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.
We need your support! If you or anyone you know would be interested in supporting The BioFactory, either through investment or contacts that you think would be helpful to us, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
#7 August 2019
Hello everyone! I’m sorry for the silence on my blog, thinks are really kicking off for us, as any of you following me on LinkedIn will probably know already (Hint hint!). Just looking back, it seems as though my most recent post was from APRIL! Oops!
Well, where do I begin? Let’s finish up a couple of the cliff hangers I left you on in my most recent post – the Launch: Great West Awards… What a great night it was, I met a lot of very inspirational companies and the people behind them. Unfortunately, we remained a runner up in both categories that we were involved in. I was very proud to get to where I did in that competition, especially as the winners where fairly established in the start-up scene, running for 4+ years and with a fair few employees.
I was also very surprised to find out that we were in the top five of 60 companies that entered into the Global Good award. Maybe next year I’ll come away with a shiny trophy though!
Next on my long list of updates, the SETsquared Graduate Accelerator Showcase. What a day! It was great to see such an enthusiastic group of graduate entrepreneurs, collect together to show off the strength of the SETsquared graduate accelerator program. I want to say a massive thanks to the team for organising the event and the resources that were available in the lead up to the day. All that pitching practice really payed off!
Number 3: A biggy! I hinted at the Santander Entrepreneur Award in my previous post, and at that stage I had just been accepted onto the program. This meant that I passed the University of Bath’s pre-selection process and was passed on to the Santander team for the first round of selection. Santander were kind enough to bring the 152 company cohort that made this stage, up to Edgebaston Hotel in Birmingham for a day of start-up preparation where we had seminars by The Scale Partnership (who are great – definitely recommend you check them out) and several other useful companies.
This was a great opportunity to meet the other applicants and learn all about their companies. Then came Round 2 – a culling of the 152 down to just 60 semi-finalists. I was lucky to make the cut, and had the chance to pitch and convince a panel of judges of how amazing The BioFactory is!
The semi’s where last month and what a nerve-racking experience that was. The 60 were split into three semi-finals of 20 companies, and of this only four would make it through to the final.
Sitting there, listening to the other semi-finalists, I knew that my pitch was going to have to be a strong one to have any chance of getting through…I nailed it!
Next up is the finals in October and I’m feeling naively confident. I’m sitting here writing this blog on the way back from Santander’s London accelerator week for the finalists and have spent the week getting to know my peers. I have to say they are such a great group of people and I have made some long term friends. I wish them the best of luck for the next few months until we meet again as opponents in the London finals.
I promise I’m almost done, you might want to stick around for this next bit though.
A couple of weeks ago I was very proud to be representing British start-ups, when I was invited by Innovate UK and DFID to join them on the Energy Catalyst Mission to Kenya. That’s right, I was on a UK Trade Mission! I feel so under-qualified! It was a great five days in the country where we met a number of large players in the energy sector to learn about the needs on the continent, including the national grid suppliers, the governments ministry of energy, the UN, and many other private and public sector companies making waves in the region.
This was a huge opportunity to network and learn about the energy market needs, and how our solutions fit into this landscape. Through these meetings I have seen that there is a real need for sustainable and alternative cooking fuel sources. One thing I found extremely useful, and commonly under-rated, was the conversations I had with the rest of the cohort of companies. I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to tech, always pushing to learn everything I can, and a week of delving into cutting edge technology was a real fix! I’m not going to lie, I get a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that Innovate UK believe I’m onto something with The BioFactory. (About time hey? 😉)
I am now in the process of planning a mid-stage project application for the Energy Catalyst Round 7 with my partners UWE and Practical Action. I’ve got a clear plan for the next 18 months, including a funding round (to match with the Innovate UK grant), growing the team to four full time employees, developing several fully working prototype systems and validating the business model.
There is so much more for me to tell you all, but I feel like that’s enough for now. A good story teller always keeps them waiting, right? ‘Til next time.