Equistone exclusive as firm makes double bolt-on

HPE Growth sells GP stake.

We’ve got some exclusive news for you this morning, as Nina Lindholm writes about a couple of bolt-ons by an Equistone portfolio company.

Next up, we look at a GP stake deal involving HPE Growth.

We then finish on news that Thoma Bravo portfolio company Magnet Forensics has acquired a digital media forensics software company.


We open things up today with an exclusive, as Nina Lindholm reveals that Equistone will announce the bolt-ons of Blue Apple and Pabulum by its portfolio company CH&CO, an independent caterer headquartered in Reading, England, later this morning.

Blue Apple is a Reading-based workplace caterer in the Southeast, home counties, Midlands and Southwest. Pabulum, headquartered in Fleet, Hampshire, is an education caterer that operates in over 100 schools in the South of England.

Blue Apple and Pabulum join CH&CO’s existing portfolio that includes Vacherin, Company of Cooks and Gather & Gather.

Edward Baker, an investment director at London-based private equity firm Equistone, spoke to Nina about the bolt-ons and CH&CO’s journey through the covid pandemic, in an exclusive interview.

Around 50 percent of CH&CO’s business is workplace restaurants and cafes, around 20 percent is in education and the rest is a mix of destinations and venues. “All of these were materially impacted by the pandemic,” said Baker.

MML Capital Partners announced its exit from CH&CO in April 2019 to Equistone. At the time, when the world barely used the word lockdown, the company’s EBITDA totalled around £20 million ($26 million; €23 million). In the nine months before the pandemic hit, Equistone helped CH&CO make three acquisitions, took the company to around half a billion sales on a pro forma basis and the EBITDA to £30 million. “Then March 2020 happened, and in that year, EBITDA swung negative,” said Baker. “It was a challenging recovery with all the subsequent lockdowns.”

As the lockdowns started, Equistone took action, putting in a “substantial” amount of money, as the firm was not certain what the working capital and restructuring impact was going to look like, Baker explained. “The effect that had was that it gave the various stakeholders the confidence that Equistone would support the business and give the business cash headroom,” he added.

This approach also put the lenders involved, LGT, SMBC and NatWest, at ease. “They felt confident in our continued support of the business, so their money wasn’t at risk,” said Baker.

Check out the full interview to find out Equistone’s further plans for CH&CO.

GP stake

Private equity firm HPE Growth has a new shareholder, the Nieland Family Office, in the latest move in the GP stake trend.

Philipp Nieland founded PPRO, Dock Financial and other tech companies. His links with HPE go back some way – PPRO was HPE Growth’s first fintech investment.

The Nieland family office joins the GP of HPE Growth as a minority shareholder, adding “expertise and a broad network” of technology investors, but also “significant” investment capital, according to a statement.

“The permanent investment capital will be invaluable in our efforts to grow our investment platform, maintain the highest professional investment standards and expand our offering across distinct products,” said Tim van Delden, managing partner and founder of HPE Growth, in the statement.

HPE’s management team remains in place, including Frederic Huynen, who is promoted to a member of the management team. The Nieland Family Office will not take any operational or investment decision role in the GP.

For more on the GP stakes trend, check out my interview with Dominique Gaillard, president of Armen, a private equity firm focused on GP stakes. We talked about Armen’s acquisition of platform Private Corner and how Gaillard hopes to use it to help European mid-cap private equity firms gain access to retail cash.


Thoma Bravo portfolio company Magnet Forensics has acquired Griffeye, a digital media forensics software company.

Griffeye is based in Gothenburg, Sweden. Police agencies use the firm’s platform to analyse large volumes of images and videos.

Thoma Bravo acquired Magnet Forensics earlier this year by  in a deal valued at C$1.8 billion ($1.33 billion; €1.22 billion).

“In a time when forensic backlogs continue to grow, it’s critical for our customers to have tools that support automated workflows,” said Adam Belsher, CEO at Magnet Forensics.

Magnet Forensics is a developer of digital investigation services that acquire, analyse, report on, and manage evidence from digital sources. It is based in Waterloo, Ontario.