START-UP enterprises, small to medium-sized firms (SMEs) and larger companies are to share a combined package of £2.8 million in funding for green biotechnology skills.

The Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) has awarded 15 new grants to fund PhD projects at biotech companies, thus marking a commitment of more than £11m since its inception seven years ago.

Its industry-led PhD programme focuses on giving students commercial and industrial experience alongside academic research to help them succeed in industry.

The funding – from IBioIC and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) – will allow pioneering research projects to employ the skills of PhD students over a four-year study programme.

During this, students will spend up to one year working directly in the industrial biotechnology community, with the opportunity to learn directly from experts in the field, build relationships and cultivate their own networks.

The innovation centre and its partners will have supported more than 100 PhD students when the new cohort starts in October 2021.

Ian Archer, technical director at IBioIC, said: “The industrial biotechnology community is growing at pace alongside the UK-wide drive for sustainability, and our collaborative training partnerships rightly aim to bring together industry and academia to support commercial development.

“The programme is carefully designed to help students enter the world of work, with commercial and business development modules that go beyond academic training to ensure students are industry-ready.

“We also endeavour to support students individually with a focus on personal development and wellbeing built into the programme, which is quite different to traditional PhD studies.

“The latest awards represent a significant milestone for the programme, with the combined project value now exceeding £11m.”

Among the latest projects is a circular bioeconomy initiative involving the Edinburgh University and IndiNature – a manufacturer of sustainable construction materials and based in Edinburgh.

The company has secured funding of £104,000 for a doctoral research project that will explore the use of agricultural waste as a feedstock to make novel materials to bind crop-based fibres together to make circular, low-carbon building insulation.

Scott Simpson, CEO of IndiNature, added: “There is growing demand for natural, plastic-free products that can be used to

improve the sustainability of our built environment and we are turning that into a reality using locally-grown crops and bio-based materials.

“Having the support of a PhD student will be invaluable as we aim to scale-up our lab-based research and we are looking forward to working closely with future talent who will no doubt offer a fresh perspective.”