Kate Drury, a PhD student from the Royal Agricultural University, is one of just 50 winners in the annual Women in Innovation awards, recognising influential female entrepreneurs across the country.
With over 900 applications for the coveted awards, organised by Innovate UK and UK Research and Innovation, Drury – who is studying for her doctorate degree in wool at the Cirencester university – impressed judges with her work and research into creating a biodegradable alternative to plastic rope with wool.
Drury's fledgling company, Sustainable Rope, is doing its bit to reduce microplastic pollution by using traceable wool from British farms to make rope that's completely renewable.
Despite being less than two years old, the company is already getting enquiries from all over the world for its environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional plastic rope, which is made in a range of diameters from small lengths to full coils.
Its products are currently being tested as a replacement for plastic rope to grow seaweed, as well as for conservation purposes and at a permaculture farm.
The innovative rope has also been used to tie seaweed cuttings to rocks, which have become habitats for fish and other marine life – and Drury is researching the possibility of using wool yarn to make a fabric on which to grow seagrass, with the aim of creating a sustainable underwater meadow that can be rolled out like turf.
Coming from a family of sheep farmers, she's passionate about finding even more new uses for British wool, saying it offers 'durability and flexibility' that makes it suitable for a variety of uses, meaning very little of it needs to be wasted.
And with her Women in Innovation award win, Drury receives a £50,000 grant and practical support to grow her business – including a suite of networking, role modelling and training opportunities, as well as one-to-one business coaching.
She said: 'I am really humbled to have been chosen as one of the winners of this award and for my work to have been recognised in this way. It is a huge privilege to be named in this group of amazing British women.
'The percentage of women in new innovative companies in the UK at the moment is really small and these awards really help to encourage innovative women and get more women in senior roles in innovative companies. The validation from UKRI is really valued within the industry. For me, there is no better pat on the back!'
Alongside her PhD and her role at Sustainable Rope, Drury is a Producer Board member for the English Central Region of British Wool – becoming the first woman to serve on the board in the organisation's 70-year history in 2021.