Tuesday 16 July 2019

Irish innovation ecosystem in full bloom

Enterprise Ireland invests in about 45 commercialisation fund projects every year.
Enterprise Ireland invests in about 45 commercialisation fund projects every year.

Kevin Burke

Just as Ireland's entrepreneurial spirit has soared in the past two decades, so too has the appetite for investment in research-based projects sharpened. A recent Enterprise Ireland event for spin-out companies illustrates a national innovation ecosystem in full bloom.

The Big Ideas showcase took place at the Printworks in Dublin Castle earlier this month. The event brought together 12 of the most promising research-based spin-out projects from third-level institutions around Ireland, along with some of the country's most active investors and investment stakeholders.

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For the dozen fledgling companies pitching projects, who have all worked hard to turn a good idea into a marketable business proposition, Big Ideas is a chance to catch the eye of investors who might fund or facilitate the continuation of the journey towards paying customers.

For VCs, angel investors and other interested parties, this annual event is rich with potential - an opportunity to identify emerging spin-outs early and potentially find a winner.

Ireland has produced many tech winners in recent years and when the idea and the team is right, they can justifiably compete globally.

Enterprise Ireland invests in about 45 commercialisation fund projects every year.

We're making discrete, milestone-based bets on specific projects that we think have strong commercial potential, but that require a certain level of state funding for the team to develop and de-risk the technology, create the prototype, and validate the opportunity.

We provide funding across all technology sectors, including life sciences, digital health, food, agritech, medical devices, manufacturing, enterprise software, engineering, data analytics, energy, industry 4.0, wearables, sports tech; you name it.

Big Ideas is a showcase for spin-outs that are emerging from this system in any given year. They have developed their product, created a prototype, done market validation activity, talked to potential customers, and now they're preparing to enter the market as a startup company.

This year's One to Watch award went to SoloPep, an Enterprise Ireland-supported spin-out from the University of Limerick, which has created the world's first disposable airway clearance device for people suffering from cystic fibrosis and other serious respiratory conditions.

Other pitches that illustrated the variety and quality of spin-outs this year included Pathfinder, a Hansel and Gretel-inspired wayfinding system for firefighters, Starling Surgical, an innovative new wound closure device, and VorTech Water Solutions, which aims to reduce the amount of electricity needed to recycle waste water.

Where do this year's finalists go from here? They are all at different stages of their journey but by this time next year, we are confident that some will have secured an initial seed round investment to further develop their product.

Achieving a new set of technical or commercial milestones will build value in the company - and help to secure further, follow-on equity investment.

From there, who knows? Enterprise Ireland maintains a close relationship with all our spin-out companies so that as many as possible will convert into high-potential startups with equity co-investment from us.

Ultimately, our goal is to see them scale into operations with more than 10 jobs and over €1m in revenue, and then take their place among our established portfolio of indigenous companies, generating exports and employment.

For most of this year's spin-outs, the priority is to continue building evidence that trial partners, opinion leaders and investors are interested in what they are doing.

They must also look at optimising the blend of skills and experience within their team, bringing in new people if necessary, to enhance the overall proposition and accelerate commercial progress.

Now is a great time to have a good idea on your hands.

The investor ecosystem in Ireland is more interested in the potential of research-based spin-outs than ever before.

The combination of technical talent and proprietary intellectual property makes them a very attractive prospect, and each year we are seeing more new investments.

Well done to this year's Big Ideas finalists - we look forward to helping you grow!

Kevin Burke is a senior commercialisation specialist at Enterprise Ireland.

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