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UK agri-tech company receives investment boost to agricultural robotics

With the UK agricultural industry facing unprecedented challenges, such as the increasing global population, pressure to achieve Net Zero and a dearth of agri-food labourers, AI and robotics may provide the key to unlocking agriculture’s productivity.

Agricultural robots can undertake short-cycle repetitive tasks that currently make inefficient use of resources; by undertaking tasks that can be costly and limited, or reliant on large diesel-based machinery, agro-chemicals or human labour, cleaner, smarter robotics could enable the feeding of future societies.

The future of farming

In an exciting development for robotics’ use in British agriculture, UK-based startup Antobot, developer of affordable robotics for sustainable agriculture, has secured £1.2 million in their seed funding round following a strategic investment from a leading automotive electronics solutions provider in China, Intron Technology Holdings Ltd.

Founded by embedded controls and robotics experts, Antobot is developing innovative vertically-integrated robotics AI solutions optimised for agriculture aiming to increase efficiency and sustainability whilst maintaining accessibility and affordability with products expected in the market in 2022.

Smart, sustainable solutions

Antobot’s first product line is its fully integrated automotive-grade universal Robot Control Unit (uRCU®), the “brain” of the robot. Once requiring multiple separate modules, the uRCU®’s sophisticated design combines the core hardware and advanced software for agri-robotic applications in one compact single unit.

Antobot’s CEO, Howard Eu, explains: “The integrated design makes the uRCU® smaller, more reliable and affordable than other existing solutions, and the full-stack AI also confers performance benefits with its universal, configurable design that can adapt to different farmer needs.”

Delivering Insight

This funding will also enable Antobot to develop various full applications using its modular platform, starting with its scouting robot, Insight. Focusing initially on the £875 million UK fruit sector, Insight travels autonomously through the farm and, using artificial intelligence, gathers accurate, timely and rich data for deeper insight into crop yield, profile, and pest/disease management.

Unlike manual scouting or scouting using large heavy machinery, Insight is powered by renewable energy and does not require any labour. Working with a selection of partner farms in England, Insight will be trialled in UK fields this summer of 2021.

“The development of Insight has been directly informed by the experiences of our partner fruit-growers in the UK and understanding their concerns over achieving Net Zero and the loss of agri-labour,” said Marc Jones, Business Director at Antobot.

“Insight will provide accurate yield forecasts, real-time crop management and digitisation of the supply chain using this early growth-stage data, which can give growers greater weight in contract negotiations, decrease avoidable food waste and enable more efficient use of limited labour.”

Supporting innovation in agri-tech

From its inception, Antobot has been supported by various organisations including Agri-TechE, Agri-EPI, Innovate UK, Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative, St John’s Innovation Centre, ideaSpace of Cambridge University, and Anglia Ruskin University. This strategic investment from Intron Technology will provide valuable support in supply chain, manufacturing and quality assurance to bring Antobot’s uRCU® and Insight to market in 2022.

Eddie Chan, Co-CEO and Executive Director of Intron Technology, said of the investment: “We are strongly committed to Research and Development at Intron, particularly when promoting sustainability. And we are looking forward to working with Antobot, learning from each other, and helping Antobot grow into the leading force in the agricultural robotics sector we know it can be.”

To find out more about Antobot, visit their website and to see more of our work supporting innovation in agri-tech, and see how you can benefit from Agri-EPI Centre’s support, visit our project pages.

Land And Grow: Agri-Tech Opportunities in China

Agri-EPI Centre’s Land & Grow series of webinars are designed to introduce agri-tech innovators in the UK to the wealth of opportunities available to them in China, helping them to understand the Chinese agriculture sector and connect with Chinese farmers. But what makes China such an exciting destination for agri-tech?

As one of the largest economies in the world, China offers companies in the software, hardware, robotics, biotech and IoT sectors a chance to explore a huge market with even bigger demand for agri-tech; both investors and the Chinese government are actively seeking expertise from abroad to provide smart solutions that are able to upgrade China’s agri-food supply chain.

China faces a number of food security challenges, starting with its population of 134 million people, all of whom need to be sustainably fed. From precision farming to reduce waste and enhance food safety to connected livestock management, agri-tech solutions that provide ways to feed China’s growing population are in high demand.

What makes China’s agrifood sector unique?

The Chinese governments recently outlined a policy seeking to bridge the divide between the urban and rural populations by 2025, aiming to unite disparate digital technology and lift many rural Chinese residents out of poverty. As well as significant investment in infrastructure, Chinese authorities have set their sights on boosting agricultural production – and tech is at the heart of that objective.

Unlike much of the West, China doesn’t have to struggle with legacy technology systems and upgrading existing digital infrastructure, enabling them to implement new tech such as 5G much faster than many European countries and the US.

This enables China to rapidly implement ambitious agrifood projects, with just some of the initiatives listed in the “Digital Agriculture and Rural Area Development Plan 2019-2025” including agricultural robots to increase the productivity and efficiency of fishing, AI to monitor crop yields and improve livestock care and quality and incorporating drones and satellites to better leverage data and decision making across the entire supply chain.

Unlocking agri-tech opportunities in China

Building on our experience working on agri-tech solutions in China, and in collaboration with 8 Hours Ahead, specialists in business development in China, Agri-EPI Centre is hosting a webinar on June 23rd inviting agri-tech innovators to learn more about the incredible opportunities China can offer engineers, scientists and manufacturers.

The webinar offers an in-depth exploration of the Chinese agtech market, from identifying key challenges facing Chinese farmers to financial and commercial support available from the UK and Chinese governments to facilitate international agri-tech solutions.

You can find out more about the webinar, and sign up to attend, on our dedicated events page.

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.

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.

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