As part of the Royal Agricultural University’s Rural Entrepreneurial Leaders Network, Farm491 have been hosting webinars to share topical discussion, provoke thought and provide a platform for bringing the AgriTech community together. ‘Prototyping to manufacturing’ has been a successful topical area for members and one that addresses fundamental elements for business growth within the wider AgriTech community. Sharon Smith of Pentalib and Glideology’s Gavin Allen share their experience.
Whilst studying for her Dissertation at the RAU, which focused on equine behaviours, Farm491 member, Sharon Smith of Pentalib, started with a very basic DIY kit to create a prototype of her business idea which assessed horse senses and behaviour. Results from the first prototype enabled Sharon to depict 20 behaviours. With a prototype in hand, Sharon entered the RAU’s ‘Grand Idea’ competition and was runner up. She said that the process was invaluable: “the more time goes on, the more I’ve realised how valuable that experience was”. Pitching in front of Dennis Short and handling tough questions from the panel of judges, such as “what’s your exit strategy?”, she successfully secured second place and the confidence that her idea really could become a reality.
So, was there a need for this idea? For a business to grow and succeed there must be a need and demand for it. Sharon wanted to ensure that every decision she made was based on the end user – the people who need it. Although she is a horse owner, it doesn’t mean that all horse owners have the same experiences, so she needed to keep that in mind. Sharon had to decide whether to license or build the product herself – a patent is expensive. Then the next step was money and how to generate it, as ultimately the fundamental role of the business was to create an income. Sharon explains how there are a lot of pressures as a start-up and it can be particularly hard on your own – really busy, low turnover, unpaid work, lots of events to go to (and pay for). She highlights the importance of not letting the stress of the venture affect mental health and encouraged peers to keep their ‘real life’ going as well. Another stage of difficulty is thinking about the next stage of funding – where is the money going to come from? It is important to have complementary businesses to bounce off each other and partnering up is great as it reduces the pressures on one person. Networking is also important – making sure you reach out means you don’t have to do it alone.
Offering a different perspective on the theme, Gavin Allen of Glideology, who has been working with Sharon for well over a year helping to develop her technology, put forward his expertise on the prototype to manufacturing journey.
Glideoloy’s team of experienced engineers encompass the complete development lifecycle from proof of concept, prototyping and design for manufacture. Gavin explains how developing tech is exciting and there is a great sense of achievement when it goes well, but entrepreneurs also have to be prepared for hard work and learn that gremlins do exist!
Gavin addressed the key stages in developing tech. From idea formation, you then need to prove the concept; this is the realisation of a process or idea in order to demonstrate its feasibility or a demonstration in principle with the aim of verifying that some concept or theory has practical potential. The third step is to develop the prototype – an early sample, model, or release of a solution that is built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from. Prototyping serves to provide specifications for a real, working system rather than a theoretical one. A working prototype should ideally represent all or nearly all of the functionality of the final product. The final stage is production – a process of combining various material inputs and immaterial inputs (plans, know-how) in order to make something for consumption (the output). It is the act of creating output, a good or service which has value and contributes to the utility of businesses and individuals.
A Backwards approach. It’s easy to always be thinking forwards, but Gavin suggests that entrepreneurs take time to “think backwards”. Often companies will try and create a solution and try to prove it works without knowing if and how it will work in a real-life situation. Thinking backwards helps you focus. It reduces the chances of failure and you get your solution ready sooner. It helps keep the end goal in mind. Gavin emphasises how the opportunity you exploit won’t always be the original plan; an idea must evolve, be critiqued, be re-thought and improved before the right end goal is reached.
To conclude, Farm491 offers an AgriTech ecosystem that facilitates creation and collaboration amongst like-minded people. Gavin and Sharon met because they are both Farm491 members and have now been working together for almost a year. They say that Farm491 “stands out from other initiatives”.