Tuesday 16 July 2019

Spin-outs shine with Big Ideas at this year's showcase event

Enterprise Ireland has long worked with, and supported, companies that are trying to stay ahead of the competition. (Stock image)
Enterprise Ireland has long worked with, and supported, companies that are trying to stay ahead of the competition. (Stock image)

Kevin Burke

Spin-out companies emerging from institutes of higher education continue to show incredible variety and commercial potential, as evidenced from this year's Big Ideas showcase, held in the Guinness Storehouse earlier this month.

The event, which is in its 10th year, gives spin-out founding teams from universities and research institutes an opportunity to pitch to an audience of potential investors, serial entrepreneurs and peer founders on their ongoing commercialisation and spin-out progress.

Over the years, the quality of pitches has increased and Irish third-level institutions are now producing a portfolio of spin-out companies that are increasingly informed and focused on the sector-specific steps they need to take to become investor-ready.

The winner of this year's 'One to Watch Award' at Big Ideas was SepTec, an emerging spin-out company from DCU that is developing a next-generation diagnostic device for sepsis, a life-threatening condition caused when the body's immune system reacts to a severe bacterial, viral or fungal infection. SepTec's sample-to-answer diagnostic device aims to deliver a rapid sepsis diagnosis within minutes (versus existing procedures, which can take between five hours and two days).

The device is undergoing proof-of-concept trials in collaboration with St James's and Beaumont Hospitals. In addition to seed investment, the company is searching for a CEO to join the founding team. If all goes to schedule, SepTec plans to launch the device commercially in 2020 in a market worth $3.01bn a year. Since Big Ideas, SepTec has received interest from a number of parties including investors and a major medical device company. Other companies who participated in Big Ideas have also entered into new discussions with potential investors, which mirrors the experience of previous Big Ideas participants.

For attendees, it's a chance to see an exciting cross-section of spin-out companies that are representative of the vitality of the spin-out pipeline emerging from Ireland's research commercialisation system with the support of Enterprise Ireland's Commercialisation Fund.

The fund is focused on supporting ambitious scientists and researchers committed to developing and commercialising their research outputs via new spin-out companies with high growth and scaling potential. While initially underpinned by the talent and ingenuity of the founder scientists as well as the intellectual property around the technology that has been identified, protected and maintained by DCU's Technology Transfer Office, each spin-out has to push beyond that starting point and make real progress with customers, partners and investors.

There are a number of venture capital funds and angel investor syndicates active in the Irish market that continue to invest in spin-outs to fuel those companies to reach their next set of value-enhancing commercial, clinical and technical milestones. This positions a company well to raise further finance. Those investors recognise the long-term nature and depth of funding required as these companies scale, particularly in highly regulated sectors like medtech.

Three of the 12 promoters who delivered a pitch this year were commercial co-founders introduced via the Enterprise Ireland Business Partner programme, a co-founder matchmaking programme for augmenting spin-out founding teams.

It is also notable that five of the 12 companies shortlisted to pitch at this year's event had female founders or co-founders, demonstrating that Ireland continues to improve the startup environment for female entrepreneurship. These spin-out founders will hopefully add to the share of female-led successful applications for Enterprise Ireland's High-Potential Startup Programme, up from 8pc in 2012 to 28pc in 2017.

Every year, Big Ideas provides a snapshot of the health of the spin-out sector in Ireland. The 2018 event showed that the pipeline continues to grow and improve in quality.

  • Kevin Burke is an Enterprise Ireland senior ICT commercialisation specialist

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