The United Kingdom might not immediately spring to mind when thinking about agriculture technology. It does not have the agricultural land expanses of a country such as the U.S., or such a busy and developed venture capital industry to support innovation in the sector.
But with one of the world’s oldest agriculture sectors, the UK is home to a large amount of agricultural research in technologies and science, and is arguably a leader in plant and animal breeding, remote sensing, meteorological prediction and the exploitation of data.
Here are three institutions we have found that are offering funding or support to agtech entrepreneurs and startups in the U.K.
1. UK Trade & Investment (UKTI)
UKTI is a government department working with businesses based in the UK to assist their development overseas, but also with overseas investors looking to the UK as an investment destination. Often described as “the commercial arm of the UK government”, UKTI employs a large number of industry experts to work alongside the civil service based not just in the UK, but in chambers of commerce, embassies or consulates globally.
UKTI is divided into different sectors and two years ago, the government highlighted agtech as a key sector and launched the Agricultural technologies strategy (Agri-Tech Strategy) in July 2013, pledging £160 million in funding to the sector.
The strategy was written by the government and UKTI alongside other departments such as BIS, DFID, DEFRA and there are now 13 people working in the Agri-Tech team with two based permanently in the U.S.
Part of this funding is the £70 million Agri-Tech Catalyst initiative, run by Innovate UK, the country’s innovation agency, in partnership with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The Department for International Development has also contributed to the Catalyst to support the transfer of technology and new products to developing countries.
Round five of Agri-Tech Catalyst is now open to applications before January 13, 2016, and projects looking at primary production and livestock production; non-food uses of crops; food security and nutrition challenges in international development; and challenges in food processing, can apply. There are three type of funding available: early-stage feasibility studies; industrial research including technology development, laboratory prototypes, product development planning, field trials and market testing; and late-stage experimental development projects to evaluate or trial commercial potential in a real-life environment. For more information and to apply, click here.
UKTI’s Agri-Tech team is also working on setting up four to five Centres for Agricultural Innovation nationwide. The first one, Centre for Agricultural Informations and Metrics of Sustainability (AIMS), was announced in March 2015 when £11.8 million was awarded to a consortium of business and academia to establish and run the center. The center will focus on big data and will be headquartered in the Lawes Open Innovation Hub at Rothamsted Research. To get in touch, or find out about other centers when they open, click here.
UKTI can also advise on the tax advantages offered by the government for agtech startups, patents, and how to get investment. To get in touch for free advice, email [email protected].
2. The Amius Start Up Program
Amius Limited, a commodity risk management company working with a range of agribusiness and farming clients, has launched an accelerator program for agtech startups in Europe. Amius launched six years ago to provide financial services to clients mostly within cocoa, coffee, sugar, grains and energy-related commodities.
“We wish to share our experience with like-minded, young entrepreneurs,” said Damien Fleurance, head of the Amius Start Up Program. “In sharing with them not only the stories of our success, but also of our failures – we believe we can bring tremendous added value in the launch of their own projects.”
During a 26 week program, Amius will provide selected startups with office space in Mayfair, central London, access to its team and other experts in the commodity markets, access to potential agribusiness customers and entrepreneurs, a demo day to gain access to Amius’ network of investors, and an initial equity investment of up-to £25,000 per project.
To apply, send a description of your project to [email protected] before October 31, 2015. The company will choose between four and six projects to take part in the program, and is interested in all types of commodity-related technologies and services. It highlighted the following technologies and services: upstream agricultural production technologies, precision ag, water and nutrients, FinTech, and big-data analytics and predictive modeling.
3. The Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology.
The University of Lincoln, a city in Northern England, recently created the institute to bring together research and other educational activity in the agtech and food sectors that’s taking place at the university, drawing on facilities and expertise across the university.
The institute will focus on the development of technologies to improve efficiency, sustainability, and reduce waste throughout the food chain, from farm to retailer, at the main Brayford Pool Campus. The National Centre for Food Manufacturing at Holbeach in southern Lincolnshire will also serve as a resource, as will the University’s Riseholme Campus, where the institute will develop an agricultural field station for testing farm innovations, supporting training courses, crop trials, and experimentation, in agri-robotics, water management and agronomy.
The institute is funded internally by the university but also externally; Innovate UK has provided grants, for example. It also has links with many large agri-food companies for funding and has a strong focus on the commercialization of its research and activity, according to Professor Andrew Hunter, the university’s pro vice chancellor for science.
“Our key strategy is to work closely with enterprises from the outset, so that our work has a powerful commercial focus and we have strong partnerships on which to base later commercialisation,” he told AgFunderNews. “We are keeping UKTI and other national government agencies informed as we develop; government support has already played a role in our growth to this point, and I expect will do so further.”
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