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Business Opportunity for innovative Biostimulant platform

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - BOB (Business Opportunity for innovative Biostimulant platform)

Reporting period: 2017-09-01 to 2018-08-31

Aim of the BOB project was to bolster PTP Park Science phenotyping capability to better address the customer needs.
According European Biostimulant Industry Council (2012), biostimulants are products containing substance(s) and/or microorganisms whose function when applied to plants or the rhizosphere is to stimulate natural processes to enhance/ benefit nutrient uptake, nutrient efficiency, tolerance to abiotic stress, and crop quality. During the last few years plant biostimulants have been proposed as a safe tool to support the plant growth and enhance the resilience of food crops to abiotic stress. Within this context, PTP is interested in developing and offering different activities for biostimulant R&D, and TT by integrating multidisciplinary competencies. To achieve this goal, a highly specialized IA was recruited to contribute to the improvement of a phenotyping pipeline, and to the development of a business strategy in similar or different sectors, to fully exploit the integrated platform upgraded during the BOB project.
WP1: Project Management and Recruiting
Alongside the classical Project Management, Monitoring and Coordination of financial and administrative aspects the Innovation Associate (AI) Recruitment was core activity of this WP. The Recruitment Plan was defined structured in four phases: 1) Definition of candidate requirements, profile design and test; 2) Job advertising and candidate attraction; 3) Candidate screening and selection; 4) Hiring, and started before the beginning of the project, with the publication of the job vacancy for the IA on the Euraxess website.

WP2: Establishment of the high throughput phenotypic PTP facility. The building of a high-throughput phenotyping platform (HTP) nearby the PTP resulted in a too difficult task and the possibility of using available infrastructures among PTP partners (research institutes and companies) was addressed. After having evaluated different possibilities in the area, the infrastructure that Institute of Biometeorology of the National Center of Research (IBIMET–CNR, http://www.ibimet.cnr.it/) runs near Florence (IT) was considered. IBIMET-CNR has established experience in HT phenotyping applied to crop growth assessment and evaluation of vineyards production. Therefore, it was decided to investigate conditions and suitability of this infrastructure for the experiments planned within the project BOB. In February 2018, the IA of the project BOB went to the IBIMET-CNR facilities in Florence for a training period during which the IA acquired specific know-how regarding large scale phenotyping by using the IBIMET-CNR HT platform.
Furthermore, aiming at testing the effect of novel biostimulants on plant growth and development, a pilot phenotyping platform was implemented, to produce novel scientific and technological data to be used to test and validate the phenotyping platform core item for the milestones to be accomplished .
The experiments were carried out at the University of Milan (UNIMI) and at the Institute of Agricultural Biology and Biotechnology of the National Center of Research (CNR-IBBA, Milan) facilities.
Response to abiotic stress (heat shock) in absence/presence of a novel biostimulant of two wheat varieties (Russello, Svevo) was investigated. Russello showed higher sensitivity to HS and this feature will be further studied in future experiments. To obtain further information regarding plant fitness, the total biomass obtained by the end of the trial was assessed after exposing plants to HS for 4 days with or without treatment with the biostimulant. Treated Russello wheat showed better fitness, even though not significant, in presence of HS, compared to non-treated plants. Treatment with the biostimulant did not show any effects on Svevo plants regarding response to high ambient temperature whereas, significant effect was observed regarding biomass production in plants grown at optimal temperature.

WP3: Training and personal development programme. A Tailored Training and Developed Plan was defined for and attended by the Innovation Associate (IA). Module 1: Introduction to PTP structure, staff, ongoing activities and projects, goals and vision was given to the IA.
Module 2: High density acceleration programme through which the business strategy for the re-launching of PTP Science Park was shared, presented and discussed with the IA. .
Module 3: Project Development and Management
Sub-Module 1 - Direct and indirect EU funding: Within this Sub-Module the AI was informed regarding 2018-2020 EU funding opportunities and programmes with project examples and focus on H2020 and other relevant programmes (e.g. SME Instrument and opportunities for the SMEs).
The “Sub-Module 2 Planning” was developed through the participation of the AI in the two-day meeting with EU Commission advisors for the INTERREG project “Boosting the circular economy amongst SMEs in Europe” (https://www.interregeurope.eu/circe/) at the Lombardy Region Government Headquarters.
Sub-Module 3 – Management: During this phase of the project BOB the topics Management of negotiation and contractual procedures with the European Commission; Organization and planning of the project work; Management of relations with the consortium and with the EC; Project monitoring and reporting; Impact, exploitation, dissemination and communication; Practical session on concrete EU funded projects were addressed together with the AI.
Sub-Module 4 - Management of budget and financial reporting: Finally, the financial monitoring and reporting activities of EU projects, that is, budgeting (identification of eligible costs, expenditure planning and monitoring); financial reporting (financial statement reporting, effort reporting); financial audits were addressed.

WP4: Innovation management and business improvement
To broaden its assets, PTP decided to enter “adjacent markets” i.e. crop biostimulants and phenotyping services as outcomes of the BOB project. The BOB project was cornerstone of this core and adjacent innovation strategy with its setting and validation of a small/middle scale phenotyping platform, to assess and model a profitable and feasible large-scale phenotyping platform in the Region, thus answering to the technological and economic requests of current and new potential customers in the agri-food sector.
The IA carried out: i) feasibility study of phenotyping facility services development; ii) opportunities study in thebiostimulants market; iii) financial feasibility study of the planned HTP through pricing model and financial forecast estimated based on current state-of-the-art technologies and services offered for large scale crops phenotyping.
In the future, the BOB project outcomes will provide farmers with an innovative set of tools to cope more effectively with the challenge of sustainable food production. Furthermore, the BOB project will contribute to address several environmental, economic and societal challenges moving towards a circular economy production system. By implementing this innovative portfolio, PTP Science Park could become the first reference center in Italy for technology transfer in the agribusiness sector.