Farm safety idea wins investment in Dragon's Den-style competition

(L-R) Judges Charlie Beldam (Cotswold Gold), Christine Cross (independent consultant), Levi Roots (Reggae Reggae Sauce), Julian Dunkerton (Superdry), Prof Joanna Price (Vice-Chancellor RAU)
(L-R) Judges Charlie Beldam (Cotswold Gold), Christine Cross (independent consultant), Levi Roots (Reggae Reggae Sauce), Julian Dunkerton (Superdry), Prof Joanna Price (Vice-Chancellor RAU)

An idea to improve farm safety has won £2,500 worth of investment from a Dragon's Den-style competition for student entrepreneurs.

The Royal Agricultural University’s (RAU) 11th Grand Idea competition asked students to pitch their plans to expert judges to secure £2,500 of investment.

21-year-old Alex Dunn, a third year agriculture student, faced the impressive panel including Levi Roots, of Reggae Reggae Sauce; Julian Dunkerton, of Superdry; Christine Cross, former Group Business Development Director at Tesco; Charlie Beldam, a former student and creator of Cotswold Gold extra virgin rapeseed oil and the RAU’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Joanna Price.

She won the investment because her business idea aims to improve health and safety on farms at the same time as productivity.

Agriculture remains the most dangerous profession in the UK – yet many of the fatalities and serious injuries reported each year can be easily avoided.

Alex, from Reading, said: “The scariest part of pitching was before I went in. I was nervous sitting outside but inside it went quite smoothly. They asked about financing and my plans to take the business forward.

“What excites me most about the business is to be able to make a difference in the industry. It’s not only agriculture here – there are people studying business and equine and you can learn so much – food production, for example, is going to be so important in the future,” she said.

Grazing Management

Runner up Alex Crawley, 36, a former Ghurka who fought in Afghanistan changed career to farming through the RAU’s Graduate Diploma in Agriculture.

His Grazing Management business helps restore important rare grasslands which benefit from being grazed by hardy native cattle.

Alex said: “I think the idea resonated with the judges because it was about something bigger than just me or the business. The University offers great opportunities for service leavers – there are so many of us who enjoy working outdoors, being active and the camaraderie.”

Levi Roots, who is also part of the RAU’s Advisory Council, said: “The business ideas coming along in recent years are much more technology focussed, talking about Blockchain for example. Things have really moved on.

“If someone asked me what the difference was between Grand Idea and the pitch I did on BBC Dragons Den – this is not much different. I must have given one of the worst pitches ever – I wasn’t perfect and got some numbers wrong. What the Dragons saw was passion. These students are the same. It’s never just about the product, it’s about the person as well.”

Over 11 years Grand Idea has received over 100 business ideas, and enabled many entrepreneurial students to launch and grow a successful business, such as BiJimini, which creates high-protein flour mixed with crickets.

The RAU was nominated in this year’s Guardian University Awards in the Employability and Entrepreneurship category, thanks to its Enterprise Programme and support for students starting their own businesses.