Hutton researcher success in Converge Challenge 2018
Hutton scientist Peter Orrell and his product MycoNourish have been announced as runners-up in the 2018 Converge Challenge, Scotland's leading higher education company creation programme, at a ceremony held yesterday in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms.
MycoNourish harnesses the power of beneficial microbes to improve crop production. Not only it increases yields but also improves the margins for farmers and crop producers who, in the current climate, are seeing their margins shrinking.
Dr Orrell's is the first spin-out form the James Hutton Institute to secure a Converge Challenge prize, and back in May Dr Orrell won the ‘Ready Steady Pitch’ Converge Challenge award, which saw entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of experts and industry professionals in just sixty seconds.
Professor Colin Campbell, Chief Executive of the James Hutton Institute, said: "Congratulations to all the finalists of the Converge Challenge 2018. We are particularly delighted and proud of Peter taking up runner-up prize. It was a very well deserved result and a fantastic night was had by all."
Dr Olga Kozlova, Director of Converge Challenge, said: “Congratulations to all this year’s winners and finalists. It is impressive how much they have progressed in just a few short months and we are looking forward to supporting them during the coming year and seeing their businesses thrive."
Dr Orrell's research focuses on studying how different mycorrhizal communities change the behaviour of visiting pollinators, including how often they visit, how long they spend on a flower, and how they behave when pollinating a flower. Influences on the fruit yield of the strawberry plants presented the potential for the development of a commercial product.
The commercial angle gave Dr Orrell the opportunity to approach The Genomia Fund, which funded a year of research and development, and following that, he began an Enterprise Fellowship with the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), funded by Scottish Enterprise.
Working through the RSE Fellowship is giving Dr Orrell the commercial awareness and the knowledge needed to start a spin-off business with MycoNourish. Funding from Genomia allowed him to spend a year on research and development for a commercial inocula product, which when added to substrate will not only improve crop yields, but unlike similar products, will be tailored to suit specific crops.
Dr Orrell commented: “Different crops have different needs, so one size fits all is not an ideal solution. I am focusing on strawberries for the time being, and then plan to move into to other crops. I am speaking with growers, propagators, and co-ops in the UK about how this can help them and in the future, I do see a product that has global appeal for multiple crops.”
Dr Orrell's MycoNourish business spin-out will be based initially at the James Hutton Institute with the expectation of growing into larger premises in due course, “I’m in the process of building a team at the moment, which will be a key resource in commercialising the product. This is the perfect follow on from his PhD, as it takes fundamental research and translates it to a solid, commercially viable product.
"There is a lot more research I’d like to do in the future, but my focus will be to get the business established. I have always been interested in the practical application of science, but I never imagined I would be doing something like this, which has impacts ranging from improved food security, boosting the local economy, and reducing reliance on imports,” Dr Orrell added.
For more details on the Converge Challenge 2018 results, read their press release.
For more information about the James Hutton Institute and its research, visit www.hutton.ac.uk.