Diversity and Inclusion in AgriTech innovation

Posted on: 05/12/2022

A great idea can come from anyone. Diversity in businesses is essential to fast-track innovation and this goes hand in hand with inclusion.

Greater representation from different backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, economic circumstances, gender, disabled people, black and other ethnic minorities in business innovation is a huge opportunity for positive economic and societal impact in the UK.

Diversity is a key driver of innovation and is a critical component of being successful on a global scale” – Forbes Insights

The Innovate UK Plan for action for UK business innovation highlights the importance of diversity and inclusion as a strong foundation for innovation. With this in mind, we hosted our first webinar around diversity and inclusion in AgriTech: Exploring Diversity and Inclusion in AgriTech, in September 2022.

We brought together an audience of diverse people to hear about innovations and funding opportunities in the AgriTech sector and talk about the value of having a diverse workforce. Our inspiring speakers demonstrated how interesting and innovative the AgriFood and AgriTech sectors are, encouraging people from all backgrounds to get involved.

This event was organised by the Innovate UK KTN AgriFood team and the Innovate UK Transforming Food Production (TFP) team.

Hearing from diverse people in the field

In the morning session, our four speakers were from highly innovative businesses who are active in the AgriTech arena:

  • Casey Woodward from AgriSound
  • Veena Adityan from Smartbell
  • Matthew Isaacs from My Emissions
  • Charlotte Hawkins from Earthly Biochar.

They spoke about their non-agricultural backgrounds and how they found themselves developing innovations for the agricultural sector that are really making a difference. It turns out that for Veenna going from designing software for Amazon to developing smart monitoring devices for cattle isn’t as big of a leap as you might imagine!

They told us what they love about the jobs they do, which was unanimously focused around providing a product or service that makes a difference to the AgriFood sector. They also shared some insights about what challenges and opportunities might be on the horizon for the agriculture and horticulture sectors. Veena and others felt that big data, ideally from integrated systems, will make a huge difference to many areas of our lives. With this in mind, upskilling and training the UK’s agriculture sector is a priority to make the most of this.

The group also shared valuable insights on the best routes to get into a new sector, including AgriTech:

  • Build and use your networks. You never know who might help you achieve your goal.
  • Find ways to overcome any barriers to your progression. Be brave to succeed.

 

Funding for innovative AgriFood projects

Myriam Pacho and Paul Laniran from the TFP team shared details of the Farming Innovation Programme and upcoming competitions, run by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra). Defra hopes that this funding could solve some of the challenges discussed in our previous session, including the development of tools to help farm sustainably, help with achieving the UK’s net zero goals and looking for solutions to make the UK more resilient to global challenges.

 

Why diversity matters in AgriTech

In the afternoon, a panel led by Tom Jenkins, Deputy Challenge Director of the TFP team talked about why diversity matters in the workplace.

The panellists were:

  • Harriet Scott from RAFT Solutions
  • Effie Warwick-John from B-hive
  • Kirk Siderman-Wolter from the Agri-Epi Centre
  • Nia Davis from Davlec
  • Emily Nott from Innovate UK’s Diversity and Inclusion team.

It is generally accepted that women are underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) university courses and occupations and this can be an indicator for future career choices.

Representation of gender split for STEM university courses. Source: https://www.stemwomen.com

Representation of gender split for STEM university courses (Source: https://www.stemwomen.com)

In the academic year 2017-18, statistics showed that there are still much fewer women enrolled in STEM university courses than men. This can be an indicator for future career choices as the students of today are the workforce of tomorrow.

But our speakers illustrated that a career in AgriTech doesn’t have to be a linear path and people from all backgrounds are getting involved.

Many of the panellists also felt that the AgriTech arena is gradually becoming more diverse, and this was often related to the interdisciplinary skill sets needed in a workforce to deliver innovative solutions.

Having a diverse workforce, especially management teams, increases the potential for companies to succeed, as illustrated by statistics from the McKinsey reports shared by Emily. The global data indicates that companies with greater gender diversity at the executive team level are 25% more likely to outperform their competitors, whilst increased ethnicity at this level increases the likelihood to 36%.

Innovate UK often provides support to micro and small businesses. They help these early stage companies to build greater diversity into their workforce from the start, to develop an inclusive culture and a successful company ethos. Emily mentioned that they are now seeing more investors who are particularly interested in supporting more diverse companies, because they understand that there is a greater chance of success for these companies and themselves.

It was felt that, in all areas, being valued irrespectively of who you are and what you look like was more likely to occur now than in the past. The panel also agreed that considering wider views is more important than ever.

 

What can we do to help?

Innovate UK offers regular funding competitions to support people in diverse groups with money, training, network building, boot camps and more. This includes competitions such as the Young Innovators and Women in Innovation competitions.

Our speakers Lottie, Matthew and Casey have all won funding and support via these competitions. Both competitions are closed for this year but they are likely to run again next year. Sign up to our AgriFood newsletter to keep up to date with funding opportunities.

Innovate UK KTN has experts working in over 20 sectors, including AgriFood, chemistry, materials, energy, digital and geospatial, as well as many others. We support innovators to maximise their chances for success when applying for funding and make connections to fast track their projects.

Explore the ways we could help you fast-track your innovation here. In the AgriFood team, we have experts in crops, livestock, aquaculture and food and drink. Get in touch with the AgriFood team here.

If you have a diverse background and would like to explore opportunities in the AgriFood sector, get in touch with Cathryn.

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Cathryn Lambourne

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Cathryn Lambourne

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