Sub-surface testing firm going for growth with second NEL investment

Uploaded by in Recent Investments, Growth Capital Fund on January 25, 2021

An expanding County Durham ground investigation business is aiming to more than double its turnover over the next 12 months with the help of a second investment from the North East Growth Capital Fund Supported by the European Regional Development Fund.

Exploration & Testing Associates (ETA) opened a state-of-the-art materials testing laboratory at its head office in Bowburn last summer which has now been fully assessed and approved by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS), the government body which assesses competence in the materials testing sector.

ETA is now aiming to further increase the number of clients from around the UK with which it works and is continuing to recruit the experienced staff it requires to deliver on its business plan, with plans for a new office in North West England now in the pipeline.

The management team worked with regional fund management firm NEL Fund Managers to secure a £150,000 investment from the Growth Capital Fund last year, which formed part of an overall million-pound investment package.

And it has now gone back to NEL for a further £50,000 Growth Capital Fund investment, which will be used to bring in additional equipment and supporting ETA’s ongoing recruitment needs.

Despite issues caused by the pandemic, the workforce increased from five to 15 last year and two further new recruits are set to join the firm shortly.

ETA predominantly works with clients in the construction and development sectors and is aiming to eventually establish a network of regional offices which offer ground investigation, on-site and laboratory materials testing, along with geotechnical and geo-environmental advice and reporting.

The business has already set up a second office in Coventry, and having turned over around £600,000 last year, it is aiming to increase this figure to around £1.4m by the end of 2021.

ETA was founded in 2019 by chairman Ken Marsh, who has more than three decades’ experience of working in the ground investigation industry and has been central to the growth and success of several of the sector’s best-known names.

He says: “The delays that everyone has experienced due to the pandemic have been frustrating, but we know the market demand for our services is still out there and we’ve now got everything in place that we need to capitalise on it.

“Getting full UKAS accreditation means we can compete for a much wider range of contracts and we’ve already seen a significant uplift in turnover since obtaining it, a trend which we expect to get stronger through the year to come.

“We’re also continuing to grow our team with the right calibre of experienced staff who can carry out the work required by our clients, and our hope is that an office in the North West will follow in the not-too-distant future.

“We’ve kept faith with our original business plan and will continue to focus on building a reputation for reliability, innovation and delivery that will bring in new and repeat business from high quality clients.

“We’ve maintained a positive relationship with the NEL team and it made sense to extend our relationship through this second investment.”

Jonathan Armitage, investment executive at NEL Fund Managers, adds: “The ETA management team has a clear growth strategy in place as well as the knowledge and staff to deliver on it, and we’re looking forward to seeing its operations progress through this year and beyond.”

The North East Growth Capital Fund has been designed to create around 790 jobs in more than 70 regional firms over the life of the programme and offers unsecured investments of up to £500,000 to established businesses looking to realise their growth potential.

The overarching £120m North East Fund will provide financial support for more than 600 businesses across Tyne & Wear, Durham and Northumberland, creating around 3,500 jobs and delivering a legacy of up to £80m for further investment into the region.

For more information about NEL’s investment criteria, visit or contact the investment team on 0345 369 7007.

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