Ten UK companies that will change your life (that you’ve never heard of)

EXOSECT

What it does: intelligent pest control – cuts out pesticides

The next company to change your life is Exosect. This producer of intelligent pest-control products aims to reduce the use of insecticides in agriculture. Not only will the food be safer to consume, but it will result in higher crop yields for farmers.

Exosect’s unique green technology is based on the discovery of an electrostatic natural food-grade wax powder, derived from the leaves of the carnauba palm tree.

“You eat carnauba wax every day – you have it on your vitamin pills, on the icing on your cake, in pharmaceutical drugs. So it’s a very safe product. But when you micronise it into a powder, it has high electrostatic properties, and it can also absorb a number of active ingredients,” explains Exosect MD Martin Brown.

Exosect’s founding team, from the University of Southampton, discovered that the powder sticks to insects, as they develop their own electrostatic charges while flying through the air or walking on surfaces. When they land on Exosect-protected crops, they therefore pick up Exosect’s electrostatic carnauba powder.

This powder is formulated with specially selected active ingredients (primarily pheromones, which disrupt mating patterns) and uses the target pest to distribute small quantities of the active ingredient throughout its own population. Job done. No more pests. No more harmful insecticides in your food.

The market opportunity for Exosect is huge. On a global basis, more than $9bn is spent annually on insecticide control, but increasing regulatory and consumer pressure is forcing growers to consider intelligent pest-management approaches, using non-pesticide controls.

The company already has a promising future: the moth control part of the market, in which Exosect is currently playing, is worth about $3.4bn, of which it could easily capture a significant share. But Exosect’s Martin Brown wants more.

“The real impact of Exosect will be in commodity-type products like rice, where our technology can help crops be grown in safer and much more environmentally friendly ways. Adopting our technology in food factories, too, can remove the need to fumigate and spray pesticides,” continues Brown. “That’s our aim, to make significant inroads into these two markets.”

Exosect’s green solutions for controlling pests has the potential to help farmers save an extra 16 per cent of grain crops, estimates Brown. This British company isn’t just helping to make your food safer to eat, it’s helping the world’s farmers become more efficient.

NANOSIGHT

What it does: low-cost nanotechnology – see nanoparticles in real time

Dr Bob Carr spent 20 years researching nanotechnology for the Ministry of Defence at Porton Down. When research in the area stopped, he took the technology with him, seeking to commercialise the measuring and visualising of nanoparticles. The name of that product was Nanosight.

“Today, we allow research scientists to see nanoparticles in real time,” explains Jeremy Warren, Nanosight’s CEO.

Nanoparticles are small. Very small. With a half-decent light microscope, you can see particles up to one micron in size. With Nanosight’s instruments, you can see a particle that’s ten nanometres, or roughly 100 times smaller.

It isn’t the size that’s impressive with Nanosight – an electron microscope can do the same. Where Nanosight stands out from the crowd is that you can actually view the particles live, in motion.

“It’s intrusive to prepare the samples for electron microscopy,” Warren explains. “You’d normally have to dry them or splatter them with gold, zapping them with electrons. It leaves you wondering whether the image you end up with truly represents what you had to start with, when it was a liquid. But with Nanosight, we can actually see the particles moving around.”

There’s been a lot of hype around nano in recent years, but Nanosight’s technology is unique. The company has no like-for-like competitors… as yet.

So what does it matter to you? How will Nanosight change your life? The answer is mainly in medicine (although the company is branching out to other sectors). Nanosight is already working with pharmaceutical researchers to develop more efficient drugs.

“Thinking of it as tiny robots moving around in your bloodstream is nonsense. The promise of nano is to develop drugs in tiny quantities that work in the right place in your body, acting more like a ‘molecular taxi’,” Warren explains. In other words, imagine mini-mini-mini-antibiotics that work quicker and better. That’s what Nanosight is helping to develop.

And it doesn’t stop with drug delivery and viral vaccines. Nanosight is already working with Oxford University’s John Radcliffe women’s hospital to develop an automated instrument that helps to identify the early signs of pre-eclampsia [pregnancy-induced hypertension], which is still one of the top causes of infant and mother death in maternity. The instrument analyses nano-sized platelets in the mother’s bloodstream.

In the future, Nanosight’s technology will be used elsewhere, too – the company is already looking at other applications, such as improving fuel additives and carbon nano tubes.

It’s no coincidence that Nanosight is eyeing international markets, with more than 60 per cent of its £2.8m annual sales coming from the US this year. If Nanosight continues to expand the business, you can bet this won’t be the last time you hear about it.

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