The UK agri-tech scene is by far the most active in Europe and is a very diverse ecosystem, according to Louisa Burwood-Taylor, Head of Research and Media at AgFunder and guest speaker at the GROW final.
“We are just launching a Europe report and the UK shows many strengths,” says Louisa. “It is a much smaller company than the US, which is always going to be a leader, but I think the UK is definitely punching above its weight, and has a good standing overall.”
Louisa remarks that particular strengths are in biotech, alternative proteins and looking down the supply chain at companies like Deliveroo: “This is obviously a huge company, and they raised a massive round last year, and that’s out of the UK as well.”
Looking at the current situation Louisa is pragmatic: “I think overall venture capital investment will decline across all industries. You just hear a lot of investors say they are focusing on their current portfolio. Many of them will try to signal that they are still investing and open for business, but I think overall investment will retract.
“The good news is that we’re in an industry that is obviously essential; what the crisis has done is really shine a light on how technology is in how we grow and get hold of our food which is something in developed markets consumers have never had to worry about. People are eating food that’s been produced more locally, often, because that’s what’s been available to them.
“I think that increased attention could be a good thing in the longer-term.”
Exciting disruptive technologies
The GROW agri-tech business plan competition, sponsored by Innovate UK, provides support for entrepreneurs with exciting innovations. It is helping to create a pipeline of early-stage companies and to develop the supporting ecosystem. The participants gaining mentoring from industry specialists and the finalists have the choice of prizes – see more about them here.
Looking internationally, Louisa highlights a number of disruptive technologies that are realising their potential.
Indoor agriculture realising its hype
“Indoor agriculture has been a little hyped up, but the way it is scaling now is exciting; it looks like the economics are improving. We have had the technology for a while, but there is a number of providers of the components it has brough the cost down and there are different business models.
“Some companies are managing to scale across multiple farms. Whether that’s the plant factory model, or whether a more of a distributed model, like Infarm in Germany, which deploys its growing cabinets within supermarkets. I am excited about that space, for sure.”
Robotics seeing growth in investment
“Robotics is still a very small category – actually I think the UK is doing pretty well in this space – and the companies have been focusing on very specific issues – whether it’s harvesting a specific crop or spraying a specific chemical for a specific crop – but I think we’re going to see robotics come on leaps and bounds. At AgFunder we’ve certainly been looking at more companies on our investment side.”
Food as medicine one to watch
“I think, looking ahead, an interesting category to watch would be the concept of food as medicine, and companies that are really researching the properties of plants and how they can help to combat certain ailments. We have a company in the AgFunder portfolio called Brightseed that is looking into everyday crops and how they express bioactives that can have a beneficial impact on your health. I think that will be a space to watch.”
GROW Final 4th June
Louisa is looking forward to finding out more about the GROW finalists when they present in the virtual final.
Normally the participants would have an opportunity also to network with the organisations supporting the agri-tech cluster with a range of business services from work space within an incubator to IP and marcoms support. In this online event there will instead be a short introduction to the support award prize donors: