We spoke to Toby Parkes, Rhizocore CEO, about how he and his co-founder came to set up Rhizocore, their ambitions to combat climate change through the gap in the market Rhizocore seeks to fill, and how the DDE Programme has supported their journey so far.
I came into contact with Deep Science Ventures, one of the University of Edinburgh’s partners for the FAST Programme, as I was finishing my PhD in plant pathology. The programme paid me to spend a year looking at controlled environment agriculture and other areas within agritech to see where there was room for new ventures.
One of the concept companies I created was Rhizocore. We decided it was the most likely to seed and would also have the largest upside for the planet, biodiversity and carbon sequestration. We have been running with it ever since.
The end goal is making forestry generate more quickly, so that woodlands can be established faster and be more resilient to environmental stresses and changes.
I knew that Ecto-Mycorrhiza Fungi are natural fertilisers for trees. I started asking forestry and wooden regeneration organisations whether we were using these organisms. The answer was, largely, no. We spotted a gap in the market and decided that we’d come up with a system – our pellets, which are developed based on the needs of trees specific to their geographical locations – that would counteract the fact these fungi weren’t being used in an organised way.
There's 50 years of academic literature exploring the benefits of Mycorrhiza Fungi. But to support the case for the effectiveness of our product, we are also generating databases around what we are doing and trying to get more nuance on what's going on for the various species we work with.
We can point people to all of the papers that are relevant, but having easy-to-understand data is key. Using these fungi at scale brings about immense environmental as well as commercial benefits, and data can help us show it.
Success for us is in establishing ways to support woodlands, making sure that we are regenerating ecosystems at scale, and sequestering as much carbon as we possibly can. That’s where we find success and impact in what we do.
PhDs teach you how to solve problems. People generate start-up companies when somebody solves a problem that is commercially viable. FAST gives PhD students, postdocs and young career researchers the space to properly analyse possibilities and consider the kind of companies they might generate with the support of a salary.
Crucially, DDE and University of Edinburgh have helped us alongside the FAST programme. We received investment from DDE’s Seed Fund and strategic business support when completing our recent, successful SMART:SCOTLAND grant application.
Next is scaling up the funding side of the business, so we can move from lab scale operations to larger ones. We won’t get anywhere in terms of improving biodiversity and combating climate change unless we are producing and planting millions of pellets a year – so that’s what we’re working towards.