A research discovery at Trinity College Dublin has led directly to the creation of a start-up company that this morning announces it has secured €750,000 in seed funding. It plans to start hiring and scaling up its production capacity.
Adama Innovations Ltd was formed after Prof Graham Cross, a senior researcher in Trinity's Amber (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) centre, made an important discovery in the nanotechnology area, explains company managing director Declan Scanlan. It relates to the most powerful kind of microscope there is, one so sensitive that it can literally see clusters of atoms and map surfaces at scales down to billionths of a metre across.
“We spun out the company and patented the discovery in May 2013. Once we had that done we needed to find funding to get it going,” says Scanlan.
This has come through with today's investment worth €750,000 made by a syndicate that includes Enterprise Ireland, NDRC VentureLab and Irrus Investments. This vital seed funding will begin the scale-up process, given it already has a product and customers, Scanlan says.
This is the second large-scale investment the company has won in the past 12 months. It received €400,000 from the European Commission’s FP7 FaBiMed project, which seeks to apply nanotech research to advanced medical devices.
“We are in the position that we make a product and have couple of customers who really like it. Our pitch to the investors was for funds to scale up. We can radically drop the cost and appeal to a much larger segment of the market,” Scanlan says.
The two partners make a good commercial combination, blending research expertise in a commercially important area from Cross and company development and management skills from Scanlan, an engineer who worked for 15 years in Silicon Valley in the US.
Nanotechnology is being used across a very wide range of areas from medical devices and telecommunications to new types of drug delivery systems and microelectronics. New materials is also a huge area, but it is not enough to simply make nanotech materials: you have to be able to understand them, what they look like and how they operate.
This is where the work being done by Cross and Scanlan comes in. They are working with “atomic force microscopy”, which can be used to image, measure and manipulate matter at the nano scale.
The limiting factor for being able to “see” at these scales is the sharpness of the needle or tip. “The majority of tips are made of silicon and the advantage of silicon is you can make it sharp but the disadvantage is it is very soft, so it wears very quickly,” says Scanlan.
Prof Cross found a solution for this problem, developing a technology that allows him to fabricate diamond tips. “These are as sharp as silicon but a lot tougher and that is the big advantage,” says Scanlan.
The two partners have a clear plan for where they want to go. “We will hire a couple of people and have started to scale up the manufacturing process.” They hope to have 10 employees and a turnover of €2 million within three years.