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11 June, 2017 - 23:55 By Kate Sweeney

Punters' choice for agri-tech entrepreneurs

Silfield Robert Alston

Seed funding takes on a new iteration as finalists of the GROW agri-tech business plan competition need to win the backing of an audience and secure virtual peer-to-peer funding at the event in Essex this month.

GROW enables budding entrepreneurs with innovative ideas within the agricultural sector to turn the visions into business plans – the winner receiving funding to take their business plan to the next stage.

The process of pitching to the audience is an exciting twist to this year’s competition which sees corporate financier and farm managing director, Robert Alston, guide the finalists through the event. Alston is chairman of AF Finance Limited, an agricultural pooled collective investment scheme that provides cashflow management for farmers. He is also MD of his family’s farming business, Silfield Limited.

The final of GROW 2017 will feature pitches from early-stage agri-entrepreneurs, drawn from across the UK, looking for their first break into the industry.

Pitches include new digital platforms to improve access to market for niche producers, improved techniques and tools for soil analysis, and innovative cultivation systems for urban farming.

Alston will provide expert insight into the current climate for agri-tech investment. Before returning to manage the family farm in Norfolk full-time, he worked in the City for 18 years at Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan.

“There is a lot of interest in agri-tech and a huge wall of money looking for investment,” said Alston. “Everyone understands agri-tech is essential but no one quite knows where to put their money – it’s such a broad canvas.”

The winner will be selected by a judging panel but the audience of seasoned investors, potential partners, farmers and advisers will also have an opportunity to vote.

For Alston, the team is as important as the idea. He said: “I am encouraged by people who really understand the industry, can get on with it and make it happen. Often business plans and markets change, so have you got the right people that can make it work?

“You have to be able to adapt quickly in this market and get something out there and prove it. And it must be addressing a problem that is real for farmers now.”

Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-Tech East added: “Everyone is warmly invited to the final of GROW, to hear competitive pitches from agri-entrepreneurs across the UK. Our finalists will not only try to win over our panel of judges, but also a voting audience.”

The final takes place on June 19 at Agrii’s Throws Farm Technology Centre, Stebbing, with support from Innovate UK.

For more details visit

• PHOTOGRAPH: Robert Alston: Picture courtesy Silfield Ltd

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