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Key collaboration with DIT provides success for Kastus

Company developed pioneering treatment to claim the 2017 Irish Times Innovation award

A chance encounter in 2007 led to a decade-long collaboration which produced the 2017 Irish Times Innovation Award winner.

That's the very short version of the Kastus story as told by chief executive John Browne.

“We are a spin-out from DIT,” he says. “We couldn’t have achieved what we have without their expertise, people and facilities.”

Kastus has developed a pioneering antimicrobial treatment that can be used to coat glass and ceramics or be added to plastics and paint. The coating has a proven 99.99 per cent kill rate against harmful bacteria and fungi including antibiotic-resistant superbugs such as MRSA and E.coli.

Its anti-microbial properties are activated by indoor light and it generates no toxic by-products.

The core product is based on technology developed by Crest (Centre for Research in Engineering Surface Technology) at the Dublin Institute of Technology and that’s where the story begins.

"An Enterprise Ireland development advisor attended an industry conference back in 2007 and met the centre manager from Crest facility who told him about a piece of IP they had which would be a good candidate for commercialisation," Browne recalls. "The development advisor put them in touch with me as a potential commercialisation partner. This is where Enterprise Ireland really works at its best."

Browne found the technology interesting and that was where the collaboration began.

“I thought it could be attractive from a commercial point of view and I got involved in the commercialisation of core IP,” he adds. “It would have been incredibly expensive for a company like Kastus to do this on its own so the DIT facilities were invaluable to us.”

Having agreed to take the original technology forward, Browne then came in contact with DIT’s Knowledge Transfer Office, otherwise known as Hothouse. DIT Hothouse is responsible for the commercialisation of intellectual property arising from DIT research and is the hub of innovation and technology transfer activities in DIT.

"It is the place where business meets innovation," explains Paul Maguire, acting head of innovation at DIT.

“We have a range of spinout technologies available to industry across life sciences, food, ICT, software, industrial technology, manufacturing and clean technologies. Our brilliant team works with students, lecturers and research teams across DIT as well as with entrepreneurs, industry leaders and investors. We open up the world of DIT expertise to entrepreneurs and industry, Hothouse is the place where business meets innovation.”

Extensive trials

The closeness of the collaboration is key.

“We want to become an extension of a company’s own R&D effort and facilities,” Maguire adds. “Companies like Kastus get access to our facilities and people. John came with a need for the development and commercialisation of a novel anti-microbial coating technology and we helped with that.”

That process involved product development, and extensive trials and testing in response to market soundings.

“DIT was there from end to end,” says Maguire. “We co-developed the product and John would go out to potential customers and get feedback and we would take that on board in our work.”

DIT Hothouse also assisted with the company’s patent strategy.

“They helped us get the patents across the line,” says Browne. “Our IP strategy has been key to our success. We have 18 patents granted and pending now and that gives us the global coverage we need.”

The collaboration with DIT Hothouse began with an initial feasibility study to see if the product could be commercially viable and to assess market need.

“Once we had done that, the next stage was development,” Browne points out. “The collaborative development project took four years and was co-funded by Enterprise Ireland and me. This was a painfully slow process for someone like me, but we needed to ensure that we had product that worked and that customers would want and that is commercially viable. After that came the patent strategy and the commercial launch. It was a collaborative process all the way through.”

The often painstaking process proved worthwhile with Kastus now having a pipeline of 40 potential clients around the world.

"It's been incredible. We are dealing with a very broad range of companies in areas like ceramic tiles for sanitary areas. We are also working with a roof tile company. Ceramic roof tiles are widely used in southern Europe and our product is very useful for preventing greening. We are also talking to smartphone glass manufacturers. There is a huge range of applications for our product and this gives us great scope for rapid growth."

The company is growing rapidly both in scale and in product range.

“We have 14 employees at the moment and this will grow to 30 or 40 by the end of the year,” says Browne.

"It's very exciting. We are also working on new products and applications for the core product. James Kennedy heads up our R&D team and he is collaborating with DIT on a new pipeline of intellectual property. We have just signed up a new two-year innovation partnership starting in June with DIT. It's been a fantastic collaboration; DIT has been there with us every step of the way and I would encourage other innovative companies to get involved with them."

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