Agri-Innovation Den’s 2016 crop of finalists is making a big impact, through smart choices, exciting collaborations and sheer resolve. Six months after pitching to the dragons, fast-paced change and fruitful relationships are being reported.
Now in its third year, the Agri-Innovation Den, run by Briefing Media in conjunction with The Co-operative Food, aims to give entrepreneurs with an interest in farming an opportunity to develop fledgling projects.
Six finalists pitched to expert judges last October for business advice, mentoring and investment, with four companies receiving an assurance of continuing support.
On the panel were chief executive of Briefing Media Neil Thackray, Briefing Media group editor Emma Penny, agricultural development manager for The Co-operative Food, Will Jackson, and manager of Overbury Farms, Jake Freestone.
Mr Thackray said: “The quality of businesses and level of innovation was extraordinary. Every single one of them was doing something which will change how people in agriculture work.”
The finalists’ performance since then has been far from disappointing. Already there has been a rebrand, some major investments, a British Farming Awards sponsorship, plenty of job creation and even a brush with royalty.
Among the entrepreneurs who pitched last September was Fabien Penyaud, chief executive and co-founder of Herdwatch, an app which allows farmers to record compliance and management information in real-time.
He said: “It was a pivotal moment for us. First of all to be in the final of such a prestigious competition, but also to hear the positive feedback from judges. It gave us the confidence boost we needed to take Herdwatch to the next level.
“We have recently launched our app in the UK and feedback from British farmers has been fantastic. We also travelled to Buckingham Palace last October to receive an Innovation Award from Prince Philip.”
THE search is on for a new batch of agricultural entrepreneurs keen to progress their businesses to the next level.
Launched in 2014 by Briefing Media, and in conjunction with The Co-operative Food, Agri-Innovation Den aims to give entrepreneurs with an interest in farming an opportunity to develop their ideas and innovations.
Finalists could take a share of a £250,000 investment fund pot in exchange for a stake in their business. New for 2017 is a guaranteed Briefing Media promotional package worth £5,000 for every finalist, as well as ongoing help and business support from our esteemed judging panel.
So if you are an entrepreneur, farmer or student with a great product or concept you believe could help farmers, we want to hear from you.
For more information, visit www.aginnovationden.com
Start-up specialist Rob Carter pitched fieldmargin, an app which allows farmers to create a shared, working map of their farm. He said the den offered ‘great exposure’.
He was particularly impressed by a video created as part of the scheme: “It really helped get across what we are about from a product and an ethos perspective.”
He also appreciated the support he received ahead of the den: “A presentation can be daunting, but with the rehearsals and coaching laid on by Briefing Media, it was easy.
“It was lovely to meet the judges and other like-minded people in the competition. I think fieldmargin and Briefing Media values are very closely aligned; helping farmers be the best they can be.”
Richard Counsell, a Somerset beef farmer and tech entrepreneur, is working with farmers, mathematicians, economists and software engineers to create a prediction market for agriculture. The aim is to deliver better price forecasting and help manage volatility.
He said: “An opportunity to present the Stable initiative to the judges after two years of volatility research was useful. No matter how sophisticated your business model or how passionate you are about your idea, communicating it to others is a key skill for an entrepreneur.
“The den gave us a valuable opportunity to speak to four experienced judges who immediately recognised Stable’s potential to help family farms protect themselves from volatile commodity prices and input costs.”
Jack Wrangham, of Northumberland- based precision farming specialists Drone AG, found the day inspiring: “We learned a lot in terms of how prepared we needed to be when pitching and we have taken away and implemented some good advice we received from the judges.
“We have been growing steadily. We have developed and launched a new drone system specifically designed for agriculture which is our own design. We have formed some strategic partnerships which will help us grow faster and with a better all-round solution.”
For co-founder of HarvestYield Chris Walmsley, said pitching to the dragons brought new energy to his project.
He said: “We gained valuable feedback from experts which helped us improve our product. In addition, exposure to the nation’s farmers helped us drive our growth.”
The HarvestYield app helps agricultural contractors get paid faster. Currently, paper job sheets can delay the invoicing process, but HarvestYield allows managers to schedule tasks and get back electronic job sheets which employees fill out on their smartphones.
Mr Counsell added his business was barely recognisable from a year ago: “For any innovative startups, such as Stable, looking to make an impact in British agriculture, I urge them to apply for this year. The opportunity to pitch, learn and carve your own furrow in British farming is not to be missed.”
Rob Carter of fieldmargin said: “Having the contacts we made has improved our access to industry leaders and we are on more people’s radars than we were before. Being able to contact Neil Thackray or Jake Freestone for advice is immensely helpful.”
Richard Counsell, of Stable, said: “I spent some time with Neil Thackray in London at FG HQ. As an experienced entrepreneur, he saw the potential of Stable to help British family farms. We needed his help to iron out how to present the product and updated the brand from AOX to Stable.”
Chris Walmsley, of HarvestYield, said: “The den led to us exhibiting at CropTec, which was a great chance to speak with lots of farmers and demonstrate the system to hear what their requirements in software are. We also got assistance in booking a stand in a good spot for Lamma, where we spoke with lots of contractors and obtained lots of leads, many of which are now on trial with the app.”
CLOSER MEDIA TIES
Fabien Penyaud, of Herdwatch, said: “We have engaged closely with the FG team on a range of collaborations, including a deal which will see Herdwatch become the sponsor of the Digital Innovator of the Year category at the 2017 British Farming Awards. We are looking forward to the campaign which is due to kick-off soon.”
Mr Carter said: “We have had lots of advice from across the team and some clever things are in the pipeline. I do not want to spoil it, but FG Insight subscribers should be especially pleased.”