Wednesday, October 21, 2020

‘Barn4’ incubator launched for agritech start-ups

September 24, 2020 by  
Filed under News & Business

Start-up agritech businesses will have access to new work and research facilities following the launch of Barn4 – a purpose-built facility on the outskirts of Cambridge.

The crop research organisation NIAB has been awarded £2.5m from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to construct a 375m2 business incubator on its Park Farm site at Histon, north of the city.

Barn4 will be open to tenants from spring 2021. It will include laboratory, workshops and office space, meeting rooms and video-conferencing facilities. Tenants will also be given access to NIAB’s specialist laboratory facilities, including indoor and outdoor growing space.

Strong demand

Demand in Cambridge remains strong for these facilities despite the impact of Covid-19 on office working. The local agritech sector continues to grow but incubator space in and around the city is heavily over-subscribed.

The offering of state-of-the-art technical facilities and links to NIAB, the Cambridge technology cluster and the wider agricultural sector aims to encourage the development of early stage companies, helping them to grow and flourish.

Juno McKee, director of NIAB Ventures, said Barn4 would provide facilities for up to 15 companies with 45 staff. “NIAB will work with a network of commercial and academic partners to provide a complete ecosystem within which technology driven start-ups and spinouts can thrive.”

The new building will be an addition to NIAB’s recently redeveloped Park Farm field research station. It includes two new large research and office buildings, research glasshouses, trial plots and an area of protected outdoor growing space.

Expert advice

The Barn4 initiative aims to fill a gap identified in a study carried out for NIAB by Cambridge University’s Judge Institute. It showed that agritech start-ups felt they could benefit from sector specific technical expertise and advice.

NIAB commercialisation director Michael Gifford said: “It allows companies to access Cambridge’s unrivalled technology sector and university while also being on the doorstep of some of the most fertile farmland and progressive farmers in the world.”

Agriculture was under enormous pressure to redefine its farming and food supply chains, said Dr Gifford. Challenges included Covid-19, Brexit, the new Agriculture Bill, climate change and the issue of food security.

Part of the solution was to accelerate the pace at which the sector commercialises and adopts new agritech innovations to deliver sustainable change. To date there had been gaps in support for start-ups including access to sector specific expertise.

Specialist firms

Dr Gifford said: “We are thinking about agritech in its widest sense and expect to have companies specialising in plant genetics, pest management, soil health, and AI to support sustainable farming decisions, farm robotics and much more.”

Regional growth minister Simon Clarke MP said investing in innovative agritech projects was at the heart of the government’s commitment to creating new, green jobs and reaching its target of Net-Zero by 2050.

“That is why we are investing £2.5 million from the Local Growth Fund in this exciting project to create space for start-ups and small businesses in Cambridgeshire to grow and innovate, creating new jobs for the region and supporting this world-leading centre for agritech.”