Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation Arena Awards have uncovered some of Ireland’s most exciting agritech innovators and pioneers over the last 10 years.
Although the Innovation Arena at the National Ploughing Championships will be a virtual affair this year due to Covid-19 restrictions, the annual competition is now open for entries. There are 12 awards in total, with a €5,000 cash prize for each of the winners of the Best Start-Up Award and the Overall Award.
Are you breaking new ground with exciting agricultural technology, a sustainable business model or a pioneering agritech concept? If so, this competition is for you.
Innovators from the following industry sectors are encouraged to enter - dairy and dry-stock farming, horticulture, information and communication technology, cloud and mobile-based software, animal health and genetics, water and waste management, environment and clean-tech, animal and farm management, farm safety and leading research.
“The Innovation Arena Awards are focused primarily on the latest developments in the agritech sector,” explains James Maloney, Innovation Arena Manager with Enterprise Ireland.
“Anybody can apply if they have a concept or new innovation, whether they’re an established company, a start-up company or an entrepreneur who’s designing something that they feel can make a difference. It’s primarily focused on efficiency in agriculture and looking at how this can develop the industry for the future in terms of climate change and sustainability.”
The sector is increasingly turning to innovative agritech products and solutions to achieve greater efficiency, increased sustainability and lower carbon emissions. Last year’s winners showcased how Irish companies are constantly pushing the boundaries, with the winning entries including everything from trailblazing engineering to insect farming to artificial intelligence (AI).
Although the prize money will provide a much-needed boost for any enterprise or individual, there is so much more on offer for the lucky winners.
“Often what we see with the early stage entries in the Innovation Arena Awards is that they’re not the finished article. A really important part of the process is the constructive feedback and the help that they’re given to help develop their products as well. It hones and perfects the idea or concept and then the money is often the easy bit.
“We’ve a range of supports that can help everyone from a start-up right through to an established company with everything from feasibility studies to grants to R&D packages, depending on where you are on the road.”
The competition can also provide a platform to showcase their product or enterprise to a global audience. It provides global exposure and networking opportunities with an opportunity to form meaningful collaborations and commercialise a winning product.
“It’s a very, very simple application process,” adds James. “You log on to www.innovationarena.ie and provide a 250-word summary of the innovation, the problem it’s identified, how you’re going to solve it, and the potential for the innovation. If you get through the screening in the first round, we move to the Innovation Arena boot camp and the interview with the judging panel in July, which will be on Zoom this year as part of the virtual process.”
We spoke to some of last year’s winners to find out how winning an award at Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation Arena Awards benefitted their business.
Mike Malone, Managing Director, Malone Farm Machinery
Malone Farm Machinery won the Overall Innovation Arena Award 2020 with the Malone Express, a 16-bale trailer that can accommodate 16 round bales on a chassis that’s shorter than other comparable machines on the market.
“We’re an agriculture machine manufacturer based in the West of Ireland with 40 employees that specialises in grass harvesting equipment like mowers, tedders, bail handling equipment and toppers,” says Mike.
“We always knew there was a market for a machine for transporting bales and no-one was really concentrating on a machine that would handle a big volume of bales. Tractors have got bigger, farms are getting bigger and the volume of bales for farmers is growing every year so we wanted to make a machine that would carry 16 bales. That’s what we set out to do and that’s how the Malone Express came about.”
This season will be the final year of testing for the Malone Express before it is launched on the market. Mike says that last year’s win has already led to enquiries from the US, Canada and all over Europe. They also received 17,000 views on YouTube within a week of winning.
“The exposure that the award brought got people looking at it and really interested in it. We’ve had huge exposure across all media channels. We have importers in maybe 12 or 15 countries now so we’re getting them interested in it and they’re looking to broaden their product portfolio with us.”
He urges anyone with an interesting product or concept to enter this year’s Innovation Arena Awards.
“If you have a good idea and you think it’s something worthwhile, enter the competition. The exposure it brings you is far and wide and it’s all about getting your idea out there and trying to push it on.”
Alvan Hunt, CEO and Co-Founder of Hexafly
Biotech start-up Hexafly won the Sustainable Agriculture Award 2020 for their sustainable insect farming venture in Slane, Co Meath. They use the black soldier fly to bioconvert industrial food waste into sustainable protein for animal feed, pet products and agricultural fertiliser.
“We use the insects to bioconvert that waste into a material called frass, which is an organic fertiliser,” explains Alvan.
“Then we process the insects at a larval stage into oils and proteins and the oils and proteins go into animal feeds in agriculture and pet foods as a replacement for fish meal, soya meal and palm oil. Our organic fertiliser is a replacement for synthetic chemical fertilisers.
“We’re a circular bioeconomy company so we’re taking in the waste, we’re producing products, and the fertilisers for example then go back to the land, which grows the grain that then goes to the distillery. We then take the byproducts of the distillery so it’s a full circle.”
In addition to providing organic fertilisers for agricultural use and oil for the oliochemical industry, human cosmetic and personal care market, they also have a number of consumer-focused products like bird feed, pet food and organic plant fertiliser. The company is currently increasing production at their Slane plant and there are plans to build a larger Irish plant that can produce 10,000 tonnes of insect protein per annum.
Alvan says that last year’s win provided a massive boost for the company and notes that a win in this competition can provide new start-ups with some much-needed traction.
“The exposure was huge, especially because Enterprise Ireland has a massive online network on LinkedIn and their various other channels,” he adds. “We got a lot of inbound contacts from people interested in the products or interested in a partnership or collaboration.”
Shane Kiernan, CEO, IAMUS Technologies
IAMUS Technologies won the Alfie Cox Best Start-Up Award 2020 for its work on a self-propelled robot called Gallus that works within a chicken house to monitor the birds using biometric sensors.
“IAMUS is developing robotic and AI-driven solutions for the poultry industry,” explains Shane. “Our solution works to decrease costs through lower feed consumption, we increase output through fewer mortalities at the barn, and lastly we allow greater utilisation of the assets themselves, like the farm buildings and farmhouses, through quicker time to market.”
Their technology can speed up the time it takes the birds to develop by constantly gathering data and feeding it back to the farmer if an intervention is required. The birds are also stimulated by the movement of the robot, which encourages increased activity, resulting in a healthier bird.
“Everything we do is connected to animal welfare. We gather a tonne of data on the health and welfare of the birds and what we’re always trying to do is optimise the growing conditions for the bird, given what they’re doing and the signals and signs we see coming back from the bird.”
Shane advised anyone in the agritech field to consider entering the competition.
“It’s great publicity, you’ll get your name out there and there’s a lot of support through Enterprise Ireland that comes out of it as well,” he says.
“It was a big deal for us to win it at the stage that we’re at and to have enquiries coming in from all around the world asking how they could be of help to get us in front of customers. So it was very, very helpful and we would certainly recommend that any agtech company out there should be going for it to see if they could do it as well.”
To enter this year’s Innovation Arena Awards, please go to the website.