Innovation Award Blog
2018 saw three winners of the Innovation Award at the Bath SETsquared Innovation Centre. We have asked the winners to write their own blog posts so that we can hear all about their entrepreneur journey as it develops. Read Eoin Sharkey’s blog about his winning business idea ‘The BioFactory Ltd’.
#1 November 2018
Over the last few months in summer I have been working on getting the design of The BioFactory to a point where I can build a working prototype, and developing some aspects of how the company will operate. As soon as I attended the 2-day Sustainable Tech Business Accelerator Hub (STBAH), I was told by so many people to stop designing and work on the business model – I already have the minimum sellable product I need, now I have to work on getting further funding in place to launch the business.
My experience at the STBAH was fantastic, being able to access a great wealth of knowledge from the presenters and panellists. We worked on defining why I do what I do and how to build a marketing strategy around this, the problem I am trying to solve with my company, what my solution is and who I was going to sell it to (i.e. my customer). This involved me taking a step back from the picture I had in my head and look down other possible avenues for business in order to find the one that would be easiest to target my marketing towards. At the end of the STBAH I pitched my company to a panel of judges, alongside 7 others with sustainable tech based businesses. We pitched our problem, solution and the opportunity (market) and then were given 1-on-1 feedback from each of the judges, where they critiqued our pitches, strategy and business. I won the best pitch from the day and was awarded a box of chocolates! During this 2-day event I made some very good contacts, who have had a lot of experience in the sustainable tech industry, and experience in the African markets.
Since the STBAH, I have registered my company with Companies House under the name ‘The BioFactory Ltd.’ I have also built a website which I have launched at the following url: www.the-biofactory.com. This website has a lot more information about what my company does and the problem that we are trying to solve. I plan on keeping this relevant and up-to-date with a blog page, where I will write and publish articles about the sanitation crisis, new sustainable technologies, the African tech boom and other topics I feel are relevant to my supporters.
I have also made use of the Innovation Centre space available to me through meetings with Pete Keevill (EIR) and Tim Chater (Mentor), who have been able to give me more advice about how to build the company image and story. With them I am developing my business plan and how to approach funding opportunities, as well as developing my quick-sell pitch to do when introducing my company to potential investors. In these meetings we have also set goals for the year, including gaining a contract for a further £50-100k investment for prototype development in Kenya, and provided the prototype meets a criteria of metrics, the funding of a further 20+ units for deployment.
#2 December 2018
Its been a busy first few months for me and The BioFactory. ! I have been a guest speaker for SETsquared’s First Tuesday, November edition and had a lot of interesting questions present from the audience. During the networking session following my presentation I was made to feel welcomed into the community, and even though I wasn’t pitching for investment, I had a few people say they would be interested in supporting the venture.
The First Tuesdays event was not the only event I have been able to practice my pitching skills in the last few months, with the University of Bath’s Management Society inviting me to present on my journey to where I am, my experience as a social entrepreneur and if I had any advice for those looking to start their own social enterprises.
Unfortunately, most of my time has been spent doing the less exciting items on my to-do list. One of these has been developing my pitch deck into a tool I can use to get a foot in the door of partners and potential investors. It’s getting there slowly and is of course, an ever-developing document, however I am close to the point where I would be comfortable presenting this to the many key stakeholders to my business. I have also spent a lot of time researching and developing a long list of these stakeholders to get in contact with in the next couple of months. Contacting as many of these as possible will allow me to keep to my May 2019 target for prototype funding to be in place, and for us to start development of a prototype in Kenya.
With the way the BioFactory is progressing, it is becoming an uphill battle to stay on top of my task-list and it is getting to the point where I need to find my team. As such I have been working on finding suitable candidates for positions in the company and have had lots of positive responses, with many wanting to join the team.
See you in 2019
#3 January 2019
It’s coming up to the half way point of the year and the business is taking off. I am at the point where we have a comprehensive business plan in place and are beginning to approach potential partners in the industry, and exploring funding avenues for our prototype phase. We’ve have developed a definitive plan for this phase including building the team, time-plans, budget requirements, and an analysis method for testing how well the system would perform. We have also confirmed several possible locations for the prototype phase to take place, including a build facility and multiple possible locations for implementation.
Through the EU ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) programme we are receiving technical assistance from the Health Tech Hub at University of the West of England (UWE) to develop sections of the system required for the prototype phase. This includes defining testing and sampling protocols, for us to implement and ensure that the outputs from our system are safe to handle, and an electronic monitoring system for the system to show how performance is effected by variables such as temperature. The Health Tech Hub is providing very valuable assistance to the development of the BioFactory, and allows me to focus on other areas of the business.
I have been meeting with several large players in the WASH industry, including developing a good relationship with Sanitation First, one of the top sanitation charities globally, who are also local to Somerset. Through this relationship we are collaborating to develop an approach for a USAID funded program developing sanitation solutions for communities in Ghana. This has the potential to run as our prototype phase, however it is still early days in the negotiations. Watch this space!
#4 February 2019
This last month has been fairly slow going unfortunately. I have mainly been trying to learn as much as I can about the market we’re planning on going into, so that I can develop a really detailed cashflow analysis for the business. Having an accurate cashflow in place is crucial for every business, and we will be using ours to demonstrate our business model to potential investors. Our previous P&L and Cashflow estimates weren’t fully developed, with lots of estimations (albeit on the conservative side), however our new analysis is looking more promising with a smaller investment requirement for our scale-up phase.
Other areas of the business include meeting with technical experts in the aid and sanitation industries, researching grants and other funding opportunities, and laying the groundwork for expanding the team, including interviewing several potential candidates for a technical position within the company.
#5 March 2019
This month marks the half year anniversary for The BioFactory, and we’re celebrating how far we’ve come. We’ve still got a long way to go, but it is looking bright!
Over the last month we’ve been working hard to find the right investors on board for our prototyping phase, and have several good ones in the pipeline. Everything is coming together for our prototype, with designs, teams and locations already confirmed, we’re just working on getting the funding together.
We’ve also been writing proposals for competitions such as the SETsquared Graduate Showcase, the 2020 Toilet Accelerator, and Santander Entrepreneur Awards. Although the competition will be hard, with a lot of other strong business proposals, the work we’ve been doing over the last 6 months means we’re in for a fighting chance! Watch this space!
#6 April 2019
This last month has been very exciting for me and The BioFactory. After many applications last month, I have been accepted onto the next rounds for both the SETsquared Graduate Accelerator and the Santander Entrepreneurship Awards! Getting to this stage has been great so far, and through the first rounds I have had lots of positive feedback for my pitches. This will help me finesse my pitch for the next rounds, and help me secure that all important investment I need for our development phase later this year. For the first round of the Santander Awards, I made a quick 2-minute video summarising what we’re trying to achieve at the BioFactory which you can watch below:
For the next month we’re focusing on getting everything in place to start accepting investment, such as getting pre-approval for SEIS tax relief for our investors, and doing due diligence on those already promising to put money into the BioFactory. I am also going to focus on the next phases of the competitions above, as they will dramatically increase the profile of the BioFactory. The SETsquared accelerator showcase in June will be putting me in front of a large network of investors, in which I’ll be pitching for £150k equity investment which will be used to grow the company and run the development phase of our system in Kenya later this year. This is a huge opportunity for the BioFactory and I’m really excited to be a part of it.