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SilviBio announced as winner of GROW agri-tech business plan competition

Agri-TechE Article
Agri-TechE

SilviBio is developing a ‘survival capsule’ that will improve the survival of tree seedlings. Its clearly defined proposition and route to market has made its business plan the overall winner of the GROW 2020 agri-tech business plan competition. The result was announced by Calum Murray of Innovate UK, one of the judges.
Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-TechE, also announced that SilviBio had been the audiences choice. The announcement came at the end of an exciting final on 4 June 2020 in which four early-stage companies pitched their business plans to the judges via Zoom.
Belinda comments: “The portfolio of organisations that were supported through the GROW programme this year were particularly strong. Although SilviBio was the overall winner all the finalists show promise.”
GROW 2019/20 is kindly sponsored by

SilviBio innovative seed coating improves survival rates by 40% in drought conditions

The need to grow more trees is globally recognised but germination rates are often poor, particularly where seed is applied directly to the ground in new forest projects and in bareroot forest nurseries where seedlings are vulnerable to water shortage.
SilviBio has developed a seed coating for conifers, the most economically important species, that improves germination by 40 per cent where there is drought stress. innovative bio-formulation creates a survival capsule for the seedling, providing a water source and slow release nutrition. It also creates a favourable environment for the growth of beneficial microorganisms. Read more here.

GROW supporting early-stage innovation 

GROW aims to encourage a pipeline of agri-tech innovation by providing support and guidance through a mentoring programme and then access to a range of prizes provided by service providers in the agri-tech cluster. This includes support for patent protection and management, space in incubators, membership of business clubs, access to training and marketing and business advice.

Investment potential 

The judges – Calum Murray, Head of Agriculture and Food at Innovate UK; Kerry Baldwin, Co-Founder of IQ Capital; Rob Alston, director at AF Group; and Andrew McLay, an Innovation Lead for Agriculture at UKRI – reviewed the business plans of all the entrants and selected four companies to go through to the final.
Calum Murray of Innovate UK, the sponsor of GROW, was very pleased with the calibre of each of the finalists: “The business plans presented by all these entrepreneurs show great potential and innovation. Having a sound business model is critically important if innovative technologies are to be successful commercially. Innovate UK is, therefore, delighted to support GROW and encourage the development of ground-breaking technologies and the cluster as a whole.”

AgFunder says providing an evidence-base is crucial in current economic climate

Louisa Burwood-Taylor, Head of Research and Media at AgFunder, was the guest speaker at the GROW final. AgFunder has recently released a report which shows that the UK was one of the most diverse and active agri-tech sectors in Europe. Louisa thought the line-up of finalists at GROW was exciting.
“All the finalists had something distinctive to offer and I am delighted that SilviBio won.
“For me, Farmz2U’s work in Nigeria stood out as very interesting; there is so much untapped opportunity across Africa to increase efficiencies but it’s incredibly challenging to get technologies into the hands of typically smallholder farmers. We have a company in our portfolio working in East Africa called Wefarm that’s successfully brought over 2 million farmers onto its platform by initially providing them with information on any mobile device; they’re now creating a marketplace to help them get access to inputs, so it just goes to show how important it is to create an innovative business model to ensure adoption.”
Given the global pandemic, Louisa predicts that funding will be harder to find in the coming months, and suggests start-ups across the globe focus on validating their technologies as much as possible to have decent results to show investors when capital markets open up again, but also to help speed adoption.
“Collaborations and partnerships with corporations or governments can be a great way to get these results and sometimes start-ups can be paid for that way, which in a tight funding environment will be important. Other than that, start-ups will have to hustle hard to get their technologies into as many farmers’ hands as possible for feedback; the more mature the agtech space becomes, the clearer it becomes that farmers will only consider technologies with a strong value proposition, and in a potential recession they will not entertain anything that’s not going to clearly impact the bottom line positively.” SilviBio has developed a seed coating for conifers – the most economically important tree species – that improves germination by 40 per cent where there is drought stress. The company has gained the support of Forestry and Land Scotland, the government agency responsible for managing Scotland’s forests and SilviBio is to carry out field trials at its nursery.  Read more. Glaia has developed a new class of plant additives called ‘sugar dots’ that can increase photosynthetic efficiency naturally, increasing yields by up to 20 per cent. The technology, developed by a team at the University of Bristol, has a well-defined mode of action, high efficacy and is patent protected.  Read more. AgriOptimizer is offering rapid, accurate diagnosis of nutrient and health status of growing plants. It uses the plant’s molecular signature as a way to precisely determine plant health issues at an early stage and create a fertiliser with a bespoke prescription. Its AgriOptimizer service can be also used as a testing platform for new agrochemical products.  Read more. Farmz2U aims to bring traditional Nigerian farming practices into the digital age. In a pilot it succeeded in increasing yield by 20 per cent and doubling farm sales. Much of Nigeria’s agricultural data is paper-based with little exploration of historic trends to improve future practices. Farmz2U is digitising this data and combining it with data information on soil composition, weather trends, historic crop yields and animal health to provide tailored advice to farmers delivered by phone.  Read more. Agro Mavens – one day of consultancy
Allia Future Business Centre – two months’ access to co-working space Appleyard Lees – IP advice and support
Appleyard Lees – IP advice and support
Barclays Eagle Lab – One month club membership
Cambridge Judge Business School – free place on the Ignite Course.
Eastern Agri-Tech Innovation Hub – 6 months’ free license
Incubyte – 12 weeks of hot-desk space and business consultation Kendalls PR & Marketing – PR Consultation and Audit,
Mathys & Squire – IP advice and support
Norwich Research Park – Virtual tenancy of the Centrum
PwC – free two-hour sessions with a finance partner and with an R&D specialist
Redfox Executive Selection – psychometric testing for up to four people
Rothamsted Enterprises – six months’ free hot-desking
Satellite Applications Catapult – two days of technical consultancy with a leading expert in Earth Observation Read more about the support award prizes.

A survival capsule for tree seedlings that boosts germination by up to 40 per cent

Meet the Network
Agri-TechE

The need to grow more trees is globally recognised but germination rates are often poor, particularly where seed is applied directly to the ground in new forest projects and in bareroot forest nurseries where seedlings are vulnerable to water shortage. SilviBio has developed a seed coating for conifers, the most economically important species, that improves germination by 40 per cent where there is drought stress.
SilviBio’s innovative bio-formulation creates a survival capsule for the seedling, providing a water source and slow release nutrition. It also creates a favourable environment for the growth of beneficial microorganisms.
The company has gained the support of Forestry and Land Scotland, the government agency responsible for managing Scotland’s forests, and SilviBio is to carry out field trials at its nursery. SilviBio would also make aerial sowing of seed across regions such as Latin America more viable, enabling rapid regeneration of forest.
SivioBio Founder Dr Alicja Dzieciol is an expert in the synthesis and characterisation of hydrogel materials and has commercial experience developed when leading the scale-up of start-up company IN-PART. She says: “Many governments have announced ambitious tree-planting programmes but germination and seedling development is vulnerable to adverse weather. Using SilviBio seed coating would increase the success rate of these schemes and reduce the costs of replacing lost trees.”

Enhancing photosynthesis with sugar dots to boost yield by 20%

Agri-TechE

Only 50 percent of the sun’s energy is used by plants and less than 1 percent is converted into biomass. Glaia has developed a new class of plant additive called ‘sugar dots’ that can increase photosynthetic efficiency naturally, increasing yields by up to 20 per cent.

The sugar dots technology, which has been developed by a team at the University of Bristol, has a well-defined mode of action, high efficacy and is patent protected. Studies have shown that sugar-dots are non-toxic and they are already found in food products such as beer and honey.

David Benito-Alifonso says: “Sugar-dots are water soluble and can be applied as a foliar spray or within an irrigation system and have been tested on a variety of crops from soft fruit through to wheat and sorghum. The plant performance improvement results have been impressive and the technology can be applied across agriculture.”

David Benito-Alifonso
David Benito-Alifonso

Doubling farm sales by bringing traditional Nigerian farming practices into the digital age

Agri-TechE

Millions of Nigerian farmers are small scale, using traditional methods and earning less than $10 a day. Farmz2U aims to radically improve food production and incomes by bringing precision farming to this region via the mobile phone. In a pilot it has increased yield by 20%, more than doubled annual farm sales per farmer and created jobs for agricultural students.
Much of Nigeria’s agricultural data is paper-based with little exploration of historic trends to improve future practices. Farmz2U is digitising this data and combining it with data information on soil composition, weather trends, historic crop yields and animal health to provide tailored advice to farmers delivered by phone. Agreements with large-scale distributors and FMCG companies will mean that farmers using the platform will have a guaranteed market for their produce.
The team includes three founding members with significant expertise in agronomy, artificial intelligence and product development, knowledge of Nigeria, and existing relationships with the key stakeholders.
CEO Aisha Raheem says: “Currently small and medium scale farmers in Nigeria are using ancestral farming methods that use resources sub-optimally and produce low yields. Farmz2U will help them farm better by providing access to tailored agricultural expertise remotely and access to market via an online platform.”

Rapid, accurate diagnosis of nutrient and health status of growing plants to enable prescription fertiliser

Agri-TechE Article
Agri-TechE

Current fertilizer usage is not environmentally sustainable and generates high financial cost for the farmers. It is currently difficult to assess nutrient deficiencies in growing plants in a precise and timely manner. AgriOptimizer aims to address this problem by using the plant’s molecular signature as a way to precisely determine plant health issues at an early stage and create a fertiliser with a bespoke prescription. AgriOptimizer service can also be used as a testing platform to asses general plant health status under treatments with new agrochemical products.
The team includes Dr Pawel Mikulski, a post-doc at John Innes Centre (JIC) with 10 years of expertise in molecular profiling, and Dr Jonathan Clarke, Head of Business Development at JIC with a strong track record in supporting spin-outs.
Dr Mikulski says: “Healthy plants and those with a disease or nutrient deficiency have well-defined distinguishable molecular signatures. Our test would build on this knowledge, identifying how the plant growth is being impacted and providing a prescription for optimising its performance.”