Creating teams. Shaping futures.

Meet ADLIB & enable’s new MDs!

First up ADLIB. Our very own Steve Kay has been promoted to MD of ADLIB 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

12 months ago, we set out to achieve a lot in preparation for this move. The result of which has seen us deliver our best ever financial year, the development of the ADLIB x enable group proposition, organically growing a group headcount of 55 talented and lovely people, all which comes without any need to scale and sell and best of all we’ve built an infinite business model that opens career opportunities without ceilings and a stakeholder profit model for all to enjoy.

Steve’s been with ADLIB for 9 years and instrumental to our growth and success from the day he joined. Alongside Steve is an incredible management team that have stepped up to support him in realising our future ambitions.

Next up is enable. It’s taken time to pull together the perfect leadership team that balances energy, opportunity and structure, but we now have it, and it’s been well worth the wait.

Tim Macmillan, enable’s Founder, brings his unstoppable energy and the ability to create opportunity, Oliver Howson has been promoted to be our new MD. Ollie flips seamlessly between the vision and driving the team’s success, whilst Shannon Matthews re-joins the business to bring the structure that underpins everything. enable is bursting with energy and opportunity, the team is growing fast, B Corp is underway, we’re excited for how the next 12 months will unfold.

As for Nick, he’s here to help our new MDs and leaders, to be the best the business has ever had (his words).

Viva ADLIB & enable ✊🏻✊🏻✊🏻

P | P | P – Our chat with Geotree

We caught up with Jon Pierre, CEO of Geotree as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’. Geotree are an environmental monitoring company, using cutting-edge space monitoring technology to revolutionise the way that nature-based carbon projects are monitored. A spin-out of Mantle Labs, Geotree are able to unlock climate finance at-scale whilst ensuring natural ecosystems are restored internationally through various conservation projects.

The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with grand potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.

Imogen @ ADLIB: Hi Jon, nice to meet you. Please could you introduce yourself, what Geotree do, the stage you are at currently, and what makes Geotree’ s offering unique?

Jon:  I am Jon Pierre, and I am the CEO of Geotree. Geotree uses remote sensing and other digital technology to provide monitoring reports and verification tools for nature-based carbon projects. This really spans everything from forestry to agroforestry to agriculture and getting into blue carbon as well. We do this at a global scale to facilitate companies getting to net-zero but also supports project developers that want to provide nature-based solutions for the voluntary carbon market.

In terms of the stage, we are a pre-Series A company, so we have a growing team and are a spin-out of Mantle Labs, which is itself a successful remote sensing company. We are seeded by Hartree Partners who are a large commodities merchant and are themselves quite active in the voluntary carbon market. We think we are uniquely placed to scale very quickly and to provide that monitoring layer to the voluntary carbon market.

Imogen @ ADLIB: That’s great! Could you share a little bit of the origin story of Geotree and how you ended up spinning out of Mantle Labs?

Jon:  Everyone is aware that we need to scale climate solutions and the carbon finance market looks like a great facilitator for that. To do this, we need to have a lot more confidence in the solutions when it comes to natural capital, whether it’s forestry, agriculture, or the like. We need to add that monitoring layer that is scalable and not cost prohibitive for developers. This is why remote sensing has been identified as one of the leading candidates to provide that kind of solution at a global scale.

Geotree was really the coming together of Hartree, who are leaders in the carbon market and Mantle Labs, who has great expertise when it comes to remote sensing. This includes leading academics, such as Dr Clement Atzberger who is Head of Research. Geotree represents a combination of both deep carbon finance and remote sensing expertise. The need for collaboration is a theme in the fight against climate change, with different stakeholders who typically would not be at the same table coming up with solutions.

We identified that a key pain point in scaling voluntary carbon markets– the monitoring the reporting and the verification side.

We saw that Mantle Labs clearly had the expertise to build and scale remote sensing solutions, so that is why we formed this new entity, focused on nature-based solutions, as Mantle Labs is focused on agriculture more specifically. Geotree has the technology and the network and is poised to provide much-needed remote sensing solutions attain product market fit and scale globally. We launched at COP-26 and have gained tremendous traction since.

Imogen @ ADLIB: I have some experience myself in GIS and the mapping of agricultural crops. For example, during my MSc we studied the flow rate of the Niger delta, the impact of different dams, and how this would affect rice paddy production downstream.

Jon:  That is very interesting. Geotree is able to tackle all of these nature-based solutions, which is really amazing. Even this morning, for example, I was talking with our team on rice projects as rice contributes up to 12% of global methane emissions. We know the practices that could reduce the emissions, so we can monitor remotely, connect that to carbon finance and then you have the triple impact of being able to provide a mitigating solution against rice methane, conserve water resources and also improving the livelihoods of farmers in many developing countries and boost food security. Hopefully, Geotree can lead to win-win-win situations by acting as that connector between the financial markets, the farmers and project developers on the ground.

Imogen @ ADLIB: Yes, the applications for remote sensing are so numerous, the potential for scale is insane! Speaking of people, could you share some challenges that you may have faced, are currently facing, or are anticipating around scaling and growing your team. Do you have any top tips for companies you think will experience similar issues?

Jon:  As a company looking to grow fairly quickly, we have recently faced challenges as we are a deep-tech company and are very R&D focused. Getting out there and finding the correct talent was a challenge at the beginning but fortunately, we are able to look globally. We have a global workforce. It is not only attracting talent that can pose a challenge but also the culture, how we attract on a global scale, and also working as a remote company. All these things we don’t have the answer to and are trying to work through. However, it is also exciting at the same time because we are able to tap into a truly global talent pool. Given the nature of our business, we are working on projects internationally, so it helps being able to tap into the local knowledge base in different countries such as Brazil and India. In areas such as data science, trying to attract people from top universities means you face tough competition, especially for more generalist skillsets. This is why we have good relationships with top universities in the UK and Austria. We are able to leverage those networks to bring in good talent which has helped us, as it is difficult for us to compete as a start-up with the big tech companies of the world. Hopefully, we can also continue to attract people with our cause; being an integral part of the fight against climate change is hopefully very appealing to generation Z.

Imogen @ ADLIB: Yes, it is not just about whether you are the right fit for them, it is also about whether they are the right fit for you.

Jon:  Yeah, definitely.

Imogen @ ADLIB: Moving to product, what has been your approach to understanding and implementing product market fit and sales cycles?

Jon:  This is a key thing, as we don’t want to be developing a tool that never sees the light of day, that no one wants and isn’t fit for purpose. Everything we do we have very close interactions with people we see as our potential users. We are very fortunate as one of our investors is very active in our client side so that helps us condense our development cycle to iterate quickly, improve our product, and make sure we have product market fit. As our potential customer base is fairly concentrated, hopefully once we have really established our product market fit, we can scale rapidly. We are R&D focused and also laser-focused on customer needs, including identifying where the pay points are; this influences every decision we make and every product we want to develop. You have to really balance R&D and product market fit, as unfortunately it is not necessarily the company with the best product that wins.

Imogen @ ADLIB: For potential, could you share some challenges or barriers you have faced when developing your product and having an international team?

Jon:  With regards to having an international team, we experience the typical issues such as language, and different time zones. We can also have a mismatch in terms of customer and employee locations leading to difficulty in arranging meetings etc. To be honest, with the technology that is available, there are so many tools that enable us to be international. It is a great time to be a remote-orientated start-up and tap into the global talent and customer pool, because equally we don’t have to be focused on one country. The potential when working internationally far counteracts any friction or barriers we face, especially as a tech company focused on a software proposition instead of a physical product.

Imogen @ ADLIB: Regarding investment, do you have any advice around seeking investment and when to avoid investment?

Jon:  Whether or not to seek investment is really dependant on the nature of the business, the needs, the timescale, the product, the size of the team etc. From our experience, it is always good to focus on investors who can add something to the business, such as their network of contacts, as a customer or expertise. Having a strategic investor who offers far more than just capital could be very important for early-stage businesses. This is something we like to leverage when we go to the market. As we are working in a space that attracts the interest of a lot of investors, we are lucky that we can choose how we want to focus our investor pitches.

Thank you for your time, Jon!

Product | People | Potential – our chat with FA-Bio

We caught up with Angela de Manzanos, CEO and a Co-Founder of FA-Bio as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’.  FA-Bio is an exciting Agri-tech company on a mission to increase crop productivity in a sustainable way, minimising agricultural environmental impacts. FA Bio are able to do this by utilising microorganisms for the development of bio-products, such as bio-fungicides, and bio-fertilisers. This ultimately increases both crop yield and restores soil health, providing both short- and long-term agricultural benefits.

The purpose of the article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with grand potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real talk while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.

Imogen @ ADLIB: Hi Angela, it is really nice to meet you! Please could you introduce yourself, and the stage FA-Bio is at currently?

Angela: Hi, I am Angela de Manzanos, and I am CEO and co-founder of FA-Bio, previously known as FungiAlert. Currently, we are growing and preparing the company for a Series A raise later this year. Our business is formed by 11 team members at present.

Imogen @ ADLIB: Please could you provide some background on what makes FA-Bio unique?

Angela: We have a patented technology called SporSenZ. The SporSenZ has a gel that coats the inner surface. Some of the components of this gel mimic root compounds so when the SporSenZ is inserted into the soil, it attracts microbes that are generally attracted to roots. The SporSenZ captures, or ‘baits’, the microbes that are active in the soil. The SporSenZ is left in the soil for 2-weeks and then is sent back to our lab. In our lab, we identify the species that were present in the soil, and we also collect a sample of these microbes. What we are doing with our patented technology is we are collecting microbes from crops and then we analyse these microbes and discover microbial active ingredients that can replace chemical inputs, such as fertilisers.

Imogen @ ADLIB: What a great technology! Also, the benefits for soil restoration and future food security are huge as it will stop the leaching of microbes from the soil and reduce the blanket use of chemical inputs. Please could you share a little bit of the origin story behind FA-Bio?

Angela: Sure! FA-Bio was born as FungiAlert. FungiAlert was started by me and the other co-founder (Dr Kerry O’Donnelly Weaver, COO and Co-Founder) when we were doing our PhDs at Imperial College London, in Crop Protection and Sustainability, at the Institute of Chemical Biology. With FungiAlert, our original idea was to develop tools that would be able to alert farmers about the presence of fungal pathogens in soils before growers started sowing. We also thought it could guide the application of fungicides with the aim of reducing the chances of appearance of pathogens that were resistant to fungicides. With FungiAlert we won three competitions, including a patent application. Investors decided to invest in our idea once we had finished our PhDs and that allowed us to spin-out the company from Imperial College London. We moved to Rothamsted Research Centre where we have been based since 2016.

Imogen @ ADLIB: I imagine the resources at Rothamsted Research Centre are phenomenal!

Angela: As a start-up, being at Rothamsted has allowed us to recruit great scientists into our team. Most of the members of our scientific team are somehow related to Rothamsted Research Centre. In terms of scientists and labs, it has been good, but we have also had access to glasshouses, fields, and equipment, and it has helped us to collaborate with researchers.

Imogen @ ADLIB: In terms of trialling your technology, have you focused on UK soils, or have you looked further afield?

Angela: Our original business idea for FungiAlert was to do soil microbial analysis that was facilitated by our SporSenZ technology. We started commercialising this soil microbial analysis in 2019. Since then, we have deployed over 2600 SporSenZ all over the world, especially in Europe, Latin America, the US, and Africa.

Imogen @ ADLIB: That leads us to our next questions, which is regarding people, can you share some challenges that you have faced, are currently facing, or are anticipating around scaling and growing your team?

Angela: Sure; in terms of scientific team members, being based at Rothamsted Research Centre has helped us find the right people. We have faced more challenges around sales and commercial, business development, or data as well. In terms of looking for commercial people, we have used different methods such as advertisements, for instance, advertising in agricultural magazines, but this led to a pool of candidates who were maybe not aligned with the culture of the company. We are two young females who started the business, and most of the candidates were senior men. It has been a bit of a challenge to find cultural fits, but now through our network, we are getting more referrals for candidates that have a good commercial and sales track record. I guess that is a big challenge for start-ups, with commercial hires being very expensive, also people need to be aligned with the culture of the company and share the values.

We will be looking to start a data team shortly, but this is a big challenge as people in the UK are very pricey. Hopefully, post-fundraising we will be able to afford them! You do need to have very specific skills for our needs in terms of data science, so finding the right candidate with the skills we are looking for is going to be a challenge because normally you are paying for academic experience. I have heard from other companies too that hiring for data teams is a big challenge and always takes longer than you expect.

Imogen @ ADLIB: Moving to product, what has been your approach to understanding and implementing product-market fit or sales cycles?

Angela: That is a very good question. When we started our proposition, our solution was to develop tools that would alert about the presence of fungal pathogens in the soil. When we started working with growers in 2018, we realised with the feedback that growers were not only interested in learning which pathogens were present in the soil, but also which beneficial microbes would be present too. We listened to the market and adjusted our technology to be able to sample all kinds of microbes and started selling and commercialising our soil microbe analysis in 2019. Growers do not always have revenue that is proportional to the effort they put into growing their crops. This means that growers are very careful with their spending, and they need to see our product as an investment. From our soil microbial analysis and working with growers, we realised that the return on investment was not clear to them. Though some growers really liked the information we sent to them, the value was not always clear to them. A lot of crop growers were telling us how expensive crop protection products including microbial bio-fungicides, and the products were not working.  With the realisation that the discovery of microbes that would already be naturally present and working as a bio-fungicide was of interest to growers, we realised this was highly valuable to growers. From this, we sought to identify microbial products that would work for growers because growers are looking for sustainable replacements for chemicals, but it is hard for them because not everything works robustly. When we are discovering microbes, our microbes can be found active in the soil and so we tested the proposition that this would work as a natural bio fungicide. This was successful, and this tailored our business further. My advice would be to listen to your customers and pivot or adapt your technology to meet their needs, potentially a couple of times.

Imogen @ ADLIB: Could you discuss any partnerships you have made or are seeking?

Angela: In terms of partnerships, at this stage, we are seeking to discover ore microbes. Because of this, we are looking to partner with growers and volunteers where we give our SporSenZ analysis free of charge in exchange for them donating the microbes they collect from their fields to us. We partner with companies that carry out soil analysis and physical-chemical analysis. We also partner with companies that are doing field trials or academics who can help us with glasshouse trials. We are also seeking partnerships related to genomic mining and other bioinformatic analyses.

Companies that are customers of ours range from start-ups to large multi-billion revenue companies and specialise in biological crop inputs.

Imogen @ ADLIB: Talking of potential, could you share some challenges or barriers you have had to overcome when creating FA-Bio and the SporSenZ?

Angela: The challenge has always been really understanding how you can deliver value to the growers. You can have a very clear idea in your mind but when you test it, you might get feedback that shows your original idea was not great in terms of value.

Also, raising capital can be challenging, especially because agriculture is not like healthcare in terms of revenue so you can be competing against companies that investors might think can have a higher return on investment.

Arguably, I think being female funders seeking to raise capital has also been a challenge. We all know that female younger founders have a lower chance of success because they can be perceived as a riskier investment. However, I am prepared to prove this wrong!

Also, I think growing a commercial team, beyond a scientific team has also been a challenge. It isn’t an easy journey to grow a successful team as it is a trial-and-error process to try and get the best people working for you and fit the culture. Within start-ups, you need to be prepared to wear many different hats and this doesn’t always suit everyone, especially for people coming from large operations.

Imogen @ ADLIB: The final question is focused on investment. Investment can often be a challenge for start-ups and scale-ups; do you have any top tips for businesses looking to seek investment?

Angela: I am currently preparing to raise investment myself so this question might be better 3-months from now! However, I will say that from my experience from our last fundraising (seed round) it is important that you get investors that believe in you as founders and believe in your leadership and support your growth. Some investors can make you waste time with long due diligence processes, so it is very important from the beginning to understand their decision-making processes and interests to maximise the chances of getting the right investor that will support you.

Thank you for your time, Angela!