Start-up and SME - Agri-EPI Centre - Engineering Precision Innovation

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!

Defra announces new R&D Partnerships Funding opportunities

Defra has announced a new series of funding opportunities to drive on-farm innovation in agriculture and horticulture, supporting the sector to improve sustainability, productivity and resilience.

Following on from the Farming Innovation Pathways competition earlier this year, the new R&D partnerships will bring together farmers and growers with technology, business and research partners to collaborate in developing innovative solutions.

Supporting innovation in agri-tech

This approach of placing farmers and growers at the centre of agri-tech development is something we enthusiastically support at Agri-EPI Centre. Since its inception, Agri-EPI has partnered with a network of farms around the UK to form our Farming Innovation Platform.

Our satellite farm network enables the development, testing, validation and demonstration of agri-tech innovations on commercial, real-world farming settings at scale.  They cover a diverse range of farming types and production systems, both livestock, arable and mixed; conventional and organic.

As a network, the group provides a unique opportunity to gain farmer insight into challenges and solutions, share experience, knowledge and perspectives into technology application and gain vital user feedback.  Highly instrumented, the network also supports all-important ground-truthing and validation of technology.

When is the right time to engage farmers in technology development?

In short: throughout the entire process.  It is never too early to engage farmers and other end-users in R&D.

  1. Understanding the problem: we are often approached by technology developers bringing skills and expertise from outside of agriculture, looking for problems to solve in the sector. Having meaningful interaction with farmers at this early stage helps technology developers to understanding the realities on farm, operationally, commercially and environmentally.
  2. User-centred design, co-development: whatever the buzz-word, involving users of technology in its design and development will ensure it meets their needs and requirements, and ultimately will increase its chances of more rapid adoption. It will also save time and cost in multiple iterations, with faster and more direct user feedback.
  3. Evaluation: there is nothing more exciting that getting a prototype out into a field of a livestock shed and seeing it in action. Getting the farmers’ feedback here as part of a commercial operation will guide how the technology (whether physical hardware or a software / data solution) needs to develop to get from a prototype or beta version towards a commercial product
  4. Knowledge exchange: in laying the foundations for technology adoption, there is no voice more powerful than a fellow farmer or grower who can share their experience with the technology first-hand. Peer-to-peer exchange of knowledge, experience, ideas and impact is far more effective that a traditional ‘show and tell’ led by the developer themselves.

In partnership with our member Innovation for Agriculture, Agri-EPI is co-hosting an interactive online workshop focused on impact-driven farmer-centred technology development, which will explore these principles further and feature case studies showcasing success.  To join the event, taking place on October 12th, please see our events pages or contact us (team@agri-epicentre.com) for further details and to register.

Defra’s R&D Partnerships will fund the following:

Competition Launching Duration and funding Outline
Research Starter October 2021 12 month projects; £28-56k total cost Supporting farmers and growers to build a collaborative team to develop their bold and ambitious early-stage ideas.  For those who have not previously received IUK funding
Feasibility projects October 2021 Up to 2 years;

£200-500k total cost

Test the feasibility of early-stage ideas to inform decision-making on subsequent R&D
Small R&D partnerships October 2021 Up to 3 years;

£1-3 million total cost

R&D for innovative solutions to substantially improve productivity, sustainability and resilience of the sector
Large R&D partnerships Early 2022 Up to 4 years;

£3-5 million total cost

R&D and demonstration of solutions to substantially improve productivity, sustainability and resilience of the sector

For more information on how we can support your ideas for innovations that will enhance the sustainability, productivity and resilience of agriculture and horticulture, contact the Agri-EPI Centre team today.

 

We recommend getting in touch with our Innovation Support Partner Leyton today for more information: https://agri-epicentre.com/membership/leyton-partnership/

 

Agri-tech Innovation Support for future funding

Are you an agri-tech innovator developing solutions that improve the efficiency, productivity and sustainability of agriculture? You may not realise that your new systems or processes on farm are real-life examples of agri-tech innovation – and therefore could benefit from research and development relief.

To encourage companies to invest in R&D the UK government provides incentives to companies and farm businesses that develop new products, processes and services, or enhance existing ones.

The R&D tax credits scheme allows companies to reduce their corporate tax bill or receive a tax refund based on a proportion of their R&D expenditure. The scheme can be used by any organisation liable for corporation tax in the UK and meets the necessary R&D criteria and it can even be used on unsuccessful projects. The work that qualifies for R&D tax relief must be part of a specific project which aims to make an advance in its field.

Examples of R&D in agriculture  

  • Optimisation of irrigation systems and water treatment
  • Agricultural trials involving seeds, soils and pesticides
  • Development of crop species with enhanced properties
  • Design of agricultural machinery, equipment, and agricultural structures
  • Food Engineering and the processing of agricultural products
  • Feeding trials: developing new feeds, type of feed, timing of feed, ration timing
  • Improving animal health and welfare: reducing mortality/tail biting

Agri-EPI recognises that innovation support such as the R&D tax incentive can provide businesses with a cash injection to fund further R&D and reward innovation. We are pleased to have partnered with Leyton, the UK’s largest innovation funding consultancy. to provide support and advice to Agri-EPI members and farmers to find out how their agri-tech innovations can qualify for the research and development scheme.

Matilda Hayward, Technical R&D Consultant at Leyton commented that there is a lot of misconception surrounding the types of projects which qualify for the scheme, which has resulted in a lot of companies only claiming back a small portion of what they are eligible for. The government is actively looking to support company’s investing in process and product improvements, which is a big part of running a business within the agricultural sector.

Sector examples of what can qualify

Arable

Trialling new varieties to improve yield or disease resistance | New methodologies to optimise yield | The investigation into hydroponic, aeroponic or vertical growth systems | Improving ground quality or reducing environmental impact | Modification of fertilisers to improve the absorption of minerals and nutrients | Optimisation of harvest and sorting line • Innovative use of technology – drones, sensors, scanners, software etc

Pig

Improving animal health and welfare: reducing mortality/tail biting | Reducing antibiotic usage | Feed trials or improvements to feed conversion ratio | Improvements to number of sows per litter and farrowing rate | Improvements in muscle to fat ratios/ average daily gain | Selective breeding to improve genetic trials

Poultry

Feed trials to increase egg quality / quality | Light / ventilation trials to affect outputs | Housing improvements around poultry welfare | Trialling different breeds | Improving water quality to the farm | Reducing the use antibiotics: trialling vaccines/water treatment | Delaying in maturation |Increasing the FCR (feed conversion rate) |Improvements to egg harvesting (reducing wastage / automating processes)

Dairy

Selective breeding to improve genetic traits | Reducing mortality rates and improving the health of the cow | Reducing antibiotic usage | Investigating alternative ways to reduce the risk/rate of disease | Developing new feeds to enhance milk production | Feeding trials: type of feed, the timing of feed, ration timing | Improving sustainability and decreasing environmental impact

Can you see any examples of your R&D on the list? If so, get in touch to discuss how you could qualify for R&D Tax relief, or  talk to one of Leyton’s technical team, to see how and Leyton’s expert innovation funding services can support your agri-tech innovation full details here.

 

 

Agri-EPI Centre and Leyton announce new partnership

Agri-EPI Centre is proud to announce that it has established a partnership with Leyton, the UK’s leading specialist innovation funding consultancy.

The new partnership will help Agri-EPI’s members and its wider network access Leyton’s advice around government financial incentives for their involvement in agri-food innovation projects. Under a current government scheme, innovative businesses are able to claim back up to 33% of the costs which relate to their research and development activities, such as the advancement of new or existing products or processes.

Supporting innovation in agri-tech

Speaking of the new partnership, Agri-EPI’s Director of Business Development Lisa Williams said: “We are extremely pleased to have developed a special partnership with Leyton. The new arrangement is all part of our efforts to ensure we support our members and wider network to develop innovative ideas that boost their own businesses while supporting a profitable and sustainable agri-food sector. We want to help companies access the best expertise and advice available to help them succeed and our partnership with Leyton is all part of this approach.”

Mark Petty, Head of Strategic Alliances, Leyton UK commented: “From R&D to Patent Box there are some hugely valuable schemes available for innovative Agriculture businesses. Volatile energy prices coupled with environmental concerns and rising expectations from consumers have created a climate of pressure for today’s agri-businesses. Innovation now forms a vital component in navigating both short and long term challenges faced by the sector and rewarding these innovative businesses through government incentives can provide tangible benefits and support future growth.”

Funding the future of agribusiness

Leyton supports a significant proportion of the UK’s agriculture-related R&D claims each year, helping hundreds of businesses, in farming and the supply chain through to engineering and technology providers, increase their ability to fund future projects and grow.

Their team of in-house consultants, which includes scientists, engineers and software developers who understand the agri-food sector, have over a decade of experience working with food producers, processors and retailers across the UK. Leyton helps them benefit from valuable schemes including R&D Tax Credits, Grants and the Patent Box Scheme, which allows qualifying companies to accelerate their innovation strategy through additional funding and/or a reduction in their corporation tax.

You can find out more about our partnership with Leyton, and see if you are eligible for tax credits, grants and more financial schemes on our partnership page.

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.

On demand

This event is now closed. Missed it? Here, you can view a video registration of the webinar:

 

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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.