Innovation leaps to fast-track

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Rothamsted Research today launches a collaborative programme of accelerated innovation that draws on European funding to develop research ideas from the agri-tech sector into new industries.

European funding has kick-started a new programme of agricultural innovation that aims to accelerate the development of promising ideas into practical tools for other economic sectors by bringing together researchers and small businesses to work on collaborative projects as start-up enterprises.

Up to 25 “short-leap” projects over the next three years will cover four themes: Soils, Water and Environment; Internet of Things; High Value Products; and Sustainable and Green Products. The venture is backed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), with the support of the Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

“The projects will use the lean technologies practised by start-ups,” says Angela Karp, Director for Science Innovation, Engagement & Partnerships at Rothamsted Research, which is leading the new venture as part of the institute’s Agricultural Research and Innovation Accelerator (AgRIA).

“AgRIA is founded on a dynamic model developed at the institute to accelerate innovations arising from our strategic research programmes,” notes Karp. “We’ve introduced the fast-start:fail-early/pivot practises of lean start-ups into research thinking.”

Rothamsted is also a founding member of three of the UK’s four agri-tech centres of excellence and innovation: Agrimetrics, Crop Health & Protection and the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock; and is a partner in the Ceres Agri-Tech Knowledge Exchange Partnership, announced in April.

“We are delighted to have been involved in the development of this new AgRIA venture, which will harness Rothamsted’s agri-tech expertise to fuel businesses innovation across a broad spectrum of industries,” says Tim Burton, ERDF Projects Facilitator at Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

Burton adds: “AgRIA is a fantastic addition to the Hertfordshire Growth Package, our EU-funded portfolio of specialist business support programmes designed to help SMEs prosper and grow.”

The new AgRIA venture is launched today at Rothamsted where the institute is hosting farmers and other agri-tech professionals to preview its weekend Festival of Ideas. The Festival, which marks the 175th anniversary of the start of experimental work on site, will showcase the institute’s research for the public.

Half of the venture’s budget of £2.7 million has come from the ERDF, with matching funding from public and private sources. The venture’s themes support the government’s Industrial Strategy and, in particular, its mission to strengthen regional growth through innovation.

The venture, says Karp, will aim to create a hive of innovative activities, based at the Rothamsted Centre for Research and Enterprise (RocRE) on the institute’s Harpenden campus, to attract researchers, entrepreneurs, companies, seed funders and investors.

“Our goals align with the Industrial Strategy’s five foundations of productivity, particularly Ideas, People and Business Environment,” notes Karp, “and they respond to the government’s call for fresh thinking in how innovation arising from work funded by UK Research and Innovation is achieved.”

AgRIA operates three basic models: short-leap projects of 6-18 months that provide early proofs of concept; new entrepreneur projects of 2-4 years that involve entrepreneurial studentships; and longer leap-of-faith projects that tackle high risk innovations focused on solving defined challenges.

The EDRF-funded venture will support short-leap projects involving small and medium enterprises. It separately complements two existing AgRIA activities at Rothamsted: FarmInn, jointly sponsored with the Agricultural & Horticultural Development Board (AHDB), and SoilAgRIA, with Cranfield University.

FarmInn supports short-leap projects that jointly engage farmers and researchers in testing farmer-led innovations; SoilAgRIA supports an entrepreneur-mentored cohort of innovation studentships that are developing solutions towards improving soil health.

“Partnership with Rothamsted in the FarmInn project allows AHDB to progress our commitment to accelerating innovation on farm and building our Farm Excellence Network,” says Susannah Susannah Bolton, Director of Knowledge Exchange at the AHDB.

Rothamsted is joined in the ERDF-funded AgRIA venture by the University of Hertfordshire, University College London, Cranfield University and The Green Triangle, a partnership of organisations and local authorities in Hertfordshire that promotes green technology.

“We are delighted to be a partner in this ambitious programme,” says Leon A. Terry, Director of Environment and Agrifood at Cranfield University. “Innovation is at the heart of what we do at Cranfield and we are excited to be bringing our expertise to the projects and supporting them as they look to start-up their enterprises.”

“We are pleased to support this project’s aim to take agri-tech research into the wider world,” says Julian Daly, Chair of Green Triangle. “This will help entrepreneurs and businesses to find new solutions to practical problems, particularly in food production.”

Daly, who is also a councillor on Harpenden Town Council and on St Albans City and District Council, adds: “This major European funding is further recognition of Rothamsted’s global reputation as a centre of agri-tech excellence.”



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