Developing an innovative solution requires more than deciding which funding source to apply for. Dr Alex McCormack, innovation technical lead at Crop Health and Protection (CHAP), highlights five steps that he believes should be the starting point for developing game-changing ideas in the sector.
1. What is the need or opportunity?
Products, services and solutions need to tackle specific challenges, either for a customer or the industry as a whole. Having a clear focus and keeping the end-user in mind is what helps to create sector acceptance.
This can be future facing, a gap or opportunity that will occur in years to come which makes identifying solutions highly complex. In turn, this also applies to innovators as they are developing solutions for people’s future needs.
2. Develop a clear idea and approach
Adapting your concept to be concise and easily understood by potential collaborators is crucial for the first few steps. Not only will this speak to the wider sectors but also appeal to interested investors.
The next essential step is asking if the solution is indeed feasible. In some cases, conducting initial pilot studies could strengthen the concept and provide a better chance for securing investment.
Such examples are reflected in CHAP’s ‘proof of concept’ projects, funded by Innovate UK EDGE, Fotenix’s Echo device and Red Planet’s wheat vertical farm.
3. Deep dive into specifics
Devising a plan of action to set achievable aims and objectives will ensure meeting your goals within established timeframes. Key to this is dissecting complex processes into specific work packages, activities and bite size pieces.
Additionally, how would this look from an operational perspective? Understanding whether there is a need for further basic scientific research or field trials and if you have the contractors and additional partners to deliver this project work is vital. In doing so, it could lead to strengthening the project and build on existing expertise and skillsets.
4. What is your route to market?
Do you understand the need of your future potential customer and how you can access them to deliver the newly developed solution? Having a thorough understanding of affordability and willingness to invest from your ideal customers is essential and this is where the power of networks comes into play.
Although this tactic can be beneficial to already established companies and organisations, new entrants might require more support. To overcome this, attending various networking events or reaching out to nexus organisations such as CHAP can help to jump start this process.
Longevity – another crucial factor. Will the solution have an immediate need, or are you looking at an extended period of time?
Lastly, who else is operating in the area? Consider doing competitor analysis and examining what are or could become barriers in the long run
5. How impactful is your solution?
Arguably for many, one of the most essential steps in the process.
Impact can be divided into a direct effect, implicitly affecting the sector or an organisation. Or an indirect effect, where it can benefit global challenges, such as reaching net zero.
Assessing the level of impact your developed innovation has, how the sector will reap the benefits, whilst reaching sustainability or additional environmental goals is vital. In addition, you should also be aware of the full spectrum, good or bad, of potential outcomes. For example, the effect automation had in the agri-tech sector on the workforce.
How do I get started?
There are various routes for agri-tech businesses to put their ideas into practice, and there is no one size fits all option. Key funding sources for projects can often be found through Innovate UK’s funding finder, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and UK Research and Innovation’s current Farming Innovation Programme, or similar public and private funding organisations.
CHAP alongside the other Agri-Tech Centres have built networks of leading scientists, farmers, advisors, businesses and academia to better understand industry priorities and develop innovative solutions. Our innovation experts help to identify the latest funding opportunities, project partners, assist with the application process and give technical assistance in project delivery once won.
Agri-Tech Innovation Centres and Innovate UK working together
Agri-tech is a key strategic industry for the UK and Innovate UK is driving opportunities through innovation in this sector to support the UK economy.
Innovate UK funds and supports the Agri-Tech Centres to provide a unique combination of world-leading facilities, skills, and equipment to support agricultural innovation and growth.
By working together, the Agri-Tech Centres and Innovate UK are helping to address some of the key challenges facing farmers and food producers, both domestically and internationally. This includes improving food security in the UK, lowering our carbon footprint, and increasing the productivity of our crop and livestock production systems.
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