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CogX: Leading UK tech event owes ‘tens of thousands’ to suppliers



Last year at CogX, one of the UK’s largest tech conferences, speakers from Stephen Fry to Stephen Bartlett and Robert Downey Jr to Queen Rania of Jordan, took to the stage at London’s O2 Arena. It was targeting 90,000 attendees. 

But, behind the big names, several suppliers which worked with CogX on the London event in September 2023 paint a different picture, with three telling Sifted they are owed “tens of thousands of pounds” by the organisation for work they’ve not been paid for.  

“We are fully committed to satisfying each of our suppliers for the 2023 event,” a CogX spokesperson tells Sifted. “We have been transparent with them on the challenges we faced and the initiatives we are pursuing to bring in revenue and funding to the business. They have supported these efforts by not bringing any legal action, for which we are very grateful.”

Suppliers wait on payment

One supplier who provided services for the event says they are waiting on over £12k in payment from CogX (including a late fee due to the original invoice not being paid), which should have been paid by the start of February. 

“I have had sleepless nights,” the supplier says. “I have had to restructure my team and my business because, from a cash flow standpoint, I don’t have the relevant amount to pay their salaries.”

In emails seen by Sifted, CogX told them that the hold-up was caused by fundraising taking longer than expected, but paying them was a top priority. CogX says that an upcoming event in LA, scheduled for May 7, would help bring in the money to do so. Speakers lined up for CogX Festival Los Angeles include historian Yuval Noah Harari and Mustafa Suleyman, Microsoft’s new AI boss.

At the time of publishing, the supplier says they have still not been paid by CogX and have received “very little communication,” adding that they are considering legal action. 

The CogX spokesperson tells Sifted the “LA event is shaping up to be a great success and will provide a timely source of income.”

“He continuously promised to pay”

Another supplier, which also worked with CogX last year, says they were owed “tens of thousands” of pounds in unpaid fees, due in October. Sifted has seen correspondence between Charlie Muirhead, who cofounded CogX in 2015 and is the CEO, and the supplier where they were told he did not have the funds to make the payment. 

“He continuously promised to pay,” the person tells Sifted — saying they want to remain anonymous because Muirhead — a serial entrepreneur and investor — “knows everyone”. 

The supplier says they were also told that the upcoming CogX event in the US would help cover the outstanding costs.

Another supplier to the 2023 event told Sifted that they are also still owed tens of thousands of pounds from CogX. Sifted has seen correspondence between the supplier and CogX showing the event organiser saying they were unable to pay on time. 

The CogX spokesperson says that 2023 was a bad year financially and we are working tirelessly to bring in revenues and funding” to allow the company to pay suppliers.

An employee of a sponsor for the 2023 event tells Sifted that CogX asked their company for an unexpected payment “over a million” just days before the event, to help cover the costs of the conference. The company refused. CogX says it spoke to all its sponsors “about increasing their packages for the 2023 event”.

In the course of reporting, Sifted has spoken to one supplier who says they were paid in full and on time.

Bankruptcy petitions

At the start of March this year, another supplier, Blonstein Events, a London-based creative agency which worked on the 2023 event, brought a bankruptcy petition against Muirhead. Bankruptcy petitions are brought when an entity believes they are owed money from an individual.

The CogX spokesperson tells Sifted that “the petition was unconditionally withdrawn within 24 hours.” Blonstein Events declined to comment. 

Court records, accessed via Caseboard, show that since 2017 there were eight winding up petitions brought against CognitionX Ltd — which was the previous operator of CogX events and run by Muirhead. Winding up petitions are like bankruptcy petitions but brought against a company rather than an individual. 

A CogX spokesperson says all eight petitions have now been successfully resolved and, in one case, a damages claim related to the petition was awarded in CognitionX’s favour.

CognitionX Ltd appointed administrators in October 2022 before entering into a structured plan to repay creditors. 

The CogX spokesperson tells Sifted that CognitionX Ltd was previously the operator of the CogX Festival, adding that “like many event companies, during Covid it suffered enormously,” and saw its revenues reduce by 75%. They added that CognitionX Ltd was only put into administration for “a brief period” and that the ongoing repayment plan was “unanimously” accepted by creditors.

Another entity, CogX Ltd, which operates the company’s software business and is unrelated to the event, has had one winding up petition brought against it, from HMRC (the UK’s customs and tax authority). Court filings show the case was dismissed. 

CogX was waiting for an “R&D tax credit to be processed at which point the claim was completely offset”, a spokesperson tells Sifted.

They added that there are currently no petitions against CogX Festival Limited which is the entity that now runs the CogX Festival. 

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