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Innovation Arena Awards: shaking up Irish agriculture

Enterprise Ireland awards offer agritech firms a platform to showcase solutions to a global audience


Farms of the future: Technological innovations can help farmers maximise their output. Stock image.

Farms of the future: Technological innovations can help farmers maximise their output. Stock image.

Farms of the future: Technological innovations can help farmers maximise their output. Stock image.

Agriculture and the associated industries remain vital to Ireland’s economy, employing over 150,000 people.

Despite this, it is one of the least digitalised industries globally, according to a 2018 McKinsey report. So it’s no surprise that many of Ireland’s entrepreneurs see the opportunities in agriculture to produce solutions – that are needed on a global scale – to improve efficiency, sustainability and sector-specific issues such as disease control and carbon emissions.

An important showcase for new products and solutions for the agriculture sector is Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation Arena in partnership with the National Ploughing Association. The event traditionally occurs in September at the National Ploughing Championships.

Throughout the event, entrants have the opportunity to demonstrate and pitch their designs on the stage before category winners are announced.

In 2020, the Ploughing Championships were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the awards successfully moved online.

This year, amid ongoing restrictions, the awards are launching once again on a virtual platform. They are now inviting entries from companies with a ground-breaking agri-related prototype or product.

This event will be the 11th Innovation Arena Awards and the eighth involving Enterprise Ireland.

There are 12 awards in total, with a €5,000 cash prize for each of the winners of the Best Startup Award and the Overall Award.

Most importantly, however, the awards offer companies a platform to showcase their solutions to a global audience, which could include potential customers and investors.

Last year, the overall winners, Malone Farm Machinery in Mayo, clocked up 17,000 views on YouTube in the first week. It attracted interest from many countries – including the US, Canada and France – for their innovative and compact 16-bale trailer.

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In conjunction with Enterprise Ireland’s global network, the exposure through the platform has the potential to turn an emerging Irish company into a worldwide business.

Finding solutions

Entries for the awards are based on improving agriculture efficiencies and exploring how technology is helping to modernise agriculture.

For our size, Ireland is strong in agritech, with agri-engineering exports worth just over €500m. Food, drink and horticulture exports exceeded €13bn in 2019, according to Bord Bia. Combining our strength in agriculture with our reputation for excellence in research and technology, innovation presents significant opportunities for entrepreneurs.

This year's particular area of interest is innovation for a green future in agriculture. This is especially true in the areas of lowering carbon emissions, improving efficiencies, and creating sustainable agriculture for the future. Many exciting ideas are emerging in this area.

A great example of innovation in this space is last year’s winner of the Sustainable Agriculture Award. Hexafly is a company that essentially produces protein from black soldier flies, a very environmentally friendly way of making protein for animal feeds.

We’ve also seen innovations in using technology and sensors to help farmers optimise both crop and animal nutrition, providing benefits on production costs while also protecting the environment. For instance, if a plant doesn’t need certain nutrients, sensors are emerging to recognise this. These sensors are being partnered with software which deliver data to farmers, helping them make more informed decisions based on science and information.

Antibiotic efficacy is also a concern across the globe. Micron Agritech has a solution that allows farmers to test for worms on-site to determine whether an animal needs an antibiotic treatment or not. This innovative new technology aims to move away from broad-spectrum treatments into more targeted applications, saving money, reducing resistance and protecting the future for all.

Entry details

Applications can be made on the Enterprise Ireland website at www.enterprise-ireland.com. The application process is very straightforward: entrants are asked to submit a 250-word description of their company, what they do, and the problem that their innovation solves.

These entries are then shortlisted to move on to the second stage, which involves a more detailed entry form and a pitch to the judges. Traditionally, this would have taken place on the Innovation Arena stage at the Ploughing Championships, but this year’s entrants will pitch their ideas to a virtual judging panel.

Companies with a working prototype or finished product can enter under any category. Each entry is then eligible for the main awards: the Overall and Best Startup awards.

The closing date for entries is Wednesday, June 30, 2021.
More details on the application process can be found here.

James Maloney is senior regional development executive at Enterprise Ireland

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