Building an £80M Bio-Oil Company from Just £300

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Our Vice Chair David A Kerfoot MBE DL spoke yesterday at the Launch of the National Food Innovation Network (FIN) at the FERA Agri-Food Innovation Campus, Sand Hutton. Having worked for four years to extract oils from cucumber and celery seeds, he says it would have been a lot easier if the innovative network existed during the early days of his now £80M turnover bio-oil business.

‘’What a great pleasure it was for me to have the opportunity to say a few words about the Launch of FIN. I myself started thirty years ago in a back bedroom in a small North Yorkshire village, with three hundred quid, mucking about with vegetable oils. Thirty years later we’ve got a business that turns over £80m, two manufacturing sites in Goole and offices across the world.

During that time the region hasn’t done too badly for us. I do think though, that from the little bit of experience I have, I am in a good position to talk about the importance of this Launch.

Believe you me, I am a very lucky guy to have been asked to become Deputy Chairman of this LEP. Of the 39 LEPs that Cameron’s government have created, we are by far the largest land area. We stretch from Bentham, beyond Skipton, in the west, right across to our wonderful heritage coast in the east, with the likes of Scarborough, Bridlington, Whitby and Filey. We go virtually up the Tees Valley, beyond Stokesley and we come right down beyond Selby in the south, towards the Humber.

This area has always had incredibly strong links in agri-food and is top of the government’s league table for investment in this sector. I’ve been incredibly lucky this past six years on the LEP board, having been able to visit many of the fantastic businesses that we have – particularly in the SME sector. One of which during the event told their tale about how to produce a decent ale, and believe you me, if you get the chance to taste it, it’s cracking!

So what is our actual focus to achieve and the end that we want to create? Government doesn’t always understand variety, and with all due respect to my friends at DEFRA today, I do want to say that sometimes we are treated like second class citizens. City regions are at the forefront, but we have to change that and fight even harder to get to that forefront, this requires us to be distinctive.

So, how do we actually achieve that dream? One of our biggest distinctive strengths in our region is our assets in agri-food, bioscience and biorenewables. We need to capitalize on this now and we need to better connect with business and with transferring knowledge more effectively.

You know, when I started out in business thirty years ago, there wasn’t a lot of help as a small business with making connections. For over twenty years I had never realized that the FERA campus ever actually existed, yet I had two manufacturing plants just twenty miles or so away in Goole!

During my first couple of months of joining the LEP board, I was invited to FERA and it was like a little boy going to his first football match – to watch a great team like Sheffield Wednesday- or alternatively, going into a sweetshop. I stood there in complete awe and thought wow – look at the kit, look at the scientists, look at the knowledge, look at the projects, and I hadn’t know anything about it! That’s really what it’s all about for us, isn’t it – about getting this connectivity really going.

So, it’s absolutely essential that business are connected in the right ways in order to get the outcomes that we all desire and wish for. We want to become a global – and I repeat global – leader in food manufacturing, agri-tech and renewables. That is our plan as a LEP and it is one of our top two priorities.

Over Ten percent of our economy comes from this sector, which is a higher proportion than any other LEP area, we also have double the average number of people working in it – nearly three thousand people. What a tremendous strength that is to have on your doorstep. I believe that York is the Cambridge of the North of England. It has a hub of innovation, research and technology unsurpassed. Biovale is the heart of our ambition, linking different organizations together; FERA Science, Stockbridge Technology and the Biorenewables Development Centre, to name just a few. We will continue to support them in all their work to the best of our ability.

There are four projects now that I would briefly like to mention to you: Firstly, the National Agri-Food Innovation Campus, which we as a LEP have invested £2.7m of funding towards. Secondly, we helped with successive bids in achieving not one, but two National Agri-Food Centers of Excellence, one in crop health, the other in livestock innovation. There are only three in the UK so that is quite something.

Thirdly, the LEP bid for Yorkshire’s first ever Food Enterprise Zone in the wonderful market town of Malton. Malton is a food paradise, it really has come on in the last few years. What better a place to have a Food Enterprise Zone than somewhere that is developing a real foodie haven. We hope to create over 500 jobs there in a really good, strong, innovative and connected hub.

We also launched our own, very special £10m Bioeconomy Growth Fund, which has had a great number of expressions of interest to date. This is incredibly exciting. I’m going to get even more excited when we start to sift through them and see what we really have got, because this I think will certainly help from the point of companies that are looking for capital projects to innovate.

So what will this all really mean? We’re the only LEP nationally investing in FIN. We’re learning how to do so, but we believe it will create some unique opportunities from the region and on a national basis, that is our hope.

We also have our very own Agri-Food Network. It’s an umbrella organization that has brought together fifteen food and agri-food networks under one banner. I think it’s an absolutely fantastic job that they have done.

I certainly hope that FIN will work with them and will finally network, acting as a broker between businesses, universities and other bodies. Because the exchange of information and technology is to help us drive this innovation forward. It is imperative that this happens, if UK PLC is to continue from strength to strength.

Finally, I’m a great believer in passion. Passion to me is absolutely essential for anything to really work; whether you’re a new business or an established entrepreneur, an agri-network, or even a government owned organization. To be successful you have to believe, and you have to have the passion to make it work.

I hope we can all come together and share our passion to make this innovative network a great success.