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Beenish Siddique (AEH Innovative Hydrogel)

Beenish Siddique won a Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award in August 2019 for her business, AEH Innovative Hydrogel.
With the world’s population expected to grow to 9.7 billion by 2050, the global agricultural system has to adapt in order to meet the food demands of a growing population.1 Currently, the excessive use of fertilisers to improve crop yields is reducing the fertility of the soil in the long-term and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. At the moment, agriculture contributes to around 14 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions globally and is also both a victim and a cause of the widespread issue of water scarcity, accounting for 70 percent of all freshwater withdrawals. Dr Beenish Siddique launched AEH Innovative Hydrogel to offer an environmentally friendly, recyclable and all-in-one solution to these issues in the form of its flagship product, ‘SAVEgel’. 

Founded in October 2018, the Manchester-based start-up has developed a technology that not only increases crop production but makes it possible to grow crops in infertile and water stressed lands. There is an increasing demand for hydrogels in agriculture as they optimise water usage by retaining high amounts of water in their structure and only releasing it when needed by crops. However, SAVEgel is different from other hydrogels currently in the market as it provides an innovative and easy solution to store carbon in soil, reducing the need for fertilisers and cutting CO2 emissions significantly. Within two years of application, the technology can increase crop yield by up to 20 percent and simultaneously cut fertiliser use in half. Beenish estimates that 2 tonnes of SAVEgel has the potential to reduce 1.2 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere.
 
While studying for her PhD at the University of Manchester and working as a postdoc at the University of Birmingham, Beenish developed a deep interest in the agricultural and environmental applications of hydrogels. Shortly afterwards, she founded AEH Innovative Hydrogel and began working on the development of the product. Including the Shell LiveWire Award, AEH Innovative Hydrogel has won three prestigious competitions to date, including the Venture Further Manchester competition (Technology category)  and the Eli and Brit Harari Graphene Enterprise award.
 
AEH Innovative Hydrogel aims to launch in early 2020 to farmers, city-based plant growers and distributors across its initial target markets in India, Malaysia and Pakistan. Beenish commented, “The award will have a positive impact on the growth of our business as an endorsement from Shell LiveWIRE will help us to effectively put our case in front of different entities and increase trust in our product. The funding will primarily help us to our run our first set of trials in countries that are facing problems with infertile soil.” 
 
When asked about the most important lesson she has learned as an entrepreneur, Beenish said, “It’s important to take rejection as a learning experience and to continue believing in your idea, even when people are telling you that it won’t work. When I was working as a postdoc and researching hydrogels, I approached a number of academics and offered to work for free as long as I could develop my own idea alongside this, but I heard nothing back from them. Not everyone will see your idea and your approach as the best way forward, but that doesn't mean you’re not capable of making it a reality and a success.”

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