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Tech-entrepreneur, InnovateUK Women in Innovation winner and Cranfield University Agrifood PhD student Siobhan Gardiner shares an insight into her start-up journey, and looks forward to the road ahead

The IFST Spring conference 2017 marks the first anniversary of the moment I decided to formally pursue my start up. Over the last 12 months, I have launched my business, developed an expert R&D team, secured pre-seed funding, won my first InnovateUK competition and last month was appointed as CommonwealthFirst Export Champion by the Commonwealth Enterprise & Investment Council.

I am now in the final 7 months of my BBSRC-CASE studentship at Cranfield University, and with laboratory experiments almost completed, I’m settling down to write-up my thesis. Through the support and advice from my supervisors and colleagues, I am extremely grateful for the diverse experience my studentship has turned out to be, both in and out of the laboratory.

As a 2016-17 IFST Young Ambassador, the Spring Conference was my first major IFST event. Whilst eagerly tweeting throughout the morning sessions, I was retweeted by a member of the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN). At the time I knew very little KTN, but was aware of their involvement in start-up support and funding advice. From recognising the person from a very small Twitter profile photo, I found them during a networking session! The conversation we had there was the beginning of an ongoing relationship that has been critical to the development of my business – HEROTECH8.

We are a UK-based robotics company with the aim to bring drone technology to places and people that either would not have the resources, energy infrastructure or technical know-how to reliably, and safely operate existing drone systems. However, this is not by focusing on the vehicles or by developing novel sensor technology (although this is a very popular approach at the moment) instead we are one of the first movers in the UK to create automated drone infrastructure. As an Agrifood PhD student, it is extremely important to me that agricultural users have greater access to drone technology. As such, users of our drone stations will be able to automate constant field-inspection and crop-spraying operations, within a smart network of platforms that provide charging and maintenance, as well as removing the need for an expensive human operator.

The utility of our system extends beyond agriculture into other commercial sectors, and during these early stages of development, and two successful FCO funded innovation missions to China, we have been approached by organisations involved in offshore windfarms, large infrastructure inspection and ‘smart-city’ applications.

The connections we have made through networking opportunities like the Spring Conference have enabled us to reach a point we never thought possible in just 12 months. Looking ahead, we will continue to grow as a team, and learn from our mentors within the IFST network and beyond.

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