Bristol University spin-out Glaia has developed carbon-based ‘sugar dots’ that can dramatically improve the efficiency of photosynthesis – the fundamental process that underpins life on earth. It raised £1m in equity investment following investment readiness support from Innovate UK EDGE.
Glaia’s breakthrough technology could have game-changing implications for global food security and our fight against climate change.
In a recent BBC series, 39 Ways to Save the Planet, The Royal Geographical Society projected that if scaled across the world, this technology could increase crop yield by 20% and mitigate 8% of global carbon emissions.
“You might think that billions of years of evolution had fine-tuned photosynthesis to the max – but in fact, usually less than 1% of the sun’s rays absorbed by plants are turned into biomass,” says Dr Imke Sittel, Co-Founder, Glaia.
Inefficiencies in photosynthesis arise from plants adapting slowly to varying levels of sun exposure. At high-intensity light levels, such as in the midday, plants are in danger of absorbing more solar energy than they are able to process and they respond by releasing molecules to neutralise any potential damage that excited chlorophyll – the pigment that converts light energy into chemical energy – may cause.
“These protective molecules tend to remain active for longer than necessary, hindering the plant’s growth,” says Dr David Benito, Co-Founder, Glaia. “Our carbon-based sugar dots provoke a set of useful reactions in the plant’s chemistry, helping it to recover more quickly and restart productive photosynthesis much sooner.”
In UK pilot projects, Glaia’s technology has increased strawberry and tomato yields by 40% and 10% respectively. The company will next look to deploy its products in staple crops e.g. wheat, maize, and rice.
“Higher yields enable farmers to increase production while reducing reliance on environmentally harmful fertilisers and hydrocarbon energy,” says David.
In September 2020, Glaia won a £210,000 Innovate UK grant and began work with Innovate UK EDGE Innovation and Growth Specialist, Jennifer Barnard, who developed a detailed growth plan with the company, focusing primarily on attracting equity investment. Supported by Jennifer Glaia went on to join Pitchfest, as Innovate UK EDGE’s intensive investment readiness scheme was called until 2021.
“Coming from a scientific background, my co-founder and I tend to focus on data and numbers when explaining the effectiveness of our product. But people can easily get lost in numbers.”
“Pitchfest brought a whole new fresh perspective. It really helped us to focus on building a narrative that can demonstrate our potential and appeal to investors without particular specialisms in our field.”
Jennifer next introduced Innovate UK EDGE Innovation and Growth Specialist Jeremy Davies, who helped Glaia develop a watertight business strategy.
“Once investors are interested in your technology, the next step is a much more rigorous examination of your business, market, competition, data and much more.”
“Jeremy helped us to identify the information needed and demonstrated how to present it properly. It really helped us to build a credible business plan that investors could get behind.”
From plant growth to business growth
In February 2022, Glaia secured £1 million in investments led by the Green Angel Syndicate, the UK’s largest network of specialist investors fighting climate change. The company will use the funds to scale production and access European markets.
Summarising Glaia’s support journey, David says: “the Innovate UK grant gave us a financial head start and a big boost to our credibility when approaching investors. Pitchfest then helped us to position our technology as an unmissable opportunity and Jeremy helped us to convert initial interest into investment.”
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without that collective support.”
Innovate UK EDGE will continue to support as this Bristol-based business scales its ground-breaking technology, helping to meet pressing food security and climate change challenges.