CASE STUDY:

Worm Soil

  • Marches Growth Hub support helps Worm Soil to evolve from long-standing business vision to viable business
  • Relationships with Agri-EPI and CREST, forged via Marches Growth Hub, provide Worm Soil with industry-standard credibility
  • Funding from Shropshire Council Economic Recovery Fund (DARG 5) enables Worm Soil to purchase vital composting equipment and invest in marketing support

About

With a long-standing fascination of all-things environmental that started whilst studying geography at university, Luke Boxall developed an interest in the positive impact that worm farming has on soil quality that he turned into a business having moved with his family from the South East to a small holding in South Shropshire.

Spending time to research the viability of the business over the course of three years, Luke used dissatisfaction with his work in the technology sector, that was further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, as the push to launch his business. Worm Soil was registered in October 2020 and began trading in April 2021.

Whilst an established practice in many other global markets including the US and Australia, worm farming for the production of vermicast isn’t widely understood in the UK market where Worm Soil is thought to be the only business that focuses primarily on vermicast.

Having researched options for shared office space whilst still working in IT, Luke was made aware of the Marches Growth Hub and returned to its website when seriously considering the launch of Worm Soil.  In his own words, the website ‘had everything’ he needed in terms of the initial guidance required when launching a new business and it was a ‘no brainer’ to utilise the resources available.

Whilst still in its early days, Luke has a vision to grow Worm Soil over the coming year to a point whereby he can consider employing staff in the first quarter of 2023.

“I will be eternally grateful for discovering the Growth Hub when I did – literally every piece of advice and support that has enabled Worm Soil to launch is because of this incredible service”

How the Marches Growth Hub helped

Convinced of the benefits of vermicast as a 100% natural soil conditioner and fertiliser and the business potential to capitalise on growing awareness of the climate crisis, Luke sought the guidance of the Growth Hub as he began planning his business.

From regularly attending The Friday Hub Zoom networking sessions, to working with Matthew Woodhead from WCL Consulting Ltd on areas including business objectives, business plan, financial planning and management, identifying and communicating business values, identifying new UK markets, and developing online sales streams, as well as participating in the ‘Step up to start’ programme run by Good2Great, Luke has fully embraced the support on offer.

He comments: “Whilst I had built up significant commercial experience through my career in the IT sector, I’d not previously launched a business from scratch, and I couldn’t claim to know all there is to know about successfully running a company.  The Marches Growth Hub had so many resources available, it would have been silly not to use them.

“The support I’ve found there has been very, very useful and relevant to my own needs – they’ve not led me down a rabbit hole of support that’s not been required.

“Added to that, the network that the Growth Hub opens up to you is fantastic and Marches Growth Hub Shropshire manager Emma Chapman has introduced me to some invaluable contacts who, in turn, have introduced me to more amazing contacts.”

Amongst the introductions that Luke had facilitated by the Marches Growth Hub have been the MMBEN (Meres & Mosses Business Environment Network); the Shropshire Wildlife Trust; and the Master composters, all connections that Luke readily identifies would have been so much harder to cement if he was doing so on his own.

The Worm Soil team has additionally accessed funding via DARG 5 through the Shropshire Council Economic Recovery Fund to purchase composting equipment, as well as start moving towards greater involvement in food waste management by working with other local businesses to reduce food waste going to landfill or incinerators.

Significantly, they’ve been able to work with CREST at University Centre Shrewsbury (UCS) to carry out trials and studies to evidence the benefits of vermicast use, thereby increasing the business’s credibility.

Impact

Whilst it is still early days for Worm Soil, Luke is in no doubt as to the impact that the Marches Growth Hub has had on his business.

He says the growth hub and Marches LEP’s strong partnerships with world-renowned Harper Adams University and the CREST team at UCS have been crucial in developing his business.

As well as the early advice that enabled Worm Soil to become a commercial reality, Luke says that being connected to both Agri-EPI at Harper Adams and CREST at UCS has made a huge difference to move the business forward.  He comments: “The likes of Agri-EPI and CREST are well respected by growers who know them and trust their scientific findings.  This is important as we seek to convert large farmers and commercial horticultural growers away from pesticides, fungicides and fertilisers to our product which benefits the environment in every possible way.”

Future Growth

Looking to the future, Luke has a vision to build a B2B food waste collection amongst locally based restaurants and pubs, as well as starting on the production of a best-in-class worm bed that can be sold to businesses to manage their own waste and convert it to compost.  He’s also working on improvements to the packaging currently being used for Worm Soil so that it becomes easier to sell to garden centres and other shops and in doing so shift his customer base in favour of larger scale commercial organisations.

He absolutely sees the Marches Growth Hub as having a key role to play in this future growth. “I can’t imagine getting to where we are now without the guidance and support that the growth hub team has provided and would fully anticipate that as we grow and evolve, that support and signposting to funding or useful connections would continue depending on our specific needs at the time.

“The kudos that working with the teams at Agri-EPI and CREST provides to us will also prove invaluable as we seek to engage with larger growers and retailers.”

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