GEIC partner AEH secures £3.5m for agri-tech manufacturing in Manchester

AEH Innovative Hydrogel, the agri-tech firm founded and led by The University of Manchester alumnus  Dr Beenish Siddique, has secured a funding agreement worth £3.5 million with Canada-based biotech investor Terra Sana Holdings, with a view to scaling up AEH's manufacturing capability in Greater Manchester.

This new investment recognises AEH's breakthrough contribution to a more sustainable future by using a unique hydrogel - branded GelPonic and developed in the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) - as a growing medium that is biodegradable and fully sustainable.

The pioneering technology will reduce the use of fresh water in agriculture and therefore enable nations like the UK to grow a wider range of indigenous foods – so reducing  “food miles” – while enabling better yields for farmers in developing nations, where poor quality soils and limited rainfall put pressure on water supply and productivity.

Investment in Greater Manchester

Terra Sana's investment will provide AEH with capability to fully develop its vertical farming system and to set up a manufacturing facility in Greater Manchester. The new funding is for an initial sum of £1.5m with a follow-on option to subscribe for £2m in 18 months – and it builds on a £1m investment already made by Innovation UK to AEH.

CEO and founder Beenish Siddique said the new funding was welcome as it will accelerate already established sales opportunities for its GelPonic systems on a global basis. Beenish added that this major investment could provide a boost to female entrepreneurs. 

Equity investment in women-led start-ups has been very poor previously and it is very encouraging that Terra Sana have invested in me and the company I established. I am thankful for their faith in our product and the shared vision.”

Beenish Siddique, CEO AEH Innovative Hydrogel

AEH is based in the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC), the world-leading materials innovation accelerator based at The University of Manchester. The company was initially supported through the ERDF Bridging the Gap programme, and the move to the GEIC came after AEH Director Dr Farid Khan arranged initial match funding for the subsequent £1m Innovate UK grant.

Ray Gibbs, Chairman of AEH, said: “Setting up AEH in the GEIC gave the company a platform to fast-track its product development. Fundamentally, the government-backed grant awarded in 2020 has been vindicated, with the original investment now being trebled with private sector funding. What’s more, this private backing is new investment coming into Greater Manchester and the UK from North America and offers us both UK and international sales opportunities for our GelPonic products.“

Richard Willett, an investor in Terra Sana, has taken a board position in AEH along with Professor Robert Field, Director of the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, at The University of Manchester, who will sit on the technical advisory board.

Richard said: “We are delighted to invest in AEH with Beenish as the visionary behind the company. This international partnership will open new overseas market opportunities, including the fast-growing North American market, where Terra Sana has strong links and already established orders. The AEH gel offers significant opportunities in improving soil in impoverished regions and we see enormous potential in the North American vertical farming market that is forecast to reach over $6,500 million by 2028 [1].”

Notes to editors

1)      North America Vertical Farming Market to Grow at a CAGR of 25.70% to reach US$ 6,523.6 Million from 2021 to 2028 (theinsightpartners.com)

About Terra Sana (TS)

TS is a newly formed Canadian company set up to invest in and operate highly advanced indoor growing facilities, biotechnology and vertical farming. It aims to incorporate revolutionary and scalable products and systems that will make an effective, measurable and sustainable impact on solving the global challenge of scarce water and food shortages against a forecast growth in world population to 10 billion by 2050. It is setting up hi-tech greenhouse growing in Mexico designed to meet food produce orders secured from the USA.

About AEH Innovative Hydrogel Limited;

AEH is a start-up founded in late 2018 by entrepreneur Dr Beenish Siddique, who developed a food-based fully recyclable hydroponic gel. Beenish won initial funding from the Eli and Brit Harari Graphene Enterprise competition.  The initial focus on the novel hydrogel growing media is designed to reduce food production costs, improve quality and lower environmental impact. This award winning agri-tech business had a major breakthrough in 2020 when it won a £1m+ grant from Innovate UK to develop a new GelPonic system for vertical farming, offering significantly reduced costs, carbon emissions and water consumption. AEH is based in the University of Manchester’s Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre (GEIC)

Its technical validation is being performed by the UK backed Crop Health And Protection (CHAP) organisation. CHAP brings together scientists, farmers, advisors and pioneers to advance crop productivity and yield around the world. 

Professor Robert Field has been appointed to the AEH Technical Advisory Board and heads up the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology.

Advanced materials is one of The University of Manchester’s research beacons - examples of pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-sector partnerships that are tackling some of the biggest questions facing the planet. #ResearchBeacons.

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