NUIG spin-out XTremedy Medical took the One to Watch award at last month’s Enterprise Ireland-led Big Ideas 2021 event. Each year, Big Ideas showcases a selection of the most innovative spin-out companies to emerge from Ireland’s third level system. The event gives these companies and their founders a unique opportunity to pitch their businesses to an audience comprised of Irish and international investors as well as leading Irish researchers.
“Big Ideas is our annual showcase of most promising spin-outs from the State-backed research system,” explains Enterprise Ireland director of ICT commercialisation Kevin Burke. “It provides investor-ready start-ups with a pathway to gain support for their business while offering investors an opportunity to benefit from the enormous commercial potential offered by these companies.”
This year’s audience showed a considerable increase on previous years. “We had more than 3,000 attendees,” Burke notes. “The fact that we were forced to move to an online broadcast increased accessibility and allowed more people to attend who mightn’t otherwise have been able to. We do want to get back to a face-to-face format but will try to hold on to the best of the virtual model. We hope to have the best of both worlds next year.”
The aim is to bring the research and investment ecosystem together. “We want to see technology transfer offices meeting investors, spin-out promoters meeting other research scientists and peers and investors. You can’t really replicate the face-to-face experience online. Despite the very high production values we had in the broadcast format you still can’t replicate it.”
The event was highly successful, nevertheless. “We were very pleased with it. A lot of preparation went into it. And the variety and quality of the companies keeps improving all the time. This year’s group spanned a wide range of sectors including life sciences, sports tech, healthcare, artificial intelligence, the future of work and talent management. Also, the standard of the teams’ ability to articulate their propositions and the problems they are solving and their appeal to investors was very high. We are seeing incremental improvements year on year.”
A welcome trend in evidence this year was the strong representation of female founders and co-founders. “We had seven female co-founders and six of them presented on the day,” says Burke. “Another interesting trend was the number of external entrepreneurs getting involved with the spin-out teams. They are bringing their commercial knowledge and expertise to the technical skillsets of the teams.”
The One to Watch award winner is chosen each year by a judging panel. This year’s winner, XTremedy Medical, is focusing on improving wound infection treatments in order to prevent unnecessary amputations. The company has developed a surgical device that delivers electrical signals through a wound, treating both the surface and below to deal with any residual infection.
The Viewers’ Choice award, voted on by the audience, went to UCD spin-out PEARlabs, which has developed a patented super-resolution imaging technology that provides real-time photonic imaging to visualise how life works at a molecular level, providing new insights into biomedical science.
Other innovations presented at this year’s event included a treatment to prevent chemotherapy-induced hair loss, a change management platform for distributed workforces, a wearable therapy to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and a way to integrate healthy, purposeful physical movement into kids’ screen time.
“The quality across all the projects was excellent and they all have a real chance of securing investment,” Burke adds.
The teams also benefit from the experience of previous Big Ideas participants. “Each year we do a look back and ask previous participants to come back and talk about their journeys. This year we had Sandra Healy of Inclusio, Tim Jones of SymPhysis Medical and Dara Meldrum of Vertigenius. Each of them spoke about the progress they have made in the last 12 months.”
The event also helps companies find the right investor. “We try to connect them with the investors who will be right for them,” Burke explains. “At the beginning of the start-up journey companies spend a lot of time on product development and creating a minimum viable product. Then they have to spend time on customer discovery to understand the problems they are trying to solve. That means they may have a way to go before they get to revenue generation. In the medtech space it might be several years before a device is approved.”
These companies are engaged in a lot of value creation that doesn’t produce revenue, but they are still reaching important business milestones. “That’s why we need informed investors who understand this. This is sometimes called patient capital. These companies need investors who understand that it’s a long-term journey and Big Ideas helps them to find them.”