FA Bio

Female-led start-up, FA Bio in Hertfordshire is set to revolutionise sustainable farming after receiving early stage business support from Oxford Innovation. 

The bio-tech company is one of a growing number of female-led science and technology businesses developing game-changing solutions to global environmental challenges such as soil degradation and sustainable farming practices.

FA Bio team 2024

Game-changing solutions

Based at the Rothamsted Research Centre in Harpenden, a world-leading research facility that focuses on agricultural science, FA Bio is pioneering the discovery and development of superior microbial bioproducts, including biocontrols, biostimulants and biofertilisers that can replace chemicals in agriculture and improve soil health.

FA Bio (formerly FungiAlert) was founded in 2015 by Dr Angela De Manzanos Guinot and Dr Kerry O’Donnelly Weaver while they were both studying for a PhD at Imperial College London. After winning a series of entrepreneurial competitions, they patented their technology and committed to work full-time on the business.

Accessing finance to grow and scale               

To help them realise their vision for the company, Angela and Kerry accessed a network of support through Oxford Innovation, which provides advice, space and finance to ambitious businesses.

Raising finance is challenging, especially in our field. Oxford Innovation Finance is the best platform for accessing angel investment. The team made the experience very straight forward and the process was very transparent."

Dr Angela de Manzanos Guinot,
Co-founder & CEO, FA Bio

Dr Angela de Manzanos Guinot, Co-founder and CEO of FA Bio, explains: “Business support programmes and accelerators are vital to science start-ups like ourselves. The biggest challenges are commercialising your idea and securing investment. Researching is very different from getting buy-in from potential customers or investors. The mentoring and coaching we received through Oxford Innovation really helped us grow as business owners as well as develop our business. 

In 2021, FA Bio successfully raised investment through Oxford Innovation Finance’s angel network and Oxford Innovation EIS Growth Fund as part of a £1 million fundraise to develop its technology for bio-fertilisers. Following a recommendation, Angela and Kerry got in touch with Oxford Innovation Finance, which runs one of the oldest and largest angel investment networks in the UK, and attended one of its showcase events.

“Raising finance is challenging, especially in our field,” explains Angela. “Oxford Innovation Finance is the best platform for accessing angel investment. The team made the experience very straight forward and the process was very transparent. We were able to secure crucial investment and our investors have contributed knowledge to the business, which has helped us with further fundraising.”

Expert advice to overcome challenges

FA Bio also received support from Oxford Innovation Advice. As a leading provider of business support programmes for SMEs, the company was able to provide the FA Bio team with one-to-one specialist support and grant funding, which helped them develop packing solutions for shipping and obtain ISO 9001 certification.

Angela continues: “Our adviser was amazing. She really understood our needs and was able to support us with completing the paperwork for our grant application, which made the process very quick and easy.

“The first challenge we discussed with her was finding a way to send our product out to the customer and for the customer to send it back to us after use. The packaging needed to be designed specifically for us because it had to be able to contain the sensors in a secure way and additionally provide three levels of containment in order to meet the requirements of the APHA when working with plant pathogens from outside of England and Wales.

“The second challenge she helped us with was obtaining ISO 9001 certification. This was very important because as we started to commercialise the product, we needed to put a quality management system in place that would allow us to have the traceability required. ISO 9001 has helped us to be more efficient in our manufacturing processes as well as putting in place the quality measures to ensure that we deliver a product and a service that customers can trust.”

A growing success

By introducing game-changing innovation to the farming industry, the company’s products and services aim to provide significant benefits for farmers, reducing costs, crop losses and reliance on chemical pesticides, while also protecting the world’s natural ecosystems.

At the end of 2023, FA Bio raised a further £5.3m of investment to help realise their vision to help protect our natural ecosystems. This is no small achievement when considering that women-led start-ups secured just 3.5% of the equity funding being invested in UK businesses during the first half of 2023 according to data compiled by Beauhurst, which looked at deal value.

This latest round of investment saw Angela juggling fundraising and running a business with pregnancy and childcare:

“This funding round took two years,” explains Angela. “I gave birth and celebrated my baby’s first birthday in that time! Being a female in a predominately male sector, you have to work hard to earn customers’ trust and male investors may unconsciously think young female entrepreneurs are more of an investment risk. On the plus side, you stand out and they remember you.”

FA Bio team in garden

A healthy future

Having secured investment, the future is certainly looking healthy for FA Bio. The company is expecting to expand its team from 19 to 30 employees by the end of 2024, further strengthen its senior leadership team, continue its research and scale-up operations.

This is good news, not just for the business, but also the agricultural sector and the environment as Angela explains: “Soils are becoming degraded at a rate of 30 football fields a minute with the overuse of chemicals in agriculture being a main cause, so we need to change the way we grow and produce food. I’ve always been driven to use biology to find solutions to the challenges of food production and sustainability. FA Bio’s innovative technology and bioproducts have the potential to revolutionise sustainable agriculture.”