How to grow your agri-tech business

How to grow your agri-tech business 

Leading agri-tech business share how joining the thriving community at Rothamsted Research has helped them to grow, develop and access funding.

  1. Access to specialist researchers, expertise and cutting-edge kit

“I’m trying to solve a global problem “says Tanya Curtis, Director at Curtis Analytics, whose agri-tech business is focused on improving food safety.

She explains why being close to the crop science and research is so beneficial.

“I have felt proud and privileged to work in the oldest agricultural research campus in the world.

“It made sense for me to be associated with Rothamsted Research, because of the work we are trying to achieve.

“Having spent ten years working on mitigation of acrylamide formation in food, I wanted to continue this work, as I was so close to solving the problem.”

Nicole Sadd, CEO of Rothamsted Enterprises added: “The key reasons tenant businesses choose to join us at the Rothamsted Research Campus is because of the incredible range of scientific expertise held by our scientists and the impressive range of research kit and equipment which is rarely found in one location.

“These combined with the business support, events and opportunity for innovation to spark, means we have a fantastic mix of agritech businesses thriving here on our campus.”

  1. Join a community

Being part of an established agri-tech community on campus at Rothamsted Research has also enabled Curtis Analytics to connect and share knowledge with other businesses. Curtis adds how it’s helped them to grow.

“Curtis Analytics has been very successful in its’ first year. We have regular clients who send samples every other month.

“We’re also in contact with the other Rothamsted tenants and have submitted three Innovate UK projects and successfully won one of them.”

Curtis Analytics, focus on amino acid (sugar) analysis in wheat and became tenants at Rothamsted Research in September 2017. Asked what she sees for the future growth of the agri-tech industry, Curtis said

“In terms of how Curtis Analytics is contributing to the future and growth of agri-tech, the ASNInsta testing project will help farmers and breeders to test for asparagine at a fraction of the price of sample testing at present.

“That allows them to correct the fertilisation regimes they manage, to reduce the free asparagine concentration to the minimum that would help them produce low asparagine varieties and low asparagine wheat. Thus, allowing all of us to eat safer food.”

  1. Use your passion

Rothamsted Research has also provided a springboard for trail blazer Barton Blakeley, whose blend of aerospace and automotive technology with leading chemical research, is improving energy efficiency in agriculture for a cleaner future.

CEO Christopher Barton explains “Through our energy and emissions capture systems, we have the capability to drastically reduce the costs of electricity to the agricultural sector, as well as the emissions released into the atmosphere by these sectors.”

The idea for Barton Blakeley was formulated back in 2012 when Christopher Barton met Tim Smeda, who was studying Aerospace Engineering at Coventry University. At the time, Chris was studying International Business & Economics at Aston University.

Having grown up in Zimbabwe, Tim’s passion for affordable energy and the provision of education to decentralised areas, was one of the driving forces, while Christopher’s passion for clean energy and the development of a circular economy fuelled the idea for the technology.

  1. Get expert business support

Barton Blakeley joined the agri-tech community at Rothamsted Research in December 2017. The facilities that Rothamsted Enterprises has to offer proved to be the perfect match for the direction of Barton Blakeley.

The business incubation hub provided an opportunity for them to establish themselves as a company and to build contacts with those in a similar position, whilst networking with businesses in new fields.

As a result, the game changers have gone from strength to strength, developing and refining their own technologies in energy and emissions capture.

They have also worked collaboratively with Rothamsted Research, University College London and other businesses to provide efficient, clean and low maintenance solutions for farmers to improve standards of living and safety.

  1. Apply for funding

Getting access to funding is crucial to commercialising and developing your business idea. With the need to combat climate change more urgent than ever, the challenge is opening up opportunities for agri-tech businesses to innovate.

The £3.5m SHAKE Climate Change Programme was set up by a consortium of leading scientific research and academic institutions last year, in the wake of the climate emergency, with financial backing from the UK-based charitable arm of a major European bank.

SHAKE funds and trains entrepreneurs and start-ups who have innovative solutions to tackle climate change linked to the agri-food sector, which contributes more than a quarter of global emissions.

Professor Angela Karp, Director and CEO of the world’s oldest agricultural research institute, Rothamsted Research, co-developed the programme with partners at Cranfield University, University College London, and the University of Hertfordshire.

Professor Karp said “It has been really exciting to see that this entrepreneurship support programme has attracted ventures, with innovations offering solutions across that wide spectrum.”

Energy from manure, tools for smarter pest management and a yield boosting nanotech are the ideas behind three early stage companies selected by the unique fund.

“We are very confident the first three to receive investment will help make farming part of the solution and look forward to continue to support them in that journey over the next year or so.”

The successful companies, who each receive £140k plus two years of dedicated mentoring and support are:

  • EcoNomad Solutions help small farms to improve resource management sustainability and agricultural waste recycling.
  • Glaia Ltd develop nanotechnology-based solutions for sustainable agriculture.
  • PheroSyn Ltd whose mission is to scale up the production of and make available pest insect pheromones that can be deployed to protect crops and reduce the use of pesticides.
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