£600k voucher scheme aims to unlock intrepid UK plant-based innovation

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Are you ready to disrupt the plant-based sector with your ground-breaking idea? Pic: GettyImages/Gawrav Sinha
Are you ready to disrupt the plant-based sector with your ground-breaking idea? Pic: GettyImages/Gawrav Sinha

Related tags Growing Kent & Medway plant-based Agtech NIAB University of Greenwich University of Kent Food processing startups

Growing Kent & Medway – a research, innovation and enterprise cluster – has launched a Business Innovation Voucher scheme, providing 75% funding towards projects with leading research organisations.

The scheme is designed to open the doors to three new cutting-edge UK research centres, namely, the GreenTech Hub for Advanced Horticulture at NIAB; the Medway Food Innovation Centre at the University of Greenwich; and the Biotechnology Hub for Sustainable Food and Drink at the University of Kent.

The scheme will award 40 start-ups, micro, small and medium-sized businesses in the Kent and Medway region with £15,000 each, to boost R&D in:

  • Crop production
  • Food processing
  • Packaging
  • Producing high-value compounds from plants
  • Agri-tech solutions.

“Growing Kent & Medway has invested in three new state-of-the-art research facilities. This means we now have modern facilities to match the world-leading expertise and capabilities in our region and are able to deliver a wide range of technical projects for the horticulture, food and drink sectors,”​ said Sophie Packer, innovation growth manager for Growing Kent & Medway and the University of Kent.

“We hope these vouchers encourage people who may not have worked with a research organisation before, to get in touch and find out how our technical teams can help grow their business through innovation.”

Specialists on hand

The Business Innovation Vouchers are awarded on a competitive basis, with the best ideas receiving funding. Interested applicants must first complete an Expression of Interest form and discuss their business or project ideas with a support manager at Growing Kent & Medway.

Applications close on 3 October. Successful applicants will be notified in November 2022.

“Whether you would like to test new products in a food laboratory, or trial new technology in horticultural production systems, we have specialists on hand who are able to help,”​ said Robert Saville, innovation growth manager for Growing Kent & Medway and NIAB.

“We will work with businesses to explore the types of research support that could benefit them, and connect them to the right facilities and expertise to help drive their business forward.”

Are you eligible?

The applicant must be a registered Kent- or Medway-based micro, small or medium-sized business. SMEs are defined as having less than 250 employees and less than £50m turnover.

The grants are available for horticultural and plant-based food and drink businesses across the supply chain.

The applicant must partner with a researcher from one (or more) of the Growing Kent & Medway research organisations.

Preference will be given to proposals from business that are engaging with a Growing Kent & Medway research organisation for the first time.

Businesses can take advantage of 75% funding towards research projects worth up to £20,000. A 25% co-investment is needed from the business applicant, made up of cash or in kind that will be used in the project. No more than one voucher will be awarded per business.

NIAB is a specialist in molecular genetics, genomics, pest and disease biology and management, crop and post-harvest physiology, agronomy and environmental science. The GreenTech Hub includes specialist glasshouses, growth rooms, modern polytunnels and cold rooms. It complements the existing laboratory and growing facilities available at NIAB in East Malling.

The team at the University of Greenwich Medway Food Innovation Centre specialises in crop protection, post-harvest storage, new product development, healthy reformulation, sustainable process technologies and alternative protein based food innovation. The new Centre has state-of-the-art capacities, some of which is unique to the UK.

The team at the University of Kent Biotechnology Hub for Sustainable Food and Drink applies high-tech approaches to production and processing of high-value foods and plant-based compounds from plant material and waste, crop disease and pathogen identification and control, improving biocontrols, analysing chemical components, and maintenance of healthy soil.

Growing Kent & Medway connects entrepreneurs with growers, processors, scientists and technologies to stimulate research, innovation and business growth in the area.

The programme is led by NIAB (the UK’s largest horticultural research and development centre in East Malling). Additional research and commercial partners include University of Greenwich, University of Kent, Locate in Kent, APS Group, Berry Gardens, Chapel Down, Geku Automation, Gusbourne, RH Group, Smurfit Kappa, Thanet Earth, The Kent and Medway Economic Partnership and Worldwide Fruit.

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