The lush green fields of Ireland are famous for producing some of the best food in the world; so given our strong reputation as a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs, it comes as no surprise that we are also regarded as a leader in the agritech industry.
The winners of this year’s Enterprise Ireland Innovation Arena Awards, announced earlier this week, proved once again that Ireland is a country to watch when it comes to valuable solutions to some of the most important issues facing the global agricultural industry today.
Now in its 11th year, the Innovation Arena Awards seek to celebrate and promote those entrepreneurs with a ground-breaking agri-related prototype or product.
The awards traditionally take place at the Innovation Arena during the National Ploughing Championships; however, due to Covid-related restrictions, both the 2020 and the 2021 awards moved online, with shortlisted entrants pitching their idea to the panel of judges via a virtual platform.
With climate change becoming more urgent by the day, solutions based around sustainability, efficiency and greener alternatives figured large in this year’s entries.
We also saw an increase in collaborations between traditional industry and other companies or universities — both these trends were seen in the product presented by the Overall Winner, and the winner of the Sustainable Agriculture Award, marine biotech company Brandon Bioscience in Tralee, Co Kerry.
Developed in collaboration with the traditional fertiliser manufacturer Target Fertilisers, the winning entry is an innovative new biostimulant product using extracts from common brown seaweed that has the potential to reduce nitrogen use on farms by up to 20pc. This is a product that has the potential to truly revolutionise the fertiliser industry at a time when reducing our emissions has become a priority for Europe and the rest of the world.
Ireland’s long and proud history as a leader in the equine industry was reflected in the winner of the Best Overall Start-Up Award, EquiTrace.
This is an app that works with a horse’s microchip to identify, locate and track individual animals as they move while also recording animal temperature and health records. EquiTrace was also the winner of a new award introduced this year, the Vet Technology Award, which recognises innovations made within healthcare in agriculture.
The Innovation Arena also welcomed two new partners this year.
Ifac partnered on the Best Newcomer Award, which went to Moonsyst International, a smart monitoring system that collects real time data from livestock to help farmers increase productivity, detect disease earlier and monitor heat, water intake and movement.
UCD Lyons also partnered on the Agritech Award, which was presented to FodderBox in Cork, a novel hydroponic system that creates efficiency in fodder growth. As the winner of this award, FodderBox will also be taking part in the new AgTechUCD Agcelerator Programme in UCD, an intensive 12-week programme that includes business development workshops, investor readiness training, mentoring from experts and advisers, and introductions to VC and angel networks.
AgTechUCD provides incubation space and on-farm testing for new products and services, and was funded through the Regional Enterprise Development Fund administered by Enterprise Ireland.
In its traditional spot as part of the Innovation Arena at the Ploughing Championships, entrants had a valuable opportunity to showcase their product or idea in front of a large audience from the industry, a potentially life-changing opportunity for any entrepreneur.
With the cancellation of the Championships in 2020, the awards moved online; however, this does not affect the impact of the awards for our winners.
For example, last year’s overall winners, Malone Farm Machinery in Mayo, received over 17,000 views on YouTube in the first week, and attracted interest from many countries for its compact 16-bale trailer.
With such innovative and topical products, we are sure that the 2021 winners will enjoy a similar level of interest in their growing businesses.
James Maloney is senior regional development executive at Enterprise Ireland. For more information on the Innovation Arena see www.enterprise-ireland.com