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Hopcrop Ltd

Helping a start-up establish a specialist product in over 50 retailers across the UK is just one way the BMRC has assisted companies in innovation and research.

Hopcrop Ltd wanted to develop a new organic additive that could improve the performance of soil for gardeners and commercial growers. After sharing their three potential options with us, our research helped them to identify the right product and establish it in over 50 retailers across the UK.

The challenge

Gareth Hopcroft had been involved in the horticulture industry for the best part of ten years when he set up Hopcrop Ltd. His aim was to create a sustainable product that could aid fertilisation and bio-stimulation of soil, so he began farming worms to harvest their castings and conducted some basic tests on their effectiveness.

However, when he discovered there was an insect factory near his home, he decided he would also like to test the effectiveness of their two largest waste streams - cricket frass and mealworm frass – before choosing which type of waste to turn into a marketable product.

Without the means to conduct the kind of research necessary to authenticate his choice, Gareth contacted Sheffield Hallam University. That’s when he discovered that under the Innovation Futures Programme, part-financed by ERDF, we could carry out the key research he needed at zero cost to the business.

What we did

After signing up for Innovation Futures, Gareth was put in touch with Dr Louise Vickers, an innovation translator at our Biomolecular Sciences Research Centre.

Louise met with Gareth and after discussing his needs and collecting the samples, began researching the effects of the three options he wanted to test: worm cast, cricket frass, and mealworm frass.

Each sample was subjected to a series of tests, which involved growing bacteria and fungi from the soil they’d been mixed with to determine the levels of beneficial bacteria present.

Gareth was so impressed with the results he paid for further work to be carried out by the commercial team at the BMRC. Once he had all the results at his disposal, he was able to identify mealworm frass as the most effective source of soil fertilisation out of his three samples.

After sourcing a regular supply of the frass, Gareth took care of the other elements needed to turn the waste into a marketable brand. He chose a name – Ecothrive – and found a team of reliable people who could help with processing, marketing and packaging.

His first frass-based product, Charge, was quickly approved by the Soil Association and came to market in May 2014. It carries some of the findings from Louise’s research on the label and is now available in over 50 retailers across the UK.

The future

After a successful first year, Gareth is looking to develop the business further. He has just been to Europe to secure another source of frass and is hoping to work with Sheffield Hallam again to investigate the use of new types of source material for his products.

How we helped

Innovation Futures and BMRC have helped Hopcrop Ltd in a number of ways including

  • conducting scientific research into the effectiveness of three different types of insect waste
  • helping Gareth identify which product he should take to market
  • boosting marketability by providing scientific facts robust enough to be included on the product labelling

They say

The ethos of my company is to have a low carbon footprint so I like to work with local people where I can. From that point of view, I’m lucky to have a great centre of research like Sheffield Hallam University on my doorstep.

Innovation Futures has been brilliant for me. The initial research was free - which was very important as I got the company started on a tight budget - and the work Louise did for me was excellent. Not only did it help me pinpoint exactly what type of waste to base my launch product around, it gave me the facts to back up what I’m saying.

I was so impressed with the work Louise did I actually went back and paid for some further work that wasn’t covered by the ERDF funding. Her findings are now used on all my product labels, showing the value of what it can do for potential customers.

Ecothrive Charge is going incredibly well. Demand is increasing all the time and I’m looking to expand into new markets and products in future. When it comes time to investigate different types of waste, I’ll definitely be speaking to Hallam again as their research capability is excellent.

Gareth Hopcroft, managing director, Hopcrop Ltd

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