Sun, sea and sustainable technologies

PhD student Siobhan Gardiner comments on her recent visit to Monaco as a speaker at CleanEquity 2017″


For the last three years, Cranfield University has sponsored CleanEquity – a private conference, which features up to 30 of the world’s best in class next generation technology companies. This year, I was lucky enough to be selected to present my start-up, HEROTECH8, in the technology showcase. This presented a new challenge for me, with more experience in traditional academic conferences, as opposed to being presented with the opportunity to network with prominent financial and corporate investors, government officials, and international trade media.

These early stages of my start-up journey have been a rollercoaster; from the first ‘dragon’s den’-style pitch on campus at Cranfield back in July 2016, to being announced as an InnovateUK Women In Innovation Winner at the National Business Awards in November, and more recently the appointment as a ComonwealthFirst Export Champion by the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council.  It’s now at the stage now where seed-investment is needed in order to maintain R&D momentum, and as such I was so very excited to be going to Monaco. After a two-hour flight, arriving in Monaco felt like a world away from my laboratory, however, there was little time to explore, with networking to be done and presentations to be made.

What followed was a packed agenda of plenary sessions and B2B meetings, of which I was also invited to join a panel on food security (“Progress in the Food food-chain?”), chaired by George Coelho (Quadia). Joining me on the panel was Paul McMahon (author of Feeding Frenzy – a book I very much recommend), Detlef Schoen (DS Green Assets) and Dr David Dent (ex-director of CABI). Together we examined the next big innovations to be made in food chain systems, including policy reform on GM and tackling waste. I also was able to discuss the wider implications of sustainability and my PhD thesis (which I am writing at the moment), as well as applied projects in postharvest technology currently being carried out in my research group. The overarching conclusion was that tackling global food security continues to be a complex issue that needs to be addressed from multiple directions – from the development of new technologies in soil protection, pest control and crop development, to the policy that governs their access to farmers and their communities, and the influence and responsibility of brands and retailers on consumer habits.

Looking ahead, CleanEquity was an insight into the world of corporate financing and strategic technology investment. My lessons here include learning about the type of investment that would be best for my emerging business, and building on how best to communicate the value proposition of my technology to investors and future industrial stakeholders alike. With a busy agenda ahead for the startup, we’re excited about taking our next steps.