Peter Orrell, CEO of MycoNourish

Peter Orrell, Founder and CEO of MycoNourish was an RSE Enterprise Fellow between 2017-18, funded by Scottish Enterprise.

© Photograph Matt Davies. Peter Orrell, runner-up in the Converge Challenge in 2018

Based at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee, MycoNourish harness the power of beneficial fungi to enhance crop production. Using a ground-breaking process, the company customise ‘arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi’ that work in symbiosis with plants, acting as a secondary root system to increase plant health and improve the quality and quantity of crop yields.

MycoNourish hopes to have a positive impact on the environment. In the EU, €143B is lost by growers to wastage in primary production each year. By improving crop quality, MycoNourish aims to lower wastage, improve food security and reduce reliance on emission-heavy imports.

What made you become an entrepreneur?

I started this journey because I was passionate about the underlying science and had a desire to see my academic interests used in the real world, making a positive impact. It is incredibly exciting to turn a concept and into a reality that can help to make a difference.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learnt so far?

I’m constantly learning, and each day provides new lessons. A key thing I have learned is to play to my strengths, and work with others who have more experience in other areas. I’d recommend being open to partnerships and collaborations – they can be transformative. Don’t try and do everything by yourself!

Dead or alive, if you could have any mentor, who would it be and why?

I would have to say Nikola Tesla. He started off working as a telephone engineer, but he was hugely curious, and constantly innovated to try to make the world a better place. Although he wasn’t fully recognised in his lifetime, he made significant advances in electricity, radio astronomy, robotics, and motors – many of the underlying technologies that have shaped the world today. He did this because he saw a need and wanted to provide solutions. He was a real problem solver.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. What do you wish you’d known before launching your business?

There have been countless lessons. Everyone always talks about it, but regardless of your business, things will take longer, and cost more than you expect! The main thing that has changed is my perception of the business community; I no longer see large corporate entities, I see passionate people who are working to make a difference.

What keeps you going when the going gets tough?

Running a new business is very much a rollercoaster ride! It is really important to take a step back and look at just how far you have come in a short amount of time. The positivity and enthusiasm of our team keeps me going. When things are difficult, that’s often when we have our most transformative ideas – turning a challenging situation into a really positive development.

What makes a good day at work?

The best days are those where you get a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment – especially if it is something that you have been working on for quite some time. The team are constantly inspiring and when we make progress, we make sure that we celebrate it.

What are you working on just now?

We have had great traction and we are currently working on scaling up production to meet demand, as well as gearing up to launching our first two products. Despite the current global disruption due to Covid-19, we are managing to juggle different aspects of the business and we are really excited for the months ahead. Following our production scale-up we are launching on-farm trials, and we can’t wait to see the results!

If you weren’t doing this, what else would you be doing?

There are so many different aspects of my job that I enjoy – analysing crop trials, working in the lab, and forming and developing new business relationships – so it would be really hard to pick something new! I imagine that I would either be working in something technical or working with other people. There would have to have a focus on helping others or making meaningful improvements in the world.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking of applying for an RSE Enterprise Fellowship?

Go for it! It is truly transformative. The difference between where you are when you start and where you finish up is night and day; not only in your business, but also in your mindset. It gave me a head start, got me thinking about all the areas of the business that I needed to consider, and helped me to develop a robust roadmap for the business. The training was second to none, and the mentors were excellent. The business community in Scotland is so supportive – it really is one of the best places in the world to start a business. People with vast amounts of experience are happy to give you their time and we are incredibly grateful for the assistance we have received.

If the RSE Enterprise Fellowship were a person, what characteristics would they have?

They would be forward thinking, pro-active, a change-maker, a problem solver, and someone willing to think outside the box and be creative. They would have ability to switch focus from the big picture to the minute detail and do it all with a passion to make meaningful change.

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