Innovating together: keys to success in UK-Canada AgriFood projects
This summer, Innovate UK and Protein Industries Canada announced that they are developing a partnership to advance innovation in the plant-based foods and ingredients sector.
Our AgriFood team hosted an initial collaboration-building webinar in June. In September, Innovate UK also took a delegation of UK businesses to Protein Industries Canada’s Conference and AGM. Protein Industries Canada will lead a reciprocal delegation of Canadian companies on a visit to the UK.
Future opportunities are in development as part of this partnership. To learn more about what makes for a successful international collaboration, we spoke with the UK lead of a previously funded UK-Canada AgriFood innovation project.
Monika Tomecka is Co-Founder and CEO of uFraction8. From 2019 to 2021, she collaborated with Canadian company SmallFood on their joint project ‘Application of a novel cell concentration device to a nutritional heterotrophic algae process’. Their work was funded by Innovate UK and the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program through the EUREKA framework.
What challenge were you addressing in your project?
Bio-manufacturing makes products using biological cells – for example, using microbes to produce bio-chemicals of interest or growing animal cells for human consumption. The bio-manufacturing industry faces big problems with the economical scale-up of their processes. uFraction8 developed technology to help bio-manufacturers to produce more product from the same infrastructure, with less energy and cost.
How did you find your international partners?
In 2019, uFraction8 travelled to Halifax, Nova Scotia to take part in The Creative Destruction Lab programme. This is a seed-stage programme for massively scalable, science-based companies, which employs an objectives-based mentoring process with the goal of maximising equity-value creation. During the programme, we met the CEO of SmallFood, a company that focuses on the production of food from microbes. It was a connection from the first meeting. They were producing biomass and were at the stage of setting up their industrial production. We had a technology that could help them produce more efficiently at the industrial scale. We discussed the potential collaboration. Soon after we found the EUREKA opportunity which enabled us to work together.
What were the benefits of collaborating with another organisation?
Working with end users and potential customers is crucial for any technology development. Working hand in hand, getting suggestions, and receiving instant feedback enables both faster and more efficient design adaptations, technology iterations, and process development along with many other benefits. The possibility of immediate testing shortens feedback loops and has a tremendous effect on the speed of development for both partners.
What were the benefits of working with partners in Canada?
This collaboration and the relationships that we’ve built along the way opened many Canadian doors to uFraction8 with an outlook for future market entry.
Having friendly faces who understand the local market and local business culture is an important step when it comes to interacting with a new market. SmallFood’s CEO acted as uFraction8’s Canadian project partner but more importantly, he was a real Canadian mentor for uFraction8’s management, sharing his knowledge about the local ecosystem.
Even after the project closure, project partners continued collaboration and kept exchanging knowledge about arising opportunities.
We are extremely thankful to Innovate UK for enabling this collaboration.
Upon reflection, what might you have done differently?
I cannot think of anything that we would do differently. We were blessed with an amazing project partner, a fantastic monitoring officer, and truly amazing people who were engaged in the project. We’ve managed to build a fit-for-purpose, scaled-up instrument with new features and improvements that really enhance the way the industry processes microbes. The only unfortunate thing that happened to us during the project delivery was COVID which unfortunately disrupted our final visit to Canada. However, I am looking forward to returning to Canada this autumn as part of the Innovate UK EDGE Global Business Innovation Programme – AgriFood delegation.
The collaboration between uFraction8 and SmallFood highlights the value of international collaborative research and development. It provides access to new, larger pools of potential collaborators with unique skills and resources, enhancing innovators’ ability to find the right partners.
If you are interested in opportunities to work with Canadian partners around alternative proteins, the Canada-UK: Plant-based Protein Innovation competition could be for you (closing 8th November 2023).
To keep up to date with additional upcoming events and funding opportunities around UK-Canada AgriFood collaborations, subscribe to our AgriFood newsletter here.
Canada-UK: Plant-based Protein Innovation
Opens: 18/09/2023 Closes: 01/11/2023
UK registered organisations, in collaboration with Canadian organisations, can apply for a share of up to £6.5m for plant-based protein projects.