The strength and breadth of Ireland’s deep technology capability was on full display at Big Ideas, the competitive pitching event for innovative Irish start-ups from third level research organised by Enterprise Ireland, which took place last month on the 24th November in Croke Park, Dublin.
It showcased extremely high levels of innovation coming out of Ireland’s cutting-edge public research institutions and universities.
Deep tech is technology based on scientific advances or engineering innovation. It takes what is already known and develops it - or disrupts it entirely. As such it drives progress.
It’s why the deep tech innovations coming out of Ireland’s inventive, research-led start-ups are so important: they have the potential to improve our economy, our society, and the world.
As an export-led economy, Ireland needs continual investment in research and development (R&D) to compete in fast moving overseas markets.
The good news is that R&D, and the commercialisation of research projects, is an area in which Ireland can excel. We know this because, from submarine to voice recognition software to the stethoscope, Ireland already has a long history of developing world leading, research-led, inventions.
What’s the Big Idea?
Big Ideas is an enterprising pitch competition set up by Enterprise Ireland (EI) for innovative projects that have emerged from academic research and are now ready for commercialisation.
It provides these investor-ready start-ups with an opportunity to pitch for the funding, skills, and knowledge they need to take their innovation to market.
In recent years start-ups from Ireland’s higher education system have accounted for around 15 per cent of the companies participating in Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start Up (HPSU) programme.
Over the last decade, the number of those start-ups supported by Enterprise Ireland and still trading strongly stands at almost 200.
Between them they account for more than 1,500 high-value jobs, and over €120 million spent in the economy every year.
The investor-ready start-ups that pitched at Big Ideas have all been supported by Enterprise Ireland’s commercialisation fund programme, a strategic pipeline for EI’s HPSU unit.
This state-funded grant supports venture scientists and commercial leads within the Irish research system to commercialise their research by developing their technology, while at the same time validating its market opportunity.
In addition to financial support, EI provides networking, mentorship, advisory services, and professional development support to project teams, to ensure they capitalise on their market opportunity and maximise their potential.
Innovation by the dozen
The 12 investor-ready start-ups at Big Ideas pitch to an audience of investors, research scientists, technology transfer executives, state agency and Government department colleagues.
The winner of this year’s one-to-watch award was Nanobox, a Nova UCD spin-out headed up by Dr John Favier and Dr Mohammad Ghaani, who have developed a highly energy efficient technology for the oxygenation of water, a vital and previously costly part of many commercial bioprocesses.
Fada Medical, which is on a mission is to improve insulin delivery for people with diabetes, won the viewers’ choice award, voted for by the live and virtual audience on the day.
Other start-ups pitching included Darwin and Goliath, a firm that helps companies reduce emissions at procurement stage by comparing vendors and displaying emissions information to end users.
An emerging UCD start-up Giyst uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to create video summaries that tackle issues of information overload for business, education, and other markets, while Unidoodle addresses the problem of student disengagement in class-based learning.
Infraprint enables the 3D printing of engineering plastics that are stronger than any system on the market, for everything from medical devices to aircraft engine parts, while Lia Therapeutics has developed a drug-free, wearable medical device that’s quite literally a site for sore eyes – it treats them.
Transformation in Learning and Training (Tilt) has developed a training solution to make diverse organisations more inclusive, while Releviumbio has developed an injectable gel treatment for knee osteoarthritis.
Opens, from the Nimbus Research Centre in MTU, offers automated energy savings while Pumpinheart, a Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland development, has prototyped a heart pump to treat advanced stage heart failure. Vzarii has developed innovative gene therapies that target age related macular degeneration.
All are following in the successful footsteps of previous Big Ideas participants such as Croívalve, whose minimally invasive treatment for heart failure recently underwent its first in-human implant in Poland.
Trinity College Dublin spin-out Proverum has developed a minimally invasive solution to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) in the doctor’s office. It recently announced the commencement of a pivotal clinical trial, with its first procedure successfully performed in Florida.
Plasmabound’s patent-pending plasma technology is helping industries to lose weight, and reducing their carbon footprint, by substituting heavy components with lighter, stronger materials in an array of industries, from medical devices to aviation.
Networking platform Wrky has grown its user base around the world while nanotechnology company Kastus has created the world’s first constantly self-cleaning surface coatings.
Children’s voice technology pioneer Soapbox Labs recently won the education category of Fast Company’s Next Big Things in Tech while fellow former Big Ideas participant Nova Leah is now a world leader in centralised risk management systems for connected medical devices.
Many of the founders of the above companies, and half of those pitching at this year’s Big Ideas event, are women.
Pic: Participants at this year’s Big Ideas, an annual event run by Enterprise Ireland to show off the nation’s top tech talent
Setting up deep techs start-ups for success
“Everybody has an ask at Big Ideas. They are looking for funding but also for trial partners, for commercial leads, for customers or for supply chain,” says Deirdre Glenn, Enterprise Ireland’s commercialisation director.
“All are brilliant venture scientists who are coming to the end of their journey with us. We have funded these research projects under our commercialisation fund and all the intellectual property is owned by the State,” she says, adding that people often ask her why the State invests in such projects.
“It’s because they are still high-risk deep tech projects that no-one in the private sector would invest in them. But this is high risk with the potential for very high returns. What Enterprise Ireland does is try to de-risk the project to the point where third-party investors will write that first start-up investment cheque,” she explains.
The State is already helping to seed a new wave of start-ups in myriad ways, including the €500 million Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund (DTIF).
In addition, in October 2022 Enterprise Ireland, already one of the world’s leading seed investors, launched a new Pre-Seed Start Fund targeting early-stage start-ups, to further bridge the funding gap.
In championing deep tech in this way, Enterprise Ireland is supporting the EU in its drive to become less reliant and more autonomous in how it solves the challenges facing it, from food security to climate change. Enterprise Ireland is a lead seed investor because of its aim to start and grow Irish companies, to create jobs and to drive prosperity in all the regions of Ireland
“Very importantly, while Enterprise Ireland is deeply committed to this work, we could not succeed in it or in running the Big Ideas event without the exceptional support provided by the network of Technology Transfer Offices across our higher education institutions and research-performing organisations. Their work to drive research innovation through research collaboration and to identify and licence new technologies and intellectual property is vital to the success of our deep tech HPSUs,” she says.