5 Minutes With… Dr Minshad A Ansari from Bionema
“It is necessary to develop and commercialise bio-based products not only to fill the gap in the market following the removal of toxic pesticides, but also to help the environment and human health.”
UK-headquartered Bionema is a leading biopesticide technology developer, specialising in chemical-free, organic crop protection. More and more companies across the globe are starting to switch from using synthetic pesticides to bio-based ones as consumers demand more natural products.
Research at Bionema is focused on the development of natural products to protect crops from pest and disease damage, reducing the use of synthetic pesticides, enhancing food security and increasing crop yields. Bionema supplies specialist bio-control products to the horticulture, turf and amenity and forestry sectors.
Liz Gyekye (LG): What’s the story behind your brand?
Dr Minshad A Ansari (MAA): I started Bionema to develop natural alternatives to chemical pesticides. We develop biopesticide technologies using natural microbes to protect crops from insect damage, reducing the use of synthetic pesticides, enhancing food security and increasing crop yields. I have developed my passion to reduce the use of toxic pesticides in the environment and in our food. It is necessary to develop and commercialise bio-based products not only to fill the gap in the market following the removal of toxic pesticides, but also to help the environment and human health. Bionema is a biopesticide technology developer which helps to contribute to global food security by developing and bringing new products to market.
LG: Before doing your current role, what did you use to do?
MAA: I was a passionate research scientist for 15 years and I have worked in India, Belgium and the UK developing environmentally-friendly pest and disease control solutions. However, as an academic, there are limited things one can do, see and think. Furthermore, the practical reality is far away from publishing research articles in international journals. Research and novel findings only help society when they have an impact or are commercialised for a good cause. Publishing in Nature of Science doesn’t solve society’s problems, but researching, developing and commercialising can have a big impact – that’s what is needed. Engagement between academia and industry is lacking globally, so we don’t have many products in the market, but we have tonnes of research articles online which don’t produce or solve the current problem such as lack of poor biopesticide formulations and products in the market.
I recently founded The Global Biopesticide Summit (TGBPS) which is part of the Wold Biopesticide Forum, as a platform to bridge the gap between academia and industry by encouraging academics to collaborate with industry for commercialisation and high impact. TGBPS has leverage on new biopesticide technologies and an extensive global network of investors, companies, institutions, corporate and advisers.
LG: What’s been the biggest challenge in growing the company?
MAA: I think business is not for everyone. To succeed in business, you not only need disruptive novel ideas, but people, finance, perfect timing and market opportunities.
When I left the academic world in 2012, I had nothing but a novel idea and a market opportunity, which was not enough to start a technology business. The biggest challenge was to develop and commercialise a new biopesticide product with no financial support and commercial experience. However, I was continuously working towards my goal despite serious financial setbacks. I must thank my lovely wife and family who always supported me, even when I had to work more than 112 hours per week. Today, Bionema is trading and registering novel products which will be in the market by 2022.
LG: What’s coming up next for your company?
MAA: Recent equity investment of £680,000 and more than £900,000 of grant funding have certainly sped up our technology development and product registration. Currently, we are trading in the UK and France, and we are making plans to expand into other EU countries and continue investing in development. Looking forward, we expect to register two new biopesticide products by 2022, generate significant sales revenue and create 25 jobs by 2025.
LG: What advice would you give to someone else looking to launch their own company/product in this space?
MAA: You need to think about your product at least 100 times before you proceed. If you truly believe in your novel idea or breaking technology then go ahead, but make sure you have a good initial support base. Bionema benefited from start-up support from Swansea University’s Innovations team, the Welsh Government and family funds. Remember the success rate for new businesses in this space is less than 2%, so be prepared for a rough ride, being an entrepreneur is not everyone’s cup of tea.
LG: What’s your favourite sustainable/bio-based product?
MAA: Bionema’s own NemaTrident of course. We have received a number of awards recently for innovation. The judges at the Welsh Business Awards said: “[Bionema] has used innovation to develop a product which has the potential to benefit all mankind, applying naturally occurring organisms to help minimise pesticides is clearly a positive step forward.”
I also have to be impartial, so outside of Bionema’s range I really like some of the new technologies that are improving water retention in soil as this is a critical issue in helping large parts of the world to become self-sufficient in food production and is also an enabler to effective application of biological pest control products.