5 minutes with...Alistair and Adam from Vinescapes

In our regular series, our Community Manager Daisy interviews new arrivals at Sussex Innovation about their business, why they joined, and their plans for growth. Today she chats with Alistair Nesbitt and Adam Slate from Vinescapes.

First of all, tell me a bit about Vinescapes...

AS: Where's my business card? "Wine production services, knowledge and innovation."

Did that message change with your recent brand change?

AS: Yeah. Before, when we were Climate Wine Consulting, Alistair had set the company up predominantly to deal with people's concerns about adverse effects of climate on viticulture and to select sites which would be best suited [for vineyards], climate-wise. We don't just look at climate now, we look at all sorts of other considerations and we also do project management for installing vineyards and building wineries. We're also looking at innovations around frost protection, and when time permits, we'll look at ways of monitoring vineyards remotely and providing pre-packaged or bespoke reporting tools. So that's the innovation side of things but there's also knowledge sharing: we're going to get involved in more training. Essentially what it boils down to is improving yields of quality in vineyards and wineries.

Does this tend to be UK based?

AS: At the moment yeah, although we do work across Europe. We've got meetings with some Champagne producers and Cognac producers as well...We're going to Turkey next week.

Is there a lot of wine produced in Turkey?

AN: Yes, there is but that's not the reason we're going; we sell a couple of pieces frost protection equipment and one of them comes from Turkey. 

What does your role entail Adam?

AS: My official role is Business Development and Operations Manager, which basically means I do a bit of everything. Alistair's the brains behind the thing and I try to help manage that. I've been looking at the business development side of things, finding new customers, developing products helping Paula [Nesbitt, Finance and Marketing Manager] out with marketing.

Am I right in saying you studied at Plumtpon College?

AS: I went to Plumpton and did a Masters degree in Viticulture and Oenology. Alistair did a degree at Plumpton as well...

AN: Yeah I studied there, then ended up back teaching there for 4 years and running an industry training programme. I then went off and did my PhD in Viticulture and Climate Change and off the back of that, set up Climate Wine Consulting.

When did you set up the business?

AN: 3 years ago. To be honest, during the first year I was finishing off my PhD, so although we'd incorporated the business, it was just me working on it about 10  hours a week.

What would you say your biggest challenge has been so far?

AN: There's been two. One has been defining the scope of what we actually do as a business which is where Adam has been helping...

AS:...has been amazing!...

AN:...has been amazing, that's the one! He has actually! It's been really useful to have someone who can step out of the trees and see the woods, rise above the detail and look at what's happening in the industry and where the needs are and link that with what we're doing. [Before,] we were so busy our work was purely reactive to whatever came through the door.

AS: Part of the challenge is having loads of brilliant ideas and being involved in lots of different things and turning that into a cohesive business strategy. 

AN: Yeah absolutely. That leads to the second thing that's been most challenging, working out what to charge. It's so hard because we have a wide client range and trying to understand the worth of what we're providing, as a young business, is really difficult.

AS: There's lots of small [wine] producers who have started with just a few acres and now you've got bigger companies coming in, you want to help everyone but they've all got different needs and budgets. It's hard to have a product that works for every customer across the board.

And your biggest success so far?

AN: Hiring Adam! Apart from that, our second biggest success is that we've got a good reputation and we're trusted and relied upon...We've been very successful in being introduced to some really big ventures that are going on in the sector; that's a testament to our brand.

AS: The success is being involved with these people from the outset and having them retain us to manage the whole project, to be a trusted advisor. 

AN: The other thing that was successful was we published some research and got it in every national newspaper in the UK...we got loads of publicity out of that. That was only a few months ago.

Why did you decide to join Sussex Innovation Centre?

AS: Because I live nearby and I've got a very small baby and need somewhere to go to get out of the house!

AN: I think there's two things. One is the awesome facilities and space and support that's here and the other thing is that as a company, in terms of our products, we're innovative and we want to be more innovative and dynamic.

AS: We want to meet with innovative businesses as well.

AN: It's been really useful to have people to sound ideas off but also to have people like Claire [Pasquill, Sales and Marketing Advisor] who are clearly experts in their field.

Where do you see yourselves in 5 years time?

AN: In terms of the business, we need to consolidate our position as the leaders in our field, we're only going to do that if we keep innovating and keep the R&D element going. Hopefully we'll have our own premises and have grown as a business which will be a testament to starting out here.

AS: I imagine we'll have a selection of big clients that we work with which are on their way to producing great wine. I see us having an instantly (within the industry) recognisable name as the people who help set up successful businesses.

AN: When we started out we had clients in Europe and now we've redefined what we're doing we're bringing everything back to the UK, primarily to consolidate our position here and develop our brand. [However,] we'll start branching back out into Europe because there are products and services we're developing here, that there's a shortage of in Europe and I think we can take our expertise there. 

AS: I think in 5 years time we'll have developed the innovation products and our revenue stream will have changed so we'll have changed the dynamic of the company.

Read more '5 minutes with...' interviews here.