In the two years since Adam Dixon won the Young Champions of the Earth prize back in 2017, he has taken great strides in his mission to grow food using fewer resources.
The regional winner for Europe is the founder of Phytoponics, a project that grows fruit and vegetables in specially adapted bags to cut resources including water, fertilizers and pesticides.
James Lomax, United Nations Environment Programme Food Systems and Agriculture Adviser said: “Innovation is essential if we are going to reduce resource while producing nutritious food to feed a growing population. Seeing Adam’s progress from technical idea to proof of concept is inspirational, and hopefully other young people are inspired to tackle pressing environmental challenges as we look towards 2030.”
We asked Adam Dixon what benefits he has received through the Young Champions of the Earth prize, and how it has changed his life. We hope his answers inspire you to apply in 2020!
Has the award helped you further your project to a higher level of recognition or furthered your progress?
A series of press releases aided publicity to raise investment and build a case for investment with a sustainability angle. We had support from Covestro in understanding the practicality of making sustainable polymer-based products. We had support from many of their staff which was very kind and generous, and mentoring from the team at the UN Environment Programme and the Do School, which was useful.
Has the award helped to highlight the work in your sector or the challenge you're working to address?
There were lots of good press releases, which potential partners saw and boosted our credibility. We were featured on BBC, Metro, and in the trade press. Our digital footprint with media significantly expanded and the video content produced for the Young Champions award by the video team helped to communicate our story and the sustainability of our project.
Has the award helped highlight your region more generally and its environmental challenges?
In the United Kingdom this has been more about raising awareness and establishing our project with a bang, boosting regional sustainable food production. The primary premise of our work was the potential impact it could have on the global population, especially in arid areas or for disaster relief internationally.
Do you feel that you now have a better understanding of what the UN Environment Programme does?
The training bootcamp was useful to understand more about the work of the UN Environment Programme. I attended summits and did a lot of presentations related to the Sustainable Development Goals. These experiences also increased opportunities to collaborate on sustainability rather than just purely profit.
Has the Young Champions of the Earth recognition affected you professionally? For example, did it open any doors, increase your network, offer credibility for funders?
I improved my ability to communicate my vision, my presenting skills and confidence, and received social proof and enthusiasm to pitch to investors. Including my personal story in developing the company was very useful in communicating with companies and investors. Without this prize, this would have been much more difficult. The cash prize and credibility boost helped us through a rough period and to get our initial semi-commercial project on track, while also enthusing our investors to invest in Phytoponics, as a more ethical investment opportunity.
What has been one of the most beneficial outcomes of receiving this prize?
We won the prize after some tough challenges as a company. We were out of money, so the experience bolstered my morale and, through me, my investors were reinvigorated to propel us to the next step of success. Also, for the first two years of Phytoponics I didn’t have a salary, so I was just getting further into debt—getting little scraps of investment. We didn’t have access to capital and the prize helped us access a different grant, which propelled us forward.
Would you recommend applying for the award to other young people?
This is a great programme which carries with it the opportunity for mentorship, recognition and further support. Just applying gets you thinking about the framework for sustainability for your start-up. If you want to gain investment, having awareness and development of the sustainability case for your business can aid in attracting investment. Thinking about the Sustainable Development Goals that relate to your start-up can help you find the right investor or customer to engage with you, even if you don’t win the prize.
What is your most memorable experience about being a Young Champion?
Prior to the prize, I was staying in a tent on a blow-up mattress at a warehouse we had rented because we had run out or money. It was miserable. But two weeks later I was in Nairobi in a nice hotel, with lots of support! We went on a safari and had the winning ceremony. The lift in my conditions was truly remarkable and energized me to work full steam ahead in the next year, raising £500,000 (about US$648,000) in investment and securing commercial partners. Imagine the benefit the prize could provide to others in even tougher conditions.
Stay tuned to the Young Champions of the Earth website to follow Adam Dixon and for more updates coming soon.
The Young Champions of the Earth Prize, powered by Covestro, is UN Environment Programme's leading initiative to engage youth in tackling the world's most pressing environmental challenges.
Do you have what it takes to be a Young Champion of the Earth? Applications open in early 2020. When you apply, you also become part of our change-maker community. Stay tuned!