Start-up and SME

At Agri-EPI we support start-up and SME growth and innovation in agri-tech.  Offering support with investment opportunities, office and workshop space, collaboration with academia, research and development opportunities, commercial trials and retailers. As a member we also offer opportunities to attend conferences, launches, webinars and a range of networking events.

If you are a start-up or SME and want to explore and deliver precision farming engineering, technology and innovation in the UK agriculture across soil, crops and livestock, talk to us!

Idea to reality: what’s stopping tech getting onto farms?

The intractable issue of getting useful new technologies onto farms – and how the barriers to success might be overcome – will be the subject of a webinar led by tech innovation company Cambridge Consultants and Agri-EPI Centre on Thursday 28th January.

The event will feature expert panellists representing different stages of the innovation ‘pipeline’:

  • Ben Scott Robinson, Chief Executive of The Small Robot Company*(concept)
  • Chris Roberts, Head of Industrial Robotics at Cambridge Consultants (supporting concept development)
  • Dave Ross, Agri-EPI Centre Chief Executive (‘enabler’ bringing together public and private sector partners)
  • James Green, Group Director of Agriculture at G’s Fresh (on-farm end user)

The panel will explore some of the key issues involved in ensuring a new idea can move from concept stage right through to being put to effective use in supporting efficient, productive and sustainable farming.

Connecting early tech development to farming

They will be looking at a host of challenges along the innovation journey, including a disconnect between early technology developers and farmers; difficulties in companies finding the right business models and return-on-investment for their products; regulatory issues; skills gaps; and challenges with product testing in a seasonal farming environment.

Event host, Cambridge Consultants’ Head of Automation & Autonomy Sajith Wimalaratne, explained:

“We’re excited to have a strong panel of experts who will be discussing why it takes so long to get new technological solutions onto farms, and why, despite no shortage of concepts, there is currently so little farmers can use.

“We hope to identify ways of easing some of these issues that will help to ensure new technology which really meets farmers’ needs can be deployed more quickly and effectively.”

Agri-EPI Chef Executive Dave Ross said:

“Agri-EPI’s role is to bring together those with the know-how to drive innovation in farming and food production and our webinar promises to be a really exciting journey around the key challenges and potential solutions to getting technology in place that really meets farmers’ needs.”

The free webinar runs between 11am and noon on 28th January. Further details and registration can be found here.

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Agri-EPI member Small Robot Company BBC The One Show 18 Jan 2021BBC The One Show

You might have missed it. Small Robot Tom and roboteers have appeared on the BBC The One Show this Monday 18 January 2020. The appearance saw the weed zapping robot in action and an interview with Farmers Weekly Farmer of the Year Craig Livingstone. Small Robot Company is a British start-up that makes robots for agriculture. They design and produce machines that could, in the future, replace tractors and harvesters. The founders developed the idea after talking to farmers about the growing costs and decreasing profits of farming. More background about Small Robot Company in this case study.

Ten tips for grant funding bid writing to grow your business

For start-ups, scale-ups and indeed any technology-based company, applications for grant funding are a key part of raising funds for the vital research and development which drives business growth. This is a highly competitive and resource-intense process with no guarantee of success. Here we share some tips for increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome from grant funding applications.

It was drilled into us all at school: read the question. It sounds simple, but it is all too easy to get carried away with enthusiasm and passion for a particular technology or project idea and fail to objectively assess how well the concept addresses the funder’s requirements. Does it fully address the scope and objectives of the competition?

1. Collaborate in the application, as well as in the project

Ensure each partner contributes their ideas, technological insight and market knowledge to the application document. This will ultimately build a stronger project plan and business case and make a more compelling application overall. Nominate one person to lead pulling together all the inputs, but ensure everyone contributes.

2. Build the project from the ground up

Understand how the tasks and work packages will flow and fit together into a coherent plan. Ensure your plan is credible and achievable in the timeframe. Do you have the skills, resources, facilities and time across the team to complete the work?

3. Understand the project finances, early

This shouldn’t be left until the last minute. Each partner in your consortium should agree their contribution and grant requirement. Be sure to familiarise with funding eligibility based on the types and sizes of organisations in your consortium, and any requirements for the mix of partners.

4. Be clear where the innovation is in your project

Ensure you are not duplicating work already done by others. Consider the research category and Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of your work. Is it at the feasibility, industrial research, or experimental development stage? It affects the funding you are eligible for: take independent advice on this if necessary – contact the Knowledge Transfer Network who can offer guidance.

5. Challenge the business case

Thoroughly research the market, using publicly available information, your own business intelligence and experience, consult with experts. Be realistic when you model market uptake, your market entry strategy and revenue forecast. Try to be granular and specific in defining your potential customer base – which market segments are more likely to adopt your technology, are there export opportunities, are there any barriers to adoption which must be overcome – if so, how will you address this? How will your solution deliver value to your customers? Provide quantification and justification of your assumptions wherever possible.

6. Consider the project risks

Quantify them using a rating of likelihood and impact. If a project has very low risk, it is unlikely to attract grant funding, since the justification of a grant is in part to enable risky projects to go ahead in order to realise the benefits of high-risk innovation. Risk should be managed, with credible mitigation strategies in place.

7. Consider other risks

Consider the managerial, commercial, regulatory, ethical and environmental risks in addition to those associated directly with the technology. Consider the new level of risk post-mitigation.

8. Justify the use of public money

Consider what you would do if you weren’t awarded the funding.  How else would you use your investment in the project? How does the project deliver value for money – both for you, and the economy and taxpayer more widely?

9. Check your application

Get someone to proofread your application and have it reviewed independently, such as by the Knowledge Transfer Network. You will receive some challenging feedback; take this on board and address it – better to receive this before submission, than via the assessors’ feedback on an unsuccessful bid.

10. Allow yourself plenty of time

Good bids cannot be written quickly. You need to plan for the inputs you need from your partners to arrive in a timely fashion, allow time for review and response to feedback, and to work out any unforeseen issues within your proposal or consortium.

Bid writing support

At Agri-EPI, we can service our collaborators with bid writing support – please contact us to discuss your project ideas at rebecca.lewis@agri-epicentre.com or check out our service support web page.

Myth busting difference in research trials with UK Farm Network

Connecting tech innovators with agriculture

Agri-EPI’s team of experts helps start-ups and tech innovators with a proper research trials setup by brokering relationships with relevant parties, with a representative sample, in a commercially relevant setting.

You’ve spent months, years, and maybe even decades, taking an extraordinary idea from a concept to a prototype. Whether your innovation is a sensor, a feed additive, a diagnostic, a biological solution, a change in animal management or anything else, your end-users are going to want to know that they’re buying into a tried and tested product, service, or model.

Most tech developers will be familiar with the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale – developed by NASA during the 1970’s, the scale allows innovators to track the maturity of technology. The scale stretches from 1-9 with 9 being the most mature, and requires the prototype to be validated and demonstrated in a relevant and operational environment during levels 5-7. During TRL 9, the final product should be demonstrated to have operated successfully in the environment for its intended use.

What is the challenge?

For a technology company with no former experience in the agriculture sector, finding access to the suitable farm environment on which to undertake research, trials and demonstrations can often prove impossible. First and foremost, farms are places of business via which livelihoods are made – understandably, farmers can be less than forthcoming with their desire to get involved with anything that could adversely affect their bottom line. Furthermore, farms can be dangerous settings with heightened biosecurity measures to boot. Operating technology in such a setting should be the job of an expert.

Knowing which farm type to work with for trials, validations and demonstration purposes will be key to achieving the desired outcome. You’ll want to ensure a representative sample has been used, in a commercially relevant setting. Agri-EPI’s team of experts can help guide you to achieving just this, brokering relationships with the relevant parties along the way.

Validating and demonstrating agricultural technologies

We’ve broken this section down into three helpful sections to help you understand and decide the best path forward for your innovation at its current stage of maturity:

  • Anecdotal Trials: for innovations at TRL 4/5
    This stage isn’t crucial but can give innovators extra piece of mind that their technology is making some kind of positive difference at a farm-level before they invest in further work. Gathering anecdotal evidence will likely involve asking personal connections to engage with your innovation and report back any noticeable changes to production.
  • Commercial Farm Trials: for innovations at TRL 5-7
    This stage is vital for those required to understand more precisely the impact of their innovation on production. During commercial farm trials, data for a particular set of parameters will be collected and should be analysed to determine any changes. On most commercial farm settings, projects are at risk of disruption from everyday occurrences such as a change in animal feed or labour providers.
  • Research Farm Trials: for innovations at TRL 5-9
    Undertaking trials, validations and demonstrations via research units ensures a level of control beyond that which can be achieved on a commercial farm setting. For example, animals will be carefully grouped into representative samples and groups maintained under identical environmental settings. Research level projects are the only way to produce robust results with which to scientifically validate technology.

Conducting research farm trials with the Agri-EPI Farm Network

Agri-EPI Satellite Farm Network Logo StackedAgri-EPI have a unique network of 24 ‘Satellite Farms’ operating in all the major plant and livestock areas – a group of forward-thinking farmers who have welcomed the use of technology on farm and are paving the way for a more sustainable future. In addition, Agri-EPI operate a network of commercial, semi-commercial and research farms which, in partnership with industry and academia, offer controlled settings for scientifically robust research to take place. From milking robots to animal health sensors, and from infrared technology to drones, Agri-EPI have delivered innovation to the British farming community in this way. The Farm Network is a thriving example of how the adoption of technology can support the productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of food production.

Working with Agri-EPI to facilitate trials, validations and demonstrations guarantees independent project oversight, the timely provision of high-quality data, reliability, and connects you with a vast network of forward-thinking, leading farmers and other important players in the agri-food supply chain. Agri-EPI can provide testimonials from previous projects.

More information

Supporting the agri-tech sector, emerging novel technology and methodologies, through our network of farms and broad multi-sector membership, we support and help deliver great results in engineering precision innovation.

Learn about our industry impact around the globe, or for more information about our UK satellite farm network, please contact Kasi McReddie, Business Development Manager Livestock & Aquaculture at kasi.mcreddie@agri-epicentre.com or fill out our online contact form.

Space technology: Calling all ‘astropreneurs’!

Agri-EPI Centre and its fellow UK Agri-Tech Centre Agrimetrics are taking part in a webinar on Tuesday 19th May for start-ups and SMEs interested in the role space technology can play in sustainable agriculture.

The Centres are teaming up with the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the European Horizon 2020 Astropreneurs Space Startup Accelerator, which seeks to turn space-related ideas into viable businesses. Due to finish at the end of December 2020, the programme provides successful applicants with business, commercial and technical mentoring and training.

Agri-EPI Project Manager, Freddie Reed, will talk about how satellite imagery is current being utilised within the organisation’s network of 28 innovative farms. Agri-EPI works with this network to develop, evaluate and share information about new technologies and techniques.

Agrimetrics’ Chief Product Officer, Matthew Smith, will discuss the commercialisation of space data through the data marketplace.

Nick Trigg is Innovation Manager at the Science and Technology Facilities Council and UK manager for the Astropreneurs programme.  He will give a rundown on the space data that is available, and how it can be accessed.

Nick said:

“The space sector has a huge amount of technology that is useful for other sectors and this webinar will show how far sighted and technology driven the agriculture sector really is.  Both Agri-EPI and Agrimetrics are at the forefront of agriculture’s drive into these new technologies and it is great to have a them talking at this webinar.”

The webinar takes place at 10am (BST) on Tuesday May 19. Sign up here.

Unlocking new UK funding for agri-food innovation

Agri-EPI Centre can help

Agri-EPI is seeking to lend its expertise to businesses in the agri-tech space to help them access the UK Government’s £1.25 billion government coronavirus support package.

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced the new package this week to protect firms driving innovation in the UK. It includes a £500 million investment ‘Future Fund’ for high-growth companies impacted by the crisis, made up of funding from government and the private sector. SMEs focusing on research and development will also benefit from £750 million of grants and loans.

UK funding

Agri-EPI has the expertise to help de-risk both the financial and technical aspects of accessing and utilising grants from the new support package.

Chief Executive Dave Ross explained:

“Agri-EPI works to develop partnerships and provide support to UK businesses seeking to develop, evaluate and market technical and engineering products which support efficiency, profitability and sustainability across the food supply chain. We work closely with academia and science and have a portfolio of publicly-supported facilities and assets which are open for use by our partners.

“With a strong track record of success in supporting businesses of all sizes to successfully access funding and to invest in opportunities, we are primed to offer our expertise to any businesses seeking to access this new UK Government funding and we urge those in the agri-food sector with an interest accessing the funding to contact us so that we can lend our expertise to making it happen.”

Rishi Sunak said the targeted and tailored help would ensure firms in some of the most dynamic sectors of the UK economy – ranging from tech to life sciences – are protected through the crisis so they can continue to develop innovative new products and help power UK growth.

For further details on the new UK funding opportunities, visit the UK Government’s website.

To discuss collaboration with Agri-EPI Centre, please contact Business Development Director, Lisa Williams.

Stay informed

Keep up to date with the latest impact and results of our work, plus, news, innovation and approaches across the sector. Read our latest news and Agri-EPI blogs.

Agri-tech partners support COVID-19 food security

Cutting-edge crop monitoring solution

A collaboration involving Agri-EPI Centre and leading agri-tech start-up Mantle Labs is offering a cutting-edge crop monitoring solution for UK food security during the coronavirus pandemic.

The recent surge in consumer demand and potential trade disruptions caused by the virus pose a real threat to uninterrupted food supply. To avoid this, retailers, supermarkets, food processors and government departments need to have visibility of what is happening across UK agriculture and be able to quickly monitor food supply chains for forward planning.

Mantle Labs is offering its unique ‘Geobotanics’ platform to retailers and others involved in the supply chain, free-of-charge for a period of three months. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) – based platform mixes imagery from multiple satellites to assess current agricultural conditions and provides early warning of potential supply issues.

The platform works seamlessly even in cloudy conditions to give a clear indication of potential problem hotspots around the country and provide projected crop yields. The Geobotanics platform runs on Amazon Web Services (AWS), which enables Mantle Labs to scale its platform quickly and easily to analyse very large volumes of high resolution crop satellite imagery across large surface areas.

Agri-EPI is supporting Mantle Labs in promoting the technology. Discussions are at an early stage with a key organisation within the agri-food industry.

Jon Pierre, Mantle Labs’ Chief Business Officer, said:

“The information provided by our dashboard can be factored into retailers’ procurement and inventory planning. They can work closely with their supplier farmers to tackle problem spots early, determine if issues can be remedied and therefore provide additional resilience and certainty to supply chains of individual items. Government departments can utilise the platform to flag issues relating to national food security.

Analysis can be farm-level, regional and country level; thereby allowing for constant monitoring and forward planning for a variety of procured produce.”

The Geobotanics platform identifies all standing crops on the ground and indicates crop health for all fields including any anomalies likely to impact the production. The total acreage under cultivation by crop type can be quickly accessed which helps in identifying any shortfall in production at a very early stage.

The platform also identifies fallow land, allowing decisions to be taken to bring this under immediate cultivation to fill the gaps in overall demand.

Dave Ross, Chief Executive of Agri-EPI Centre said:

“Innovation and collaboration are vital to identifying solutions to the issue of potential supply chain disruption and we are doing all we can to support our members, working with Mantle Labs and Amazon Web Services to deliver this offer to retailers and UK Government.”

Those interested in discussing this opportunity with Mantle Labs should in the first instance contact Agri-EPI Centre Project Manager, Freddie Reed.

Stay informed

Keep up to date with the latest impact and results of our work, plus, news, innovation and approaches across the sector. Read our latest news and Agri-EPI blogs.