£1.2m) into the company in June, part of a $13.5m (£10.9m) Series A round.

For the launch, Laka will partner with Porche Digital, the technology unit of the sports car maker, and e-bike brand Cyklaer.

Tobias Taupitz, founder and CEO, Laka said: “I’m excited to go back to my roots and launch Laka in Germany, our fifth market. Having grown up in close proximity to Stuttgart, I couldn’t have wished for a better launch partner than Cyklaer, a beautifully designed e-Gravel Bike.”

The London-based company provides insurance for cycling and electric vehicles. In the future, it plans to expand its offering into e-scooters, e-moped and electric car insurance.

Laka’s insurance model charges its users based on the previous month’s total claim cost but has a higher upper limit.

“At a time where a shift towards a greener future has never been more important, we’re excited about helping to support further micro-mobility growth in Germany with partners like Cyklaer who are driving e-bike and e-mobility adoption,” said Kelly Barnes, CMO, Laka.

Alongside Cyklaer the insurtech has partnered with cycling brand Raleigh, Santander Consumer Finance and Monzo.

Overall investment into the UK fintech industry has been found to have taken a dive for the first half of the year when compared with the same time last year.

UK consumer price inflation eased somewhat in August. But while it dipped from the double-digit levels seen recently, it's still stubbornly high. And fashion prices continue to rise.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Wednesday reported inflation back in single-digits as some essentials prices rose more slowly.

But the fact is, regardless of essentials price inflation rising faster or more slowly compared to the levels in the past few months, it’s still at historic highs. That means consumers are being hit by the kind of price rises they haven't seen for decades in the essentials they use in their daily lives and so have less money available to spend on non-essentials.

And of course, those non-essentials are seeing their own significant price rises and unlike some other aspects of inflation, those rises accelerated last month. The annual rate for clothing and footwear was +7.6% in the year to August 2022, up from +6.6% in July. Prices rose by 1.1% month on month, compared with a smaller rise of 0.2% in August 2021. 

Prices normally rise at this time of year as the autumn ranges enter the shops following the summer sales season. However, the pandemic affected the standard seasonal pattern in 2021 (and 2020), and the 0.2% rise in 2021 was the lowest July to August movement since a 0.2% fall between July and August 1992 in the constructed historical series.

The increase in the annual rate between July and August 2022 came principally from men’s and women’s clothing, where prices rose between July and August 2022 but fell between the same two months a year ago.

Looking at overall inflation, the ONS said that the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rose by 9.9% in the 12 months to August 2022, down from 10.1% in July.

The index when owner occupiers’ housing costs are included (CPIH) rose by 8.6% in the period, down from 8.8% in July.

On a month-on-month basis, CPI rose by 0.5% in August this year, compared with a rise of 0.7% in August 2021 and CPIH rose by 0.5%, compared with a rise of 0.6% this time last year.

The largest upward contributions to the annual CPIH inflation rate this time came from housing and household services (principally from electricity, gas and other fuels, and owner occupiers’ housing costs), transport (principally motor fuels), and food and non-alcoholic beverages.

The slowdown in the upward figures was largely due to falling petrol prices, although rising food prices still made the largest upward contribution to the inflation rate.

Insly, a London, UK-based low/no-code software platform for insurers, insurance brokers and Managing General Agents (MGAs), raised €1.1m in bridge funding.

Half of this figure was committed by existing investors, Concentric and Uniqa Ventures, and half by an angel syndicate led by Fund Fellow Founders. The round brings Insly’s total raised to €5.8m. 

The company intends to user the funds to accelerate growth across operations in Poland, London, and Tallinn, enable further product development, and expand sales and marketing initiatives to acquire new customers.  

Founded by Risto Rossar, Insly is an insurtech startup that enables insurers, MGAs, brokers, and underwriters to digitize and automate their mid and back-office operations, including distribution, policy administration, underwriting, claims, and reinsurance.  
Initially an SaaS solution for brokers, the company has since diversified into tools for MGAs and insurance companies, while also developing a no-code product which is customisable and configurable, reducing the need for maintenance and costly development talent.  

Additional services like accounting, reporting, and claims management tools further enhance the platform’s capabilities for streamlining and optimizing insurance selling and admin processes.

In the last eight years, Insly has grown to a team of 100, with offices in Tallinn (core development unit), London (HQ), Vilnius, and Warsaw. It serves over 1,000 brokers, MGAs, and insurers, with over 15,000 users, and over €0.5bn gross premiums transacted on the platform. Its customers span 52 countries around the globe, and global revenues have grown by over 30% in the last year.  

Claimer, a London, UK-based fintech startup enabling companies to claim financial incentives from the government, raised $4.2m in seed funding.

The round was led by Project A Ventures, with participation from Moonfire Ventures, and a group of tier one angels that includes Errol Damelin (co-founder, Wonga), Matt Clifford (Chairman, Advanced Research and Invention Agency), Ian Hogarth (ex-CEO, SongKick), Harry Briggs (Partner, OMERS Ventures) and follow-on investors Ben Holmes (ex-Index Ventures) and TrueSight Ventures.

The company intends to use the funds to expand operations and its business reach.

Founded by CEO Adam McCann and CTO Andrew Easter, Claimer is an R&D claim solution enabling companies to claim financial incentives from the government. By building accessible government financing infrastructure, Claimer is able to make the experience of claiming innovation incentives easier and give customers more time, focus, and money to build their business. Companies using the platform can initiate an accurate claim for complex R&D projects with benefits ranging from £30k to £2m in a few minutes.

The R&D claim solution has been used by hundreds of venture scale companies so far, including Otta, Nested, Unmind, and Hubble. To date, the company has filed over 700 claims successfully.

Ruleguard, a London, UK-based provider of a SaaS-powered RegTech platform, raised £3.5m in funding.

Foresight VCTs, Foresight VCT and Foresight Enterprise VCT, made the investment.

The company intends to use the funds to continue to develop additional platform capabilities while also scaling up sales and marketing.

Established by John O’Dwyer in 2013 as a software development consultancy, Ruleguard provides a specialized platform for regulatory compliance. Its solution enables customers to navigate the challenges of increasing regulatory compliance requirements while also enabling them to save money on audit compliance costs.

The company employs 34 staff, and serves over 50 clients, with recurring revenues over £2.7M and high double-digit growth year-on-year. Clients include leading asset managers, wealth managers, brokers, insurance firms and banks, including Computershare, Cazenove Capital, FNZ, Link Fund Solutions, Quilter Cheviot, Santander, True Potential, Rathbones and Royal London.