A consortium aiming to purchase 13 women’s football clubs and invest $100 million has entered a period of exclusivity in its negotiations to become the new majority owner of its first target, English Women’s Championship club Lewes FC.

‘Mercury 13’, whose members include former England forward Eniola Aluko, is a group led by Greek-Argentine businesswoman Victoire Cogevina Reynal, and they say they want to identify and invest in the “next decade’s super clubs”.

They are seeking to acquire a controlling stake of at least 51 per cent of the women’s team at Lewes, who reached last season’s Women’s FA Cup quarter-finals before being knocked out by Manchester United, and finished ninth in the table in England’s second tier last term. Lewes will open their new league season with a home game against Southampton on Sunday, 27 August.

Mercury 13 are targeting promotion to the Women’s Super League for Lewes, with Cogevina Reynal saying: “The women of Lewes FC are on the brink of greatness, and we look forward to helping them achieve promotion and new scales of commercialisation in partnership with Mercury 13.”

The group are also understood to be in negotiations with a Spanish women’s club and an Italian women’s club, and hope to finalise those deals by the end of 2023 too, but their first acquisition looks likely to be Lewes FC Women.

In 2017, Lewes FC became the first club in the world to divide their budgets for men’s and women’s football equally, and they are understood to have since seen a twenty-fold increase in their sponsorship revenues. Their men’s and women’s clubs together are fan-owned, and it is understood Lewes have now begun a consultation period with their 2,400 fan owners to seek their feedback on the proposed takeover of the women’s team, before proceeding further.

Maggie Murphy, Lewes’s chief executive, said: “Thanks to the efforts of our owners, volunteers, staff, coaches, players and directors we have collectively built a club to be proud of. Mindful that we have only scratched the surface of our potential impact on and off the pitch, we have looked to identify potential partners who could not only join but elevate our club community.

“The team at Mercury 13 have demonstrated their commitment to our steadfast principles of equality, equity, fan ownership, and local to global community impact, which is a hard ask of an investment partner, which is why we are keen to progress the conversations.”

Mercury 13 have named themselves in tribute to 13 women who, in 1960, passed the astronaut test but were subsequently not allowed to work for Nasa. Investment bank Morgan Stanley are said to be leading their investment operations and managing the group’s funds.

Along with former Aston Villa sporting director Aluko, who has also worked in the sporting director role at American women’s club Angel City and was part of ITV’s punditry team for this summer’s Women’s World Cup, Mercury 13’s members also include former Fifa chief innovation officer Luis Vicente, and former Paris St-Germain goalkeeper Arianna Criscione.

Their board members include former Galatasaray chief executive Ebru Koksal, who was the first woman to be elected to the European Club Association’s executive board. She is also currently a non-executive director at the Professional Footballer’s Association and is the chair of Women in Football.