CHAP Solutions

This interview details CHAP, a company based in the UK. The interview is with Fraser Black, CEO of CHAP.

Source: CHAP

What is the origin story of CHAP?

CHAP started in 2016, the direct result of a UK Government initiative to help develop and nurture the country’s agri-tech sector as an element of the overall industrial strategy. It was one of four ‘Agri-Tech Centres of excellence’, each established as a collaboration between government, industry and academia, that would harness the UK’s expertise in agricultural science and research – and capture it in a programme of innovation, investment and infrastructure.

CHAP – Crop Health and Protection – has a remit to deliver economic, environmental and societal benefits through a unique proposition that has brought together an exceptional group of people and capabilities, all focused on developing the agricultural technologies in crop production that we will need if we’re to increase the productivity and sustainability of UK and global agriculture. And crucially, not just working on discovery, development and delivery, but effective adoption too.

Source: CHAP

The approach was original and new – the blueprint had not been created for CHAP. And it wasn’t just a case of deciding what direction it needed to take; we first had to develop the whole compass. This is an organisation that’s been built from scratch in short order as a response to what was seen by government as a ‘market failure’. The UK was not keeping pace with our European neighbours, or the US.

What’s really special about CHAP is how we work. We convene, collaborate and facilitate, we don’t dictate. Although we’re part funded through Innovate UK, a government agency, we have independent thought. Or rather, we have no allegiances other than to good science and agri-tech success. We’re here to support and accelerate ideas that deliver impact. By bringing together the right people, with the right resources, we can bring the right interventions, at the right time, to initiate and catalyse a chain reaction. 

The challenges facing a developer, entrepreneur or SME can be multi-faceted: access to grant funding, investment, expertise, facilities, networks, business support. Often, they know what they want but struggle with the how, where or who to approach to take their brilliant idea to market, where its impact will be realised. What’s more, doing something like that on your own is lonely, difficult – and prone to failure.

What we do at CHAP is to help them realise those steps. We allow them to see the completely changed future that lies ahead for them – success.

Source: CHAP

What are some of the biggest challenges facing CHAP in the future?

It’s not easy to get innovation off the ground and into the market. It’s even truer in the agricultural market. Our job is to help agriculture to ‘catch up’ to take full advantage of its potential. It’s often been seen to be behind the curve in comparison to other verticals.

I arrived at CHAP with the benefit of seeing how innovation is delivered and brought to other, non-agricultural markets. Cross-pollination – bringing skills and understanding from other industries, and changing attitudes – is crucial, in my opinion, to maximise the success of UK agri-tech.

One of our biggest challenges is to up the pace. It’s good to talk about an idea or challenge, but talk needs to turn to action. Something we have learned and developed is exactly that – our ‘New Innovation Process’ turns ideation into impact. 

Source: CHAP

First, we identify a sector challenge or opportunity – it’s critical to identify the root cause or primary need with the industry. Then we identify potential solutions with experts. The most promising of these are shortlisted into viable costed projects with economic impact assessments. This gives us the business or investment plan to find the right funding mechanism. So, we not only focus on the real issues and best opportunities, we turn them into viable, investable propositions. We make the talk, walk. 

Don’t underestimate the importance of professional project management. A lot of SMEs simply don’t have the capacity to manage a project, nor understand the complexities or the administrative burden of the grant landscape. That’s where CHAP excels: we’re a pilot, we’re a navigator. But despite our reputation for independence, for trust and our not-for-profit status – there’s still sometimes a perception that CHAP’s in it for itself, and that’s a challenge. We’re in it for our customers and stakeholders: here to help them realise their ambitions and achieve success.

Source: CHAP

What is unique about CHAP compared to competitors?

It might be that we don’t really have ‘competitors’. As I said earlier, we were founded on a unique proposition. There’s no-one really like CHAP in the crop section of the agri-tech ecosystem.

But I think it’s like this. CHAP isn’t trying to generate profit for shareholders or investors. We are not a manufacturer. We don’t sell products. CHAP isn’t trying to invent the next new ‘thing’ in agri-tech. CHAP isn’t a chemical company that’s trying to improve its margins. CHAP isn’t developing new germplasm resources. Instead, CHAP can help all those organisations, do all those things.

That’s because we make connections. And the more connections we can make, the faster the ecosystem builds, and the more – and quicker – change we can deliver. And we’ve got some of the best scientists and expert practitioners in the world to help us achieve that.

Source: CHAP

What are some other relevant metrics of the company (amount of projects completed / supported, team size, etc.)?

The headline figure is actually quite relevant to the last question: what other organisation like CHAP can boast year-on-year growth of 25%?

We can measure impact in different ways. Economically, our GVA figures are 13:1. That’s impressive for a government-funded organisation. In terms of grants secured for our customers’ projects, our success rate is over 30%, three times the going rate of others such as IUK competitions, which fund less than 10%. This year alone we have secured over £10m in grants for our customers. That’s the same for our customer feedback scores; which are excellent with a mean of 7.7 out of 10. We’re also gaining a name for success in helping our customers gain funding and investment.

Source: CHAP

That’s because we’re successful. We’re getting CHAP’s name out there, through a confident knowledge transfer programme across multiple channels. We’ve more than 6,000 followers on LinkedIn and reach and engagement metrics that would be the envy of many a social media influencer.

There’s still lots to do, but our strategy is working. This year we are underway with 57 simultaneous projects and that should reach 60 by the end of the year. We already know our future order book is very healthy and well above this year’s targets. As a not-for-profit organisation all our earnings are directly re-invested into what we do.

Source: CHAP

What are some goals in 2024 and beyond for CHAP?

Our focus is the forthcoming merger proposal of the three Agri-Tech Centres into a new Agri-Tech Catapult [the fourth centre, Agrimetrics, will continue independently]. It’s an exciting time – the new integrated business will span the entire agri innovation ecosystem.

The merger is critical for several reasons. All three Agri-Tech Centres have delivered, but bringing them together will give the UK’s agri-tech ecosystem critical mass. Invaluable commercially, while being in Catapult (a UK science network that bridges the gap between research and industry) will put us on an equal footing with other high-profile science sectors such as medicine, semiconductors and digital.

That higher profile gives us a better connection with government and should stand us in good stead for longer-term funding, sectoral trust, and a better relationship with the industry.

Source: CHAP

And yes, there’s a general election in the UK in 2024. But whatever the outcome, we still have the same challenges. Agriculture’s societal benefit is not lost on government; we know we can make a whole industry better, while adding economic and environmental benefit too. With the right support, we can make this sector a thriving industry, critical to the growth of ‘UK plc’. The UK, with its range of topography, environment and climates can ably represent farming across the globe. That makes it the ideal ‘test lab’, where companies can come to get agri inventions off the ground, tested, and into the market.

CEA’s a great example. Many still question the role of CEA in the UK, when there’s a much greater need for it in the Middle East. Yet what CEA promises – the ability to grow food 24/7/365, regardless of weather or soil type – offers substantial benefits. The lessons learned from leafy microgreens give rise to opportunities that can change the future of arable crop development. CEA is a core technology with multiple homes – a platform technology. Just as we ‘redesigned’ cereal crops as dwarf varieties, so too can we redesign crops to take advantage of CEA – its clean and controlled environment, its better use of resources, its higher yield. 

Our goal is to change not just the technologies, but the attitudes towards them.

Source: CHAP

How can people connect with you or learn more about CHAP?

Our Innovation team is always willing to engage: to discuss ideas and find the best ways to realise them. But it’s not just those who have ideas: we want to hear from potential partners, too. It’s all about those connections and building the ecosystem more quickly.

The best way to get in touch is through our website: http://www.agritechcentres.com/, and email address: info@agritechcentres.com. Or follow us through our social media channels on LinkedIn, Twitter/X, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

Source: CHAP

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