How do you turn a good idea into an early-stage business? GROW 2016 is the UK’s only agri-tech business plan competition, and aims to encourage people with an innovative concept to see if it has the potential to become a new product or service.
Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East, explains how the journey is as valuable as the destination:
“Good businesses don’t emerge fully formed overnight, they take a while to develop and evolve. This process can be much faster if you have the help of a mentor who has experience of the industry, understands the best ways to establish a business and also is aware of the pitfalls to avoid.
“We are aiming to provide this support with the GROW business plan competition. Individuals or teams need to register their interest before 7th March and they are then assigned a mentor to help them to develop a business plan. The plans are submitted for scrutiny by a panel of judges and the teams are given feedback.
“A short list of the best plans is drawn up and the owners invited to present to the judges in June. Every stage of the process is a learning opportunity.”
There is grant funding available for good ideas and many investors are interested in agri-tech solutions, however new business development is unfamiliar to many in agriculture. GROW aims to address this by encouraging an entrepreneurial culture in agri-tech.
Last year’s winners
George Kohler, of Diesel Dynamics, was one of the finalists in 2015 and says he found the process invaluable: “The sharp focus and concentrated effort required to develop a credible plan worthy of high calibre external scrutiny provided an excellent opportunity to critically assess and refine our business model and associated understanding of future growth. From initial submission, through to a very useful coaching session with other finalists, before subsequently pitching to the judges, each stage was beneficial to our business.”
For those fortunate enough to be shortlisted as one of the finalists, a range of support prizes are available to choose from, in addition to a cash prize, to help accelerate their businesses.
The overall winner was AgriTopics, which is addressing the ‘free-from’ market with a high protein pea flour suitable for those with coeliac disease or requiring a gluten-free diet.
Founder Patrick Mitton says winning GROW provided access to valuable business support: “Excellent and well targeted prizes have assisted in building the structures needed to turn innovation into business.
“One prize – a week at the Judge Business School on their Summer School ‘Ignite’ programme – was a stimulating experience to network with business innovators as well as international delegates developing concepts in the agri sector. Space and support by the team at the Future Business Centre have been instrumental in bringing focus to the business marketing plans. Legal support by Barr Ellison has enabled the future scenarios to be mapped – all extremely constructive.”
A new addition to the competition this year are the ‘GROW Champions’, who are promoting innovation within their communities and supporting agri-entrepreneurs.
Dr David Llewellyn, Vice Chancellor of Harper Adams University, is enthusiastic about the idea of GROW and says: “We encourage our students to think about how they might develop their own ideas into commercial applications; a good example of this is ‘Warner Edwards Gin’ created by two of our graduates. It has won awards and was named as one of DEFRA’s Fifty Food Star Companies 2015.”
Helen Francis, Research Manager and Knowledge Transfer Facilitator at the University of Cambridge Department of Engineering, says the Department is keen to engage with the agri-tech community as numerous research groups across the Department do work of relevance to the sector.
She comments: “From big data to vehicle design, robotics to asset management and sensors to supply chains, there is a wealth of knowledge within the Department which could have an impact on farming and food production.
“We have a very strong track record of spin-out companies, many of which were incubated within the Department, providing flexibility for the researchers to develop their invention alongside their academic career. RedBite Solutions is a good example – they provide simple and cost effective track and trace solutions, which are used in a range of high profile companies around the world.”
Stuart Catchpole, Head of Business Development at TGAC, agrees: “For our researchers agri-tech is the application of their science and this presents many opportunities for industrial collaborations in breeding, crop monitoring, analysis of data etc.
“We have a number of projects of interest to the industry such as ‘Air-Seq’, a surveillance method to identify biological agents present in the air through taking continuous air samples and sequencing material.”
GROW has also attracted industry champions. Richard Anscombe, Chief Executive of FramFarmers, says innovation is vital: “For me, anything that encourages people to expand their horizons is a good thing, and Agri-Tech East and GROW is doing that.
“Innovation comes from somebody with an eye to an opportunity, and creating new business. GROW is aimed at encouraging people to get up and give something a go; it is a catalyst to help ideas become reality.”
Anglia Farmers are also champions, and Peter Macdonald, Head of Procurement, comments: “I think it is particularly the younger people that we should be targeting with GROW, especially those who have skills in engineering and technology and can look at the industry with fresh eyes.”
Anglia Farmers supports ‘Next Generation’ which is aimed at up-and-coming farmers aged 20-40 and has a series of regular events looking at different aspects of farming.
Applicants for GROW must register an expression of interest by 7th March 2016; only applicants that have pre-registered are eligible to submit a plan to the competition and gain access to a mentor.
Once the competition has closed on 29th April, a panel of experts will short-list a number of plans to go through the Final on 22nd June 2015.
This year the support prizes have been provided by: Barr Ellison LLP, Cambridge Cleantech, Cambridge Network, Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning, Cambridge Judge Business School, Future Business Centre, IdeaSpace, Norwich Research Park, Norfolk Network.
To find out more visit our GROW page.