First Agri-tech Cluster director named
The historic first agricultural technology cluster being steered from Cambridge and Norwich in the UK has unveiled inaugural director – plant scientist and bioscience specialist Dr Belinda Clarke.
Cambridge Network, which has been asked to initially host the role, believes the agricultural technology (agri-tech) sector is ready to deliver growth rates to rival those Cambridge has seen in hi-tech and life sciences over recent years.
Dr Clarke will focus on linking the hugely successful organisations clustered in the Norwich-Cambridge region, aiming to create new opportunities that increase innovation, employment and economic growth in the UK.
It is hoped that the region will attract new investment, to build on existing activities and help fund new start-up companies in this important sector.
Originally trained as a plant scientist, Dr Clarke has worked for the Norwich Research Park, UKTI, One Nucleus, ideaSpace and is currently lead technologist for biosciences at the Technology Strategy Board; she brings tremendous experience of organisations that are the initial building blocks of the new cluster.
Start-up funding for the cluster has been granted by Lord David Sainsbury’s Gatsby Foundation, which has asked Cambridge Network to host the role at the outset to bring lessons from the other sectors that have accelerated so well around Cambridge.
Cambridgeshire and Norfolk County Councils and the Local Enterprise Partnerships have worked closely together to focus on the social and economic impact that agri-tech will have in the East of England, which has unparalleled expertise in relevant research and agricultural technology.
It boasts internationally recognised organisations such as NIAB, the John Innes Centre and the Universities of East Anglia and Cambridge, while large-scale growers, such as those brought together in the G’s Group, have built up tremendously successful businesses here, and export both produce and innovative ideas.
The new Agri-Tech Cluster for the East of England aims to provide knowledge for UK agriculture to increase productivity while reducing inputs, leading to greater self-sufficiency and export of food and know-how to help sustain the growing populations throughout the world. There is also great potential here to build new relationships with other sectors, such as computing, where East Anglia is world-renowned.
Dr Clarke said: “We will work to build on the strengths we have, through collaboration and sharing ideas and best practice. We will establish a strong, sustainable cluster, creating synergies between the players and delivering real economic value. The national agricultural strategy gives big opportunities for the UK to grow.”
Dr Clarke takes up her post next month and a launch event will be held on Monday March 17 to coincide with Cambridge’s 2014 Business Awards Week, built around the Awards competitions of Business Weekly and the Cambridge News.
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Dr Belinda Clarke