I’m both happy and sad to say that I am retiring and – as the only member of staff left who’s been with BioVale since the beginning – I thought it was worth taking time to reflect how BioVale has changed and what it has achieved since we started in 2014.
One notable thing to change has been our focus areas. We are only a small team at BioVale and one of the keys to our effectiveness has been identifying those parts of the bioeconomy – not only where the region has a scientific edge but also – where things are changing rapidly and there is real receptiveness to innovation.
Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a really good example. Although a long established technology, the industry has to negotiate an ever changing landscape of subsidies and regulation, meaning it continually needs to find ways to become more productive and profitable and lower any impact on the environment. When we founded our regional AD special interest group five years ago we had ambitions to attract membership of around 20 – 30. Today, the group has 475 members and our AD events have attracted a total of over 600 participants. Its success is in no small part due to the efforts of its highly engaged steering group drawn from industry, local government and academia and I’d like to thank them for the valuable contribution they’ve made. We are now looking to repeat this success, by creating a second BioVale Special Interest group, focusing on the hemp industry (you’ll hear more from BioVale on that very soon!).
Another example is the cosmetics and personal care sector: which has a real appetite for novelty and innovation as well as substantial consumer push for sustainable and natural ingredients. Over the years, we have put on several events for this sector – the latest being a speed networking, which we held jointly with the UK Cosmetic Cluster (CCUK) earlier this year. As we discovered through Covid, networking is something that really doesn’t work properly online, so this event was enthusiastically received and we were able to bring together relevant technology providers, researchers and natural ingredient suppliers, cosmetics industry experts, suppliers, brands and manufacturers. We already know of several new working relationships along the supply chain as a result of this event.
One part of our work that I’m particularly proud of is our support for biobased entrepreneurs. We’ve found that these innovators face a set of specific challenges on the road to commercialisation, and they need specialist support – not instead of but as well as the generic support available from organisations such as the local enterprise partnerships. Since 2017, we have offered a range of activities: from week-long, intensive biocamps, trade missions to biobased events, pitch fests (don’t miss our next pitch fest in June), mentor match ups, investor introductions and peer-to-peer networking. BioVale is the only UK organisation offering this level of specialist support for biobased entrepreneurs and we recently won the title of Bioeconomy Venture Ambassador – one of only 20 across Europe.
Biobased discussion can sometimes take place within an academic or sustainability ‘bubble’. We have made an effort to break out into the mainstream by providing biobased content for ChemUK -the UK’s major chemical industry event. One of the most popular features of our input has been what we call ‘supply chain pitch fests’: where biobased companies can market their product or service to a roomful of potential clients. This year, we will be launching the new BioInnovations Zone: an opportunity for start-ups, spin-outs and innovation research to showcase to the UK’s chemicals sector.
I’ve loved working at BioVale and being part of the effort to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to biobased. As I pursue my next chapter in the bioeoconomy – (hopefully gardening and beekeeping!) – I’m really pleased that I can hand over the reins to my hugely capable colleague Alice North and I look forward to hearing about the further adventures of BioVale!
BioVale Cluster Manager