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10 June, 2015 - 12:41 By Tony Quested

Wheatsheaf CEO calls for more agri-tech innovation

William Kendall, Vicky Foster, Peter Cowley, winner Patrick Mitton, Simon Bowen

Graham Ramsbottom, CEO of the Wheatsheaf Group, has called for more innovation in agri-tech and new business models.

Speaking at the final of the Agri-Tech East GROW business plan competition, Ramsbottom said: “Agri-tech represents a very significant global investment opportunity. It is predicted that the middle-class population worldwide will triple by 2050 and this will put considerable pressure on our precious natural resources, particularly food.”

Wheatsheaf has a multi-million pound fund and is actively seeking to invest in companies with disruptive technologies and solutions that can help drive efficiency in food production. 

Ramsbottom added: “There is a striking economic case to do more with less, and this creates an exciting business opportunity for well positioned companies. We need to innovate by looking for solutions in new places.”

Of the five companies that pitched to the GROW judges, the overall winner was Patrick Mitton of Agritopics. He explained that there was a global need for gluten-free foods, increasing demand for protein bars and an existing high-value retail chain. In addition, there were incentives for farmers to grow more legumes in their rotation to improve soil fertility and structure.

His business concept focused on developing a trusted and audited supply of white pea flour that could be used as a nutritious alternative to existing wheat substitutes.

The concept appealed to the judges – Simon Bowen, head of agriculture at AB Sugar; Peter Cowley, investment director of the Marshall of Cambridge Martlet angel vehicle; Keith Norman, technical director of Velcourt; and William Kendall, organic farmer, entrepreneur and director of Wheatsheaf –as it met the needs of both ends of the supply chain.

However, William Kendall commented that the concept could be stronger if it was addressed from the perspective of a consumer business and suggested that all the companies pitching could benefit from the support of the expertise in the room.

Kendall says: “These companies are very early stage and it is useful to remember what makes a good plan. There needs to be a clearly identified market need, a product, technology or service that is credible and defendable, a clear route to market, a great team and of course a sound model for making money.

“The companies we have seen today all have those elements, but I hope that the discussion we have had today will show them where there are areas of weakness and strength.

“The package of business support that Agri-Tech East has brought together as prizes for GROW shows that there is a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem in this region that is able to help those with innovative concepts develop their commercial skills.”

The two runners-up were DDL Diesel Dynamics and B&C Farming.

Diesel Dynamics, which is based at Hethel Engineering, already has three proof of concept pilots running to show how bio-fuels can be adopted for agricultural equipment and fleets. One pilot is at a brewery, famed for its green credentials, and another is on an organic farm.

Andrew Spinks of B&C Farming took a farmer’s eye view of the need to simplify the collection and interpretation of data. Knowing that many farmers like himself make notes on bits of paper, he is working with Simon Ellison-Ball, formerly the big data expert at RedGate, to develop an app for capturing this data and performing analysis to show the business benefits of different strategies.

All the finalists were praised for their plans and presentations. Vicky Foster of HGCA, sponsor of the awards, announced the winners. She says that innovation was fundamental to HGCA’s business and they were delighted to support GROW.

In addition to a cash prize provided by HGCA, Patrick Mitton has chosen for his prize: legal advice from Barr Ellison; a place on the University of Cambridge Judge Business School Ignite Programme; and six months' access to the ‘Green Inc’ Incubator at the Future Business Centre.

The final was hosted by Agrii at the Throws Farm Technology Centre.

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Left-Right: William Kendall, Vicky Foster, Peter Cowley, winner Patrick Mitton, Simon Bowen

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