Young Innovators Success Stories: Lottie Hawkins, Earthly Biochar, South West
For Lottie Hawkins, Founder of Earthly Biochar, taking a product from early-stage development to market has been a massive learning curve.
Without the financial boost she gained when she won the Young Innovators Award 2020/21, from Innovate UK and The Prince’s Trust, her innovative ambitions to boost soil health while also removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, may never have gotten off the ground.
Lottie says, “Without the award we wouldn’t have been able to complete product development and launch our hero product: biochar kilns for gardeners.”
Instead, the grant – coupled with the business support package provided by Innovate UK KTN – has supported Lottie in achieving a series of major milestones over the past year.
Her innovative idea is to produce a charcoal-like substance known as biochar, which improves soil quality while also capturing and storing carbon dioxide, at scale. Initially, her business will target eco-conscious horticulturalists.
When Lottie secured the award, she was focused on developing her innovative product. Soon after joining the Young Innovators programme, she then found a crucial manufacturing partner that proved to be the missing link in bringing it to market.
By deploying some of her grant funding on PR and marketing support, she saw her inaugural product launch garner press attention, which resulted in strong initial sales.
Lottie is now starting to develop additional products and is using her recently-established industry network to start trials with other start-ups with a view to entering new markets.
Earthly Biochar now employs two paid interns and is currently hiring for three kickstart scheme roles. Lottie is also partnering with corporates on further grant funding applications and, supported by RHS, is delivering expert talks at their renowned flower shows.
“The goal now is to get most gardeners talking about biochar through brand collaborations and press coverage. We will also be looking to complete trials of our biochar products in hydroponic growing systems, leading to the development of our next novel product,” Lottie says.
“In addition, we are planning to hire a C-level team allowing me to focus more on innovation and R&D, and bring in people with expertise in management, sales and finance.”
While her business has gone from strength-to-strength, Lottie has also experienced huge personal growth with the most profound change being learning to be a leader.
“The Young Innovators programme has helped me realise the importance of planning and reflection, and the huge difference a good team can make,” she says.
At the heart of this shift, has been the weekly discussions held with her Innovation Champion from Innovate UK EDGE who has supported her throughout the Young Innovators programme, as well as specialist support provided by local agency Business West.
“We’ve been able to plan our IP strategy, start a patent application, figure out our funding options, understand exporting to new markets and how to manage supply chain issues. Without these conversations with experts, we would have found it much harder to navigate those challenges,” she says.
Lottie now advises other would-be innovators not to underestimate just how helpful it is to have a critical sounding board and support system around you.
She adds, “Hire people – whether that’s interns or freelancers. The skills they can bring to your business is worth way more than the cash. I think the name of the award backs this up – it’s about innovation and when you’ve cracked that people start to follow you and support your journey.”
The Young Innovators Awards are an annual competition from Innovate UK that finds, supports and celebrates young people with great business ideas.