Student scoops £2,500 investment for hydroponic farming start-up business

This year’s winner of the Royal Agricultural University’s (RAU) longstanding enterprise competition, first year student Luke Esson hopes to take his business idea, where crops are grown ‘off-land’, to the next level.

The RAU’s Grand Idea competition is now in its 13th year, but for the first time in its history, the Dragon’s Den-style event was held ‘virtually’, (on 1 May) with the students pitching their business ideas to a panel of expert judges over Zoom in a bid to secure £2,500 of investment. 

Joining the event online, the panel of judges included: Sam Pullin (RAU Enterprise alumnus and Co-Founder Beaufort & Blake); Jamie Murray Wells OBE (Head of Retail - Google); Christine Cross (RAU Honorary Fellow and Retail Consultant); and the University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Joanna Price.

Luke, 21, who is in his first year studying agriculture at the RAU, won the top prize with his exciting new start-up business venture Veg-Tech, which is exploring the practicality of commercial farming using hydroponics.  In hydroponics systems plants are grown without soil and Luke’s unique system uses 100% renewable energy.

Commenting on Luke’s win, Chair of the judging panel Christine Cross, said: “The winning entry Veg-Tech epitomises the very best of the RAU Enterprise culture. Agri-tech innovation with a tangible and profitable growth plan, a quantifiable environmental impact, and a young man whose enthusiasm and knowledge the judging panel just wanted to bottle!

“The Grand Idea gives budding student entrepreneurs the chance to demonstrate their technical and creative skills plus business acumen real time! This year all four finalists have businesses which are very much up and running, despite coronavirus, and impressed the judging panel with their enterprise, enthusiasm and social purpose.”

The Grand Idea competition is part of the RAU’s award-winning Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programme, which provides a supportive environment for students to develop and launch their ideas.   

Commenting on his experience, Luke said: “Taking part in the RAU’s Grand Idea competition has been an incredibly exciting and beneficial process which has led to the development of my business idea and processes. Having won will allow me to take my business Veg-Tech to the next level, developing a more sustainable and profitable agricultural enterprise.”

The runners-up of the competition were student-duo Liz Boher and Fergus Tribe with their business BE Country, a specialist country gifts business based in Somerset. Liz is studying Business and Fergus is studying Rural Land Management; they have won £500 to invest in their business.

In 2019 the RAU became only the sixth university, and the first specialist university, to be made a Centre of Excellence by the Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs (IOEE). Accreditation is awarded for leading-edge enterprise practice and for making the development of students’ entrepreneurial skills a priority.

The University was also named Enterprising Learning Provider of the Year at the Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative and IOEE awards in October last year.

The Grand Idea 2020 is sponsored by law firm Harrison Clark Rickerbys and insurance and financial services company Lycetts.