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We caught up with Sean Peters, CEO of DryGro, as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’. DryGro is an agriculture technology company working to revolutionise the market for animal feed protein.
The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with great 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.
Sean: I am the CEO of DryGro, an agricultural technology company looking at new ways to produce the animal feed protein crop, Lemna. The problem that we are addressing is that over the past hundred years, soybeans has been one of the most produced crops in the world. The main driver of that growth has been the animal production industry – soybeans are the #1 animal feed protein ingredient across the globe. Over the next 30 years, soybeans are the crop expected to increase the most in land use – more than any other crop.
DryGro was founded at Oxford University with a focus on trying to solve this problem by industrially producing an alternative crop for use in animal feed. We began doing research on Lemna, commonly known as duckweed or “water lentil”, which under our technology can grow 8x faster and use 99% less water than soy production. DryGro has research facilities in the UK, a demonstration site in Kenya and are in collaboration with four Universities and the European Space Agency.
DryGro was born in 2015, and spent the first three years in R&D. In 2018 we launched our first demonstration site in Kenya – a small facility roughly 1 hectare in size. In 2019/2020 we raised our Series A of £3.8 million and are expanding our research facility in Kenya with 5 additional hectares to further demonstrate that we can grow Lemna on land that is not suitable for agriculture.
Sean: The challenges we have faced are common for start-ups. Often times, an internal HR function is not the focus when resources are scarce, but is important as you reach your first plateau post series A. As you grow, it is important to build up your onboarding processes, internal structures, and policy documents. These kinds of processes are not the first priority in the early days, but as you grow as a company it is critical to put these in place.
Another challenge we have faced involved transforming DryGro from a successful lab-based R&D project to a serious industrial-scale production company. It has been great to see the support from both industry and UK Government, who have identified this gap and are supporting companies making this kind of leap to scale.
Sean: Over the past three months we hired 5 additional people to our team. At the start of the year, we did not anticipate growing out the team so quickly, but due to COVID and being unable to fly to the research facility in Kenya, we were forced to build a larger, stronger team within our subsidiary there. Despite this not being our original aim for 2020, it has made us stronger as a team and company.
Sean: Our approach has been to speak to the industry. We are under a B2B model and our customers will be a small subset of the entire industry. My advice would be to start early so you can see whether there is a need and fit for your product in the market. I would advise speaking to both investors and buyers to get a good idea.
Sean: The best advice I can give is to give yourself enough time to raise capital, as it will always take longer than you think. Secondly, raise more money than you think you need, as there will always be things that come up, for example COVID, which no one could have predicted. Thirdly, I would say building relationships with investors early and always thinking ahead. For example, if an investor gives you a “no” because their ticket size is too large for what you are looking for, then they could be a fit for a future round.
Another piece of wisdom is that you should not hire people just for skill, as the cultural fit is so important, especially in a start-up, as you are working with those people day in day out.
Thank you so much for your time.