Agri-TechE business plan competition delivers unrivalled network of support

Start-ups are twice as likely to succeed if mentoring is involved, as opposed to those who try and build their venture on a good idea and funding alone*. It is why GROW, the UK’s first agri-tech business plan competition, is offering a unique package of industry mentoring; financial and technical consultancy; incubator space and other support prizes to help early-stage entrepreneurs turn their innovative idea into a viable business concept. 

The GROW competition is being run by Agri-TechE, the UK’s leading business-focused membership organisation for agri-tech, based in the East of England. Individuals and teams with an innovation are given advice and insights from industry specialists, to help them create a credible business plan that they then pitch to potential investors and collaborators. 

This is the fourth time Agri-TechE has run the competition. Jacqui Poon, co-founder of Farming Data, won GROW in 2017 and she agrees that the advice from mentors was one of the main benefits. 

Farming Data is developing a software system to help subsistence farmers in the Global South gain access to a market for their produce. The marketing platform enables them to communicate directly with potential buyers using SMS messaging or via mobile broadband on a smartphone, and gives them a location to support trading. 

Jacqui explains:  “The advisors took a close look at our business model and business plan and gave us some useful insights. They also connected us with potentially useful contacts in the agri-tech space, and challenged some of our thinking so that we could improve the design and execution of our product.

“[As a result] in 2018 we went on a Knowledge Transfer Network partnership seeking mission to Colombia, and we later won grant funding to develop our technology and test its feasibility in the field for small-scale farmers there.”

Veena Adityan, co-founder of 2016 GROW finalist Smartbell, agrees: “We found the mentor programme extremely beneficial. As a young company it is not easy to get access to an experienced mentor from a highly relevant background who will spend quality time analysing and giving feedback.

“The business plan element really made us think through every aspect of our proposition early-on. The pitch training and the platform provided by being on GROW has also been incredibly helpful in building credibility and networks. It is very unique competition, with clear focus and structure.”

Smartbell offers a device that can be attached to a cow’s collar or ear and provides information about its health, delivering the expertise of an experienced herdsman via an automated dairy system. It offers 24/7 monitoring that provides an early alert about feeding, stress, fertility and other behaviours. The early-stage company has made good progress since taking part in the GROW competition, most recently being awarded and appointed lead on a £1M Innovate UK grant: Transforming Food Production.

Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-TechE, explains that GROW provides an invaluable process for many early stage agri-tech businesses: “Good businesses don’t emerge fully formed overnight, they take a while to develop and evolve. Many of the entrepreneurs are new to agriculture and having access to a person with relevant industry knowledge provides an excellent sounding-board for ideas.

“That’s why Agri-TechE’s cluster offers a brilliant place for new businesses, because there is such a great network of people who are willing to provide professional advice and support.”

The GROW business plan competition aims to provide exactly this support. Individuals or teams need to register their interest before Friday 28th February and they are then assigned a mentor to help develop a business plan. The plans are submitted for scrutiny by a panel of judges and the teams are given feedback, ensuring every stage is a learning opportunity. Shortlisted business plan owners are invited to present at the final in June.

This year’s GROW prizes have been provided by Agri-TechE members: After the Flood; Agro Mavens; Allia Future Business Centre; Appleyard Lees; Barclays; Cambridge Judge Business School; Eastern Agri-Tech Innovation Hub (NIAB); Green Lab; Incubyte; Kendalls PR & Marketing; Mathys & Squire; Norwich Research Park; PwC; Redfox Executive Selection; Rothamsted Research; Satellite Applications Catapult.