Earthly Biochar, which captures carbon from waste wood and uses it to enhance plant growth, has revamped its investment and marketing strategies with mentoring and growth support from Innovate UK EDGE.
A Devon-based business founded by two 25-year-olds, it is helping farmers and gardeners to use less water and feed, and grow bigger, healthier plants using an organic soil supplement that also sequesters carbon.
The supplement is made from waste wood, and the production process has the additional benefit of capturing the carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere by the wood rotting or being incinerated.
Earthly Biochar collects waste wood and other biomass, and burns it at very high temperatures in pyrolysis kilns with little or no oxygen present. This process creates a black stable material known as biochar. The biochar captures 50% of the wood’s carbon within crystalline structures that do not biodegrade, meaning they will remain locked into the product for many thousands of years to come.
Earthly Biochar’s research indicates that, when added to soil, biochar increases plant health and growth by 10-200% and reduces the need for water and fertiliser by 15-40%, depending on existing soil quality.
Young Innovators Award
In 2020, Earthly Biochar applied for Innovate UK’s Young Innovators Award, winning one of 64 national prizes. The company is now receiving a tailored package of financial support as well as twelve months of mentoring and advice from Innovate UK EDGE specialists.
“Applying for the Young Innovators Award was the best thing we’ve done so far – the support has been fantastic,” says Lottie Hawkins, Co-Founder, Earthly Biochar.
Investment readiness support
In 2020, Earthly Biochar was approached by an angel investor offering seed investment, and Lottie began work with Innovate UK EDGE Access to Finance Specialist, Phil Tellwright.
“Phil was a fantastic sounding board throughout the courting process. When we had concerns, he could either put us at our ease or tell us to push back, and his mentorship proved critical.”
In spite of receiving an offer of £100,000 investment from the business angel, and with Phil’s guidance, Earthly Biochar decided to decline the offer and grow organically utilising the government’s Kickstart Scheme to hire other young people.
Innovate UK EDGE marketing specialist, Jane Warren, next stepped in to help develop a marketing strategy, messaging framework and campaign and channel strategy.
“Jane has a huge amount of marketing experience, and we now have a very comprehensive plan that we can hand over to our two new marketing interns, who will execute the strategy over the next 12 months.”
Mentoring and opportunity spotting
For Lottie, one of the most valuable aspects of the support has been the 1-2-1 mentorship from her innovation and growth specialist, Jennifer Barnard.
“Jennifer really keeps us on our toes with weekly check-ins, holding us to account on actions and making sure that opportunities don’t slip away. She’s also helped us to make some fantastic connections and build our network both regionally and nationally.”
With Jennifer’s support, Earthly Biochar has grown the B2B side of the business and begun large scale farming industry projects.
“Our ambition is to maximise carbon capture by turning a significant proportion of farming industry waste into biochar. We’d also like to see every gardener in the UK making biochar at home and putting it into their soil.”
“Unlike some of our competitors, carbon sequestration is paramount to everything we do and with Innovate UK EDGE’s support, I think we can become an important part of the climate change solution.”
Innovate UK EDGE will continue to offer close mentorship and guidance as these Young Innovators from Devon help tackle our climate, waste management and food production challenges.