Awards for Oxford Brookes University-based startups

Three people in a labaratory
The Sun Bear Biofuture team, from left, Ben Wilding, chief executive officer, Ben Williams, chief technical officer and Laura Van Marrewijk, chief scientific officer

Two companies based in the Bioinnovation Hub at Oxford Brookes University’s Enterprise Centre have been awarded Government funding to develop food products using sustainable, low-carbon processes.

The teams at Sun Bear Biofuture and Fermtech are both passionate about protecting the environment. The companies have each been awarded funding from the prestigious Innovate UK scheme for their work. Innovate UK is the Government’s flagship grant programme. It awards £125 million to British businesses every year for tech and innovation based projects. 

Sun Bear Biofuture

Sun Bear Biofuture was awarded a £500,000 Innovate UK Smart Grant to further its research into developing an alternative to palm oil, which is widely used as an ingredient in common foods such as cake and biscuits and household products such as shampoo.

Ben Wilding, CEO, explained that palm oil production in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia had resulted in extensive deforestation, destroying the habitats of many endangered and critically endangered species, including sun bears.

Ben said: “In South East Asia there are only about 1,000 sun bears left due to deforestation. We have adopted a sun bear which is cared for at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.” 

The Sun Bear Biofuture team is developing a yeast strain that can produce commercially viable quantities of oil through fermentation and cutting edge scientific research and development. Their estimates predict a land use saving of 80% and a carbon reduction of 80% on current oil palm production.

Ben added: “We are working with a company that has tonnes and tonnes of potato peel as a waste product we can use as a feedstock. Using waste from agriculture is good business for farmers and lowers our environmental impact. We are in the research and development stage and will be sending samples to potential partners and customers by the end of the year.”


Fermtech recently received a £50,000 Transformative Technologies grant from Innovate UK to support the next stage of its research to develop technology for producing protein from food waste. Fermtech also received £50,000 from the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP), and was voted the partnership’s Most Innovative Company.

Fermtech uses fungi grown on spent grains from the Oxford-based Tap Social Movement’s brewery to extract protein for use in vegan cheeses.

CEO Andy Clayton, said: “Fungi are the world’s natural decomposers. They are great at turning waste into things of value. In the near future we’re all going to experience more and more products that contain or are made by fungi. 

“We are working on getting textures and flavours right with consumers, so we can start to scale up production. We will then target a wider range of plant-based foods and spreads, as well as complex proteins such as enzymes.

I’m proud to be from Oxford and to be working out of the Oxford Brookes Bioinnovation Hub, part of the Enterprise Centre. It’s the perfect place for us to develop our products.”  

“... a mutually beneficial relationship…”

Companies based at the Oxford Brookes Enterprise Centre benefit from being close to the university community at the heart of the Headington Campus. Some of the companies employ Oxford Brookes University students as research assistants, giving them real-life work experience alongside their studies. 

The centre gives companies access to office spaces, labs and facilities as well as expertise and professional networks.  The Enterprise Centre is supported by Oxford Brookes University alongside funding secured by OxLEP through the Government’s Local Growth Fund. The project aims to support the creation of 15 start-up companies and around 70 jobs over a period of three years. 

Professor Simonetta Manfredi, Director of Research and Innovation for Oxford Brookes University, added: “I’m delighted to see innovative start-up companies based in our Enterprise Centre attracting prestigious awards and Government grants. Their work is important to help the UK hit net zero climate goals and to create a strong cluster of related enterprises creating high-worth jobs here in Oxford. They have a mutually beneficial relationship with Oxford Brookes University, developing projects with our staff, bringing their industry and enterprise experience into the classroom and providing work opportunities for students to help them start their careers.”