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‘Without our people, we’d just be a bunch of tables and chairs.’

I’ve heard a few entrepreneurs say this or something similar over the years.

Leanne Bonner-Cooke MBE, founder and CEO of e-bate, is a definite subscriber to this view. “Every business, for me, is about people,” she tells TechBlast when asked for a key takeaway from her career.

e-bate is a software platform helping companies across the supply chain in industries such as pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, consumer goods and construction to manage their rebate and price incentive schemes.


“We are a piece of software, true – but we are people manufacturing that software; we are people selling that software; and the people they sell it to use that software,” she says. “So for me, it’s people all the way – staff and customers.”

Leicester entrepreneur Bonner-Cooke founded Evolve-IT Consulting back in 2007 after finding herself limited by glass ceilings in her corporate career. She was awarded an MBE in 2017 for services to women in business then in 2020 handed over the reins in a management buyout, having founded e-bate in 2018.

Culture is key

“When it comes to recruitment, I’m looking for belief in our vision: it’s all about culture,” she explains. “If you demonstrate that culture, and you’ve got an attitude of wanting to learn, you’re going to learn. 

“However, there are times where you also need the skill – so in those C-suite positions [within a scaling startup] you need somebody that can direct and are experts within their area… people who are able to challenge the teams into different ways of thinking and to bring them along.”

A star of our sister publication BusinessCloud’s FinTech 50 ranking, e-bate saw its customer pipeline dry up when COVID hit. Bonner-Cooke was able to draw upon her experience of leading Evolve through the 2008 recession.

“I was like ‘s***, what have I done leaving a cushy corporate job?’” she says of that time. “That period taught me that if you ask for help, people very rarely can say no to you. People want to help you and they want you to be successful. More so, I’d say, when you’re running your own business.

“When you’re in a corporate environment, and you’re all trying to succeed, it’s not really supportive – it’s like you’re working against each other towards achieving the same objective. So I found the dynamics of how that worked really fascinating.”

Why CEOs should always lead with integrity

Don’t cut heads

It also taught her the value of the people within your organisation. “I was in the construction industry, which was the first to be hit, so I knew my business was going to suffer. But equally, the resolution to any recession was always to cut heads – yet they’re then moaning about skill shortage!” she says.

“So my message changed to be: let’s not cut heads, let’s retain the skills and the talent that we need so when we come out the other side of this, we’re strong. 

“Where else can we simplify processes, costs, and make those savings without having to always just look at people? People just seem the easiest option. But you’re only all right until you come out the other side and suddenly you’ve got no people and you can’t train anybody.”

Leanne Bonner-Cooke MBE: I saw greater opportunity with e-bate

Investors including MEIF Proof of Concept & Early Stage Fund, Mercia’s EIS Funds and angels stood by e-bate during the pandemic. The company has raised £3 million total investment over three seed funding rounds from 2019 to 2022.

“With each round of VC funding we bring in, you add resources – but it’s really hard as a startup,” she says candidly. “Even when you get that first chunk of VC money, you can’t afford the best people in the market… so as you grow, on occasion people grow with you, and they become the experts of the future. 

“On other occasions people haven’t grown with the business, and we have made changes.”

Global plans

The plan is to close a Series A round of investment this summer. “We’ll increase more in the sales and marketing functions, and more on a global basis as well: today, we’re fundamentally focused on the UK,” says Bonner-Cooke, who sits on the board of Leicestershire County Cricket Club.

“We’ve rolled out a deal with a big American healthcare company which has created a blueprint for us to go into hospital groups throughout the rest of the world – and look at other sectors within the US too. Potentially that will enable us to get US backing and investment.”

Away from e-bate, Bonner-Cooke can often be found out in the countryside riding her bike. “I’ve got a camper van, a dog – and a husband!” she laughs.

“That, for me, is my downtime – a real shut-off from work. It gives me that connection back with nature: just to walk, go to the pub.”

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