Nova to spend €6.5m on facilities for budding entrepreneurs
Expansion at the UCD centre for early stage companies will increase capacity by 50%
“We like to have a combination of spin-ins and spinouts and have had success with both,” says Tom Flanagan, UCD’s director of enterprise and commercialisation.
Nova, the centre for new ventures based at University College Dublin, is to spend €6.5 million expanding its facilities for early stage companies. When complete in June 2019, the extension will accommodate between 15 and 30 additional start-ups (depending on their size and needs) in 23 new business units, labs and co-working spaces.
Based on the College’s Belfield campus, Nova opened in 2003 and is home to more than 25 startups. To date the hub has assisted some 200 new businesses that now support approximately 2,000 jobs. Between them these companies have raised more than €200 million in equity funding.
Some of Nova’s best-known start-ups include ChangingWorlds acquired by Amdocs in 2008 for over $60 million, Logentries acquired by Rapid7 in 2015 for $68 million, Equinome, which developed the speed gene test for Thoroughbred horses and was acquired by Plusvital in 2015, and EnBio, the space technology company. Among the companies located there are life sciences start-up Carrick Therapeutics, which is developing pioneering cancer treatments. It raised $95 million in an initial funding round in late 2016.
Nova is also home to UCD’s technology transfer team and over the last 15 years some 750 invention disclosures and 250 priority patent applications have been registered. In addition, more than 150 technologies have been licensed to companies such as Amdocs, Amryt and Glanbia.
“The incubator has been running at full capacity for several years and there is constant demand from ambitious startups that want to leverage our ecosystem of experienced mentors, founders, alumni, investors and sponsors,” says Tom Flanagan, UCD’s director of enterprise and commercialisation.
“This development will enable us to support a lot more startups while those locating here can also take advantage of our world-class research and expertise across the wider UCD campus. We like to have a combination of spin-ins and spinouts and have had success with both. We now have about 55 companies across the campus between Nova, Nexus (industry partnership centre) and some of our labs. We also have Consult UCD, our new consulting arm, and a knowledge transfer office.”
Nova comprises the mid-18th century Merville House and two courtyards. The west courtyard is already in use and when finished the new east courtyard facility will add 800m2 of licensable space. Six private sector companies, AIB, Arthur Cox, Deloitte, Ericsson, Goodbody Stockbrokers and Xilinx provided 75 per cent of the €10 million raised to develop the first two phases of Nova, with the balance funded by Enterprise Ireland and UCD.
Flanagan says a number of new programmes will be introduced to tie Nova and the university as a whole more closely to sectors with high-growth potential such as medical, financial and agri tech.
As part of this push, UCD launched a MedTech programme in June that will see it back the location of dedicated knowledge transfer offices within hospitals.
“As far as I know, we are the first organisation to put a knowledge transfer office into a hospital and so far we are in St Vincent’s and the Mater,” he says. “The purpose is to meet the clinicians and look at the opportunities, ideas and inventions coming from them and how to progress them all the way through to becoming a startup. There has been strong interest from medical staff who very often have great ideas but are not sure where to take them and from hospital management who are keen to ensure there’s an innovation outlet for their talent.”
Flanagan says there are also plans to leverage the expertise and resources at UCD’s Lyons Research Farm in Co Kildare to develop more AgTech-related startups while 5G is another key area of interest. “5G is about two years out so there are opportunities now to be developing startups in that space,” he says. “What’s emerging is a 5G supply ecosystem rather than a traditional supply chain and there are opportunities for entrepreneurs to become part of that network and become service providers to one another.
“MedTech, AgTec and 5G are the big three areas for us at the moment but we’re pretty agnostic so if a good idea is presented in any area we will support it,” Flanagan adds. “We’ve a very broad church in terms of the expertise that’s been through our doors – both spinouts and spin-ins – and we spend a lot of time reaching back into our research community through the knowledge transfer teams and working with them from a very early stage towards the possibility of spinning out.”
Asked about the availability of venture funding for startups Flanagan says, “Where the idea and the team have been very strong I haven’t seen any really good opportunity that hasn’t been invested in. When people fail to get money it’s usually because the idea needs more work or they haven’t thought it through from the investor’s perspective. That said, you may need to kiss a lot of frogs to get there.”
Latch Medical: solving a clinical need while bringing relief to patients
Mater hospital spinout Latch Medical is exactly the sort of business UCD’s new MedTech programme is designed to attract. Now based at Nova, Latch Medical is developing the CathLatch which is aimed at the $1 billion worldwide catheter securement market.
The company’s pioneering technology is solving a clinical need while also bringing huge relief to patients for whom catheter use is fraught with hazards including infection risk and painful degradation of the skin.
Initially, Latch was focused on a system that speeded up skin suturing after orthopaedic procedures. However, some distance into the development of this idea the company made a significant pivot and reworked its technology to target a potentially far more lucrative niche.
“Following an intense period of market validation we felt the opportunity was not compelling enough for commercial exploitation,” says the technology’s inventor, Nicky Bertollo, who is also Latch Medical’s chief executive. “However, we found the catheter securement market to be completely under served and dependent on solutions that are largely unsatisfactory and often result in damage to and impairment of skin function, or are invasive and painful.”
CathLatch (which is engineered around the same microarray anchorage technology as the company’s original product) secures the catheter painlessly under the skin’s outer layer and makes it reliable, readily reversible and easy for clinicians to use. “Our highly cost-effective, intuitive and clinically superior approach provides a global solution and a new standard of care for securing any type of catheter. This is something that can be used in any hospital around the world for hundreds of millions of patients annually,” says Bertollo whose company is about to embark on a funding round to raise between €3-€4 million.
Ultimately, it is expected that the product will be made in Ireland and Bertollo says there is no shortage of manufacturers given Ireland’s expertise in medical devices. Latch Medical will start employing people from next year and begin jumping through necessary regulatory hoops with a view to a commercial launch in about three year’s time.