I was standing in a field with a broccoli farmer in 2019 discussing how he needed to automate his harvesting, “It’s the 21st century and we still have men with knives walking around and cutting the heads off broccoli!” he said. I asked him what he did with the rest of the plant, “nothing!” he answered.
This was the year of Gregg’s Vegan Sausage roll – the entrepreneur in me remembered the old adage, ‘where there’s muck there’s money.’
A weekend search on Google confirmed that many had looked to exploit the nutritionally rich crop “sidestream” i.e. the 80% of broccoli that currently goes unused, but that the cost of getting it off the field was prohibitive.
Tell me more about the business – what do you do in a nutshell, what do you hope to achieve, and how will you reach customers/end-users
upp has solved the broccoli harvest automation problem for the farmer, and in doing so for the first time has made available a valuable commodity of sustainable plant protein and ingredients.
We will work with farmers to solve their harvest automation challenge under a Harvesting as a Service business model. The farmer still gets fresh broccoli for market but also gains incremental revenue for the crop sidestream that we ‘uppcycle’ into proteins and ingredients.
We are already working with three major brands R&D teams and expect to supply via specialist ingredients businesses. With end-users increasingly more socially and environmentally conscious, we expect a positive reaction to a product which is four times less carbon intensive to produce than pea protein and avoids the ecological issues associated with soya farming.
How has the business evolved since its launch?
upp is a spin-out from agri-robotics business, Earth Rover. We won two Innovate UK grants to develop our prototype. We needed focussed investment to take it to the next level, so we secured seed funding from Elbow Beach Capital to support the next stage of our growth.
Tell us about the working culture at upp
Our small team of 7 1/2, consists of mechanical engineers, mechatronics specialists and our latest recruit – an innovation specialist from the food industry.
Unlike say a software business, we are obviously more cyclical; we are driven by the agricultural season, so just like farmers we have periods of intense activity, so building the right team has been crucial. We believe in ownership and self-starting, no one clock watches, and everyone digs in to get to the next milestone with some fun on the way. I think it’s crucial to work with people you not only respect, but who you enjoy spending your time with.
How are you funded? Are you seeking further funding?
upp has a mixture of grant funding and venture backing; we recently won a £1M grant funded project and more recently, we’ve received £500K in institutional pre-seed investment from early-stage impact investor, Elbow Beach Capital. We are expecting to raise a further £2M or so this year, led by Elbow Beach.