‘Prove you can make it happen’ – investor’s advice to innovators at Agri-Tech East GROW competition

Robert Alston of Silfield Ltd

Robert Alston of Silfield Ltd - Credit: Silfield Ltd

A Norfolk farmer and entrepreneur will give an insight into agri-tech investment at a contest aiming to turn novel concepts into viable businesses.

Robert Alston will be the keynote speaker at Agri-Tech East's 'Grow' business plan competition final on June 19, which will feature pitches from early-stage agri-entrepreneurs looking for their first break into the industry.

Mr Alston is managing director of Silfield Ltd, a diversified farming business at Carleton Forehoe near Wymondham, and a director at Norfolk-based buying group Anglia Farmers, where he is chair of AF Finance, a pooled collective investment scheme providing cash flow management for farmers.

Before returning to manage the family farm in Norfolk full-time, he worked in London for 18 years, at companies including Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan – giving him an investor's viewpoint on the agri-tech sector.

He said the competition finalists needed to prove that their innovation could solve practical farming problems.

'It excites me to see something that could be the 'next big thing' in the industry, challenging the status quo,' he said.

'There is a lot of interest in agri-tech and a huge wall of money looking for investment, but no one quite knows where to put their money – it's such a broad topic.

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'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. It must be a problem that is there for farmers now – not one that is only becoming a problem, which we might see further down the line.'

The Grow finalists come from across the UK and their pitches include new digital platforms to help niche producers access markets, improved techniques and tools for soil analysis, and innovative cultivation systems for urban farming.

They will present their business plans in the hope of convincing winning over the judges and an audience of seasoned investors, potential partners, farmers and advisers, who will also have an opportunity to vote for their winner.

Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-Tech East said: '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.'

• Grow 2017 – the UK's only agri-tech business plan competition – will take place on June 19 at Agrii's Throws Farm Technology Centre in Stebbing in Essex, with support from Innovate UK. For more details or to register to attend, click here.