As the global battle against Covid-19 intensifies, Irish medtech and life sciences firms are ramping up production to meet soaring demand for nebulisers, ventilators and other badly-needed treatment and protection equipment.
Half of the existing ventilators in acute hospitals around the world were made in Ireland, which is ranked as one of the top five global medtech hubs.
Doubling production of critical devices
Medtronic, the world’s largest standalone medical device maker, produces ventilators in a large manufacturing plant in Galway, in the west of Ireland. It is doubling its capacity by more than doubling its workforce of 250 and moving to round-the-clock production.
Another firm increasing production to meet high global demand related to coronavirus treatment is Enterprise Ireland-backed client Aerogen. It’s the world’s leading supplier of aerosol drug delivery products through ventilators to patients in critical and intensive care.
Before the current crisis, Aerogen already provided hospitals in more than 75 countries with its products, benefitting 10 million patients.
Aerogen CEO John Power expects the company could ship 3m or 4m units in 2020, up from 2m in 2019. It is also investigating how to address the global ventilator shortage by adapting non-invasive ventilation systems.
Power and his team are striving to ensure they can meet the sudden and unprecedented growth in demand. “We are a global company and we are balancing demand from across the world,” he says.
Demand up by as much as 300%
Galway-based M&M Qualtech manufactures products for the medtech, aviation, ICT and other sectors. It produces ventilators, nebulisers and medical monitoring equipment for its medtech customers, including Aerogen and Medtronic. It says it’s seeing capacity demand three to five times higher than the usual pre-crisis level.
M&M Qualtech began to see this spike in manufacturing demand in early March and already expects to produce 4m nebulisers this year, up from 2m last year. It also anticipates a similar rate of increase in production of nebuliser controllers (likely to produce 45,000, up from 35,000) and ventilator AC modules (expecting to make 18,000, up from 5,000 in 2019).
It’s increasing capacity by focusing factory production on the most critically needed medical products, hiring up to 25% more Production Operators, engaging with suppliers daily to expedite materials into production, and redesigning its factory to meet social distancing requirements.
Ripple effect of Covid-19 crisis
Also based in the west of Ireland, Vitalograph is the world leader in the analysis of cough drug trials. It specialises in cardiorespiratory and related devices that measure lung and cardiac function, diagnose lung disorders and also produces associated products and software.
Vitalograph is working to meet increased demand for spirometers and consumables such as bacterial-viral filters and test kits and seeing a significant increase in orders of remote monitors. Over the past 15 years, Vitalograph remote monitoring has mainly been used in clinical trials but is now rapidly being adopted by mainstream healthcare.
“Remote monitoring enables the most vulnerable patients with conditions such as COPD, cystic fibrosis and IPF to remain in their homes and not travel to hospitals or clinics and risk picking up infections,” said Frank Keane, the company’s CEO.
“As the patients we serve will be the most vulnerable to a respiratory disease of this nature, we are doubling our efforts to ensure we can fulfil our mission and serve them at this time.”
Vitalograph has also recruited more staff, and increased both capacity and orders from sub-suppliers, and activated their comprehensive business continuity plan.
Deirdre Glenn, Head of Lifesciences with Enterprise Ireland, Ireland’s trade and innovation said; “In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, Irish medtech companies are rising to the challenge of meeting the increased global demand for essential equipment needed for the treatment and prevention of Covid-19. As the second largest exporter of medtech products in Europe, and with the highest number of people per capital employed in medtech in Europe, Ireland is primed to play its role in the global fight against Covid-19”
Irish companies are taking up the fight against Covid-19. New developments rapidly emerging from Ireland, one of the leading medtech hubs in the world, are being used to help stem the advance of the virus.
New rapid Covid-19 diagnostic test
Dublin based HiberGene Diagnostics develops and manufactures molecular diagnostics tests for human infectious diseases. It specialises in the manufacture of rapid and highly accurate testing solutions that are cost effective and simple to use.
Now it is developing a new and rapid test for the novel coronavirus, which it hopes to bring to market shortly after clinical evaluation at potential sites in China, Italy & Ireland.
HiberGene’s tests are based on non-invasive human samples such as swabs, and minimal sample processing.
Because the test for the new coronavirus is a “near patient test”, samples will be taken and tested on location, without needing to be sent offsite to a laboratory, it expects to diagnose a positive COVID 19 result in approx. 20 minutes, many times faster than the fastest existing molecular diagnostic tests.
New Protein to fight Covid-19 through diagnosis, vaccines and research
Fellow Irish biotech company Aalto Bio Reagents has launched a new protein with the power to fight the Covid-19 on three fronts – diagnosis, vaccines and research.
Its new recombinant SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein (code CK 6404) is available for diagnostic test manufacturers, vaccine developers and researchers globally, all of whom are working to stem the current pandemic.
“Patients are currently being screened for the virus by PCR”, explained Philip Noone, CEO of Aalto Bio Reagents, “however there is an important need for serological tests as well to detect all those mild or even asymptomatic cases that may otherwise be missed. Sero-epidemiologic investigations, such as those aimed to better understand transmission characteristics and severity of COVID-19, are also essential.”
The medical field and diagnostic industry have an unrelenting requirement for access to scientifically proven raw materials in outbreak situations like this, where fast diagnosis is required, he said. “With our new SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein we endeavour to meet this urgent demand.”
Irish company Aerogen has pioneered new ways to help people in respiratory distress. To date more than nine million patients worldwide have benefited from its innovative aerosol drug delivery technology.
Unlike conventional nebulisers, Aerogen has an in-line circuit design, which means the ventilation circuit does not need to be broken for drug delivery. Its management team believes it could therefore be a viable option to help deliver industry-leading care to patients infected with Covid-19.
Its products offer a lower risk of transmission of patient generated infectious aerosol for health care professionals in acute care settings than traditional nebulisers.
For patients requiring ventilation, its vibrating mesh technology, and closed circuit design, makes it a viable option to help deliver industry-leading care. Recent UK government guidelines state that when treating respiratory patients a closed suctioning system must be used, and that ventilator circuits should not be broken unless necessary.
Unlike conventional nebulisers, the Aerogen Solo device has an in-line circuit design and is designed so that the medication reservoir is isolated from the breathing circuit, minimising nebulisation of contaminated fluids.
Air Purification System to Kill Airborne Viruses
Pioneering plasma technology developed by Irish company Novaerus is already being deployed to purify air for patients and medical staff.
Novaerus helps control the spread of pathogens by closing the infection control loop made up of hands, surfaces, and now air. It uses a patented technology that kills airborne viruses by sucking air from a room and passing it through patented plasma coils which destroy them, reducing the risk of cross-infection.
Several of its medical-grade, clean air solutions have been donated to hospitals in Wuhan, China.
These include its latest model, Defend 1050, a mobile solution designed for rapid remediation in large spaces and situations with a high risk of infection.
Coronaviruses spread via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread. “The most difficult disease transmission-route to guard against is airborne because we have very little to protect us when we breathe,” explained Dr Kevin Devlin, CEO at WellAir, the Irish parent company of Novaerus.
New Augmented Reality Hand Washing App
Leaders across the world have stressed that the primary tool we have at all our disposal in the fight against Covid-19 is the ability to wash our hands. Stemming the virus’ spread depends on how often, and how well, we do that.
If hand hygiene is done properly it can be over 90% effective in preventing the spread of harmful germs, yet a large number of people are unaware that they are not washing their hands correctly.
SureWash is an augmented reality hand washing app developed to provide proper hand hygiene training to healthcare workers, patients and visitors worldwide.
It ensures compliance in hand hygiene to World Health Organisation protocol by delivering training in an engaging manner that encourages participation. By providing real-time feedback, it helps users to improve their technique.
The software system also provides infection control personnel with the data necessary to monitor hand hygiene progress and to guarantee positive results.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic it has launched its app to the general public, so that everyone can play their part.
New Covid-19 online portal allows GPs to treat patients remotely
Patient portal developer Wellola responded to a call from Ireland’s Health Services Executive (HSE), Ireland’s national health authority, to develop and launch a new secure communication portal for clinicians and primary care providers in response to the pandemic.
Called HSE Covid 19 Portal, it’s an easy to use digital tool designed to optimise doctor and patient safety. Patients access it via an app which is downloadable via the HSE Covid 19 website. The new online portal allows GPs and healthcare providers to treat people remotely so as to protect themselves from Covid-19. The portal allows GPs and primary-care providers to easily offer patients a range of services, including online bookings, a video consultation service, secure messaging and form completion to assist in triaging.
The Covid 19 app is based on existing technology already developed and tested by Wellola and so was ready to launch just four days after receiving the call from the HSE.
Finally, in the face of a worldwide shortage of life saving ventilators, an international initiative called the Open Ventilator Project quickly came together on Facebook to design and build a 3-D printed ventilator.
In Ireland the project was led by Colin Keogh of Sapien Innovation, a specialist in applied innovation, creativity and design thinking services. Within a week it had produced a prototype it hopes will be validated by Ireland’s health authorities for use in the fight against Covid-19.
Whether it’s Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Augmented Reality or the Internet of Things, the world’s biggest brands know they must harness the power of digital technology to gain that all important competitive edge.
“Irish tech companies listen to the demands of the global market and understand those needs. CEOs know the value their products and services can bring to global brands and they deliver to the exceptional standards required” says Carol Gibbons, Head of ICT within Enterprise Ireland, Ireland’s Trade and Innovation agency and the VC arm of the Irish Government.
Small island, global mindset
Ireland is home to a vibrant cluster of more than 1,000 Irish digital technology companies. In addition, many multinationals firms have chosen Ireland as their strategic European base, making Ireland one of the largest and most spirited tech hubs in Europe. The strong Irish company base is dominated by an international sales focus and a flourishing startup entrepreneurship base.
Many of these Irish tech companies are proven world leaders in their industries, delivering smart, effective products to global household name businesses, across a diverse range of industries: HR to Media, Travel and Manufacturing, Financial Services, Social Media and Games, Mobility and Project Management.
“There’s incredible energy and depth in the Irish tech space,” says Gibbons. “We have a truly open innovative economy. Irish tech companies here are driven and forward-looking, and work with a global mindset. More than half of their turnover comes from export sales.”
The largest demand for Irish tech is in North America with Irish technology companies exporting €1.6bn in 2018. This is followed by the UK with €0.9bn exports and the Eurozone with €0.5bn exports in 2018.
Standing tall with global giants
Securing deals with global brands such as Audi, the Special Olympics and Women’s World Banking is far from easy, but Gibbons says Irish companies succeed because of their domain knowledge, their ability to apply relevant technology and their global experience.
Many tech titans have EMEA and development centres headquartered in Ireland. “Irish tech firms have grown up alongside these global leaders, often collaborating with them bringing technology and know-how together to facilitate new technological developments enabling more rapid research and development. Irish companies are immersed, in this culture of pursuing excellence in innovation,” says Gibbons.
Embracing innovation, fostering excellence
“Across the globe, Ireland is known for its deep-rooted pedigree in software development. That has laid the foundation for the extraordinary digital technology innovation now happening here, across AI, Data Analytics, Blockchain, AR VR, Cognitive Cloud Computing and IoT,” says Gibbons.
“We also produce and attract amazing talent to work in this sector, and our tech firms are supported by a world-class R&D ecosystem and vibrant investment activity.”
For decades, Ireland has had a strong innovation agenda, to become one of the leading Research, Development and Innovation locations in the world. Over the past thirty years, Ireland has built a growing reputation for scientific excellence and is now a world leader in generating and using new knowledge for economic and social progress.
In fact, in 2018 the European Innovation Scoreboard ranked Ireland first for innovative SMEs and first for employment in knowledge-intensive activities. Ireland has also had a very strong success rate in Horizon 2020 funding, the EU-wide programme for research and innovation. Since the programme’s inception in 2014, Ireland has secured more than €500m through Horizon 2020.
“Initiatives like Ireland’s €500m Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund is game changing. The funding enables companies to collaborate on disruptive technology with true innovation value. We’re seeing an exceptional output from this in areas such as AI, Blockchain and sustainable technology.”
Backing brilliance, building the pipeline
Recently named by Pitch Book as the second largest VC investor globally, and first in Europe, by deal count in 2019. Enterprise Ireland invested €24 million in 127 start-ups in 2019 and €72 million in venture funds in 2018, as part of its Seed and Venture Capital Schemes.
“We walk the journey every step of the way with Irish tech firms,” says Gibbons. “We know the global landscape and we know what it takes to transform a high-potential start-up into a globally scaled business. On a daily basis our network of 40 international offices work with companies to help them source innovative Irish technology not just to grow and lead but to reshape the entire customer journey and accelerate growth in the years to come.”
Over the last 10 years, Ireland has emerged as a significant player in the start-up space, with a strong focus on leading-edge and disruptive technologies.
Ireland’s world-class start-up ecosystem and skilled entrepreneurs were celebrated last week at Start-Up Showcase 2020. The event, organised by Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, brought together 127 companies in which it had invested in 2019, to the tune of €24 million.
Ireland is steadily building an impressive pipeline of high potential start-ups (HPSUs) that are benefitting from a highly developed start-up ecosystem, an unrivalled culture of connectivity and innovation, and a broad range of supports from Enterprise Ireland.
“Strategically, start-ups are critically important to the Irish economy, as they operate at the leading edge of innovation,” says Niall McEvoy, manager of the HPSU ICT team at Enterprise Ireland.
“Among the start-up companies that we support every year, there will be some that go on to be the great Irish companies of the future that are globally scaled and internationalised. So it’s absolutely critical to the future of the economy that the State and other funders continue to invest in start-ups.”
It’s that rationale that has made Enterprise Ireland unique in a global context in being a significant investor in early-stage businesses. In fact, Pitchbook recently ranked it the number one investor in Europe and number two in the world for the number of investments in start-ups in 2019, by VC deal count.
Supporting start-ups through early challenges
Every start-up faces similar key challenges: refining the product to attain optimum product–market fit, fundraising and, once market validation is achieved, building a company that can deliver real scalable growth.
“Enterprise Ireland has a wide suite of programmes and financial supports, as well as a team of advisers that have built up a huge bank of experience around helping our clients overcome these early challenges,” explains McEvoy. “We work with start-ups at the pre-seed/validation stage and also at the seed and scaling stage.
“Our pre-seed support focuses on mentoring, helping companies with market intelligence, skills development and customer engagement all the way up to starting to win business and preparing for investor funding. Financially we support pre-seed companies via our Competitive Start Fund, and through feasibility funding and Innovation Vouchers.”
Stage 2 support is about accelerating the early stage growth of the company, Enterprise Ireland is a significant direct investor at this stage through its iHPSU funding mechanism and also participates in follow-on investment at Series A stage for those companies making the most progress.
“As well as this financial support, we have an extensive network of international offices that start-ups can work with to explore overseas markets,” says McEvoy. “That’s a key differentiator when you compare Enterprise Ireland with other agencies around the world.
“Companies also get very intensive advisory support and we encourage peer-to-peer learning, for example through the HPSU Founders Forum, which connects companies to each other, and to previous generations of entrepreneurs.”
The strength of the ecosystem
McEvoy believes that one of the things that makes Ireland such a great place to start a business is how connected the ecosystem is.
“Enterprise Ireland is a significant player but you also have VCs, and accelerator and incubator programmes across all of the key verticals that help companies test, validate, grow and attain product–market fit,” he says. “It’s very much about the power of the network and the wider connectivity to investors, to other entrepreneurs and to international market opportunities.”
Connectivity to universities and research centres is also important. Last year, 13 of the start-ups supported by Enterprise Ireland were spin-outs from third level organisations.
“A lot of innovation is coming out of research labs; through our Commercialisation Fund and other supports Enterprise Ireland provides the conduit to spin-out and turn the research into real-world, commercial opportunities.”
There’s also a healthy interest in start-ups within Ireland’s multinational business community, which recognises the value of the innovation and disruption that are a natural part of the start-up arena.
“The level of collaboration between indigenous companies – established and start-up – and multinational companies has never been greater, particularly through initiatives like the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund, which encourages indigenous companies, multinationals and third level institutes to work collaboratively,” says McEvoy.
Ireland has a growing global reputation as a tech hub and this, says McEvoy, is down to the emergence of technically strong and focused start-ups.
“To be a strong tech hub it’s not just about having the people, you need to have resources, education and training and the connectivity. Whether a new HPSU is emerging from an indigenous company that has already scaled or whether it’s emerging from university or from the multinational sector, they all need to be able to progress rapidly and get the supports that come from the ecosystem. The strength of the ecosystem is absolutely key.”
Sectors and standouts
ICT continues to be the dominant sector for Irish HPSUs, with some 70% of new companies funded last year falling broadly into this category.
“Fintech has been particularly strong, and in recent years we’ve been seeing a growing focus on deeptech. A lot of our early stage companies are starting to employ artificial intelligence and machine learning in their software solutions. That’s a very strong and exciting trend,” says McEvoy.
Dublin company, Aylien is one such company. Its AI-powered news intelligence platform digests the world’s news content and identifies what matters to a business with human-level accuracy. Artificial intelligence is also at the heart of EdgeTier’s technology, which increases the efficiency of customer service centres by helping human agents to respond to customer queries by suggesting responses and providing context-sensitive and personalised data.
In the medtech / life sciences sector, which after ICT is the next biggest focus for Irish start-ups, Nuritas is combining artificial intelligence and genomics to discover and unlock natural bioactive peptides with health benefits.
“I believe that Ireland is punching above its weight in terms of the strength of its start-up ecosystem and the cutting-edge innovation that is driving new company establishment and growth,” says McEvoy.
The new partnerships will provide health facilities across China access to Novaerus patented clean air technology.
Novaerus, an Irish company that manufactures and sells patented medical-grade, clean air solutions, has partnered with seven established distributors across China, in regions such as Hubei, Beijing, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Guangzhou City and the Chinese special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau. The new partnerships are welcomed at a time of growing concern surrounding the recent infectious outbreak, caused by a novel coronavirus, that started in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.
Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
Global health authorities are currently monitoring the recent outbreak, which has been spreading across China, with a growing number of additional cases identified globally.
Symptoms of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in more severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. There are currently over 28,000 confirmed cases of the virus, with over 500 reported deaths.
It’s not yet clear how easily 2019-nCoV spreads from person-to-person. However, previous strains of coronavirus, MERS and SARS, were thought to have been spread via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread.
“The most difficult disease transmission route to guard against is airborne because we have very little to protect us when we breathe,” says Dr Kevin Devlin, CEO at WellAir, the parent company of Novaerus. “Infection prevention specialists have pointed out that surgical masks are not designed to keep out viruses. Cleaning the air is a fundamental component of managing infectious outbreaks.”
Due to the small size of viruses, many clean air solutions, including standalone filtration, are unable to trap viral particles. Novaerus portable air dis-infection units use a non-selective, rapid killing, patented plasma technology, offering a unique and safe solution to kill airborne viruses 24/7. The technology has also been independently tested to reduce MS2 Bacteriophage, a commonly used surrogate for SARS-CoV* (Coronavirus) by 99.99%.
“Given the rapid and consistent kill rates achieved using Novaerus, it is reasonable to anticipate that our plasma technology will show similar impact and rapid kill rates across all viral particles,” says Dr Felipe Soberon, Chief Technology Officer at WellAir.
Novaerus portable air dis-infection units will be available to healthcare facilities in the regions of Hubei, Beijing, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Guangzhou City and the Chinese special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.
The donation, accepted by Chinese Ambassador to Ireland, Mr He Xiangdong, reflects the strong commitment Novaerus has to the Chinese market and to fighting the spread of COVID-19
Chinese Ambassador to Ireland, Mr He Xiangdong, recently visited Novaerus, an Irish company that manufactures and sells patented medical-grade, clean air solutions. The visit marks an important day for Irish – Chinese solidarity as a donation of Novaerus patented air dis-infection technology leaves for two hospitals currently battling the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China. Tom Cusack, Regional Director – Asia Pacific at Enterprise Ireland, Mary Kinnane, Director – Greater China at Enterprise Ireland, Elaine Coughlan, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Atlantic Bridge and delegates from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Ireland were also in attendance.
The recent COVID-19 outbreak is causing global concern. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly inhaled into the lungs.
As hospitals across China struggle to contain the spread of the newly identified virus, it is clear that standard infection prevention and control protocols need reinforcement.
Novaerus has donated several air dis-infection devices to two hospitals in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the COVID-19 outbreak; Wuhan Xincheng Hospital and Wuhan Third People’s Hospital. Among the donation of goods is a Defend 1050 for each facility, the company’s latest innovation in infection control. The Defend 1050 is a mobile solution designed for rapid remediation in large spaces and situations with a high risk of infection.
“To successfully control the spread of pathogens we need to close the infection control loop; hands, surfaces and air,” says Dr Kevin Devlin, CEO at WellAir, the parent company of Novaerus. “Cleaning the air is a fundamental component of managing infectious outbreaks, and we have a unique technology to do this.”
Due to the small size of viruses, many clean air solutions, including standalone filtration, are unable to trap viral particles. Novaerus portable air dis-infection units use a non-selective, rapid killing, patented plasma technology, offering a unique and safe solution to kill airborne viruses 24/7. The technology has also been independently tested to reduce MS2 Bacteriophage, a commonly used surrogate for SARS-CoV* (Coronavirus) by 99.99%.
Novaerus recently partnered with seven established distributors across China, in regions such as Hubei, Beijing, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Guangzhou City and the Chinese special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau. The new partnerships will provide health facilities across China access to Novaerus patented clean air technology.
Soils all over the world are contaminated with heavy metals and not fit for crop production. Lorcan Allen from the Irish Farmers Journal meets Microgen Biotech, the Irish start-up company that’s changing that.
In 2014, the Chinese government published a new report on the health of the country’s soils. The numbers were frightening. The report showed that almost a fifth (19.4%) of China’s farmland was contaminated by organic and inorganic chemical pollutants as well as heavy metals such as cadmium and arsenic.
For context, 20% of China’s farmland equates to just under 62 million acres, which is an area three times the size of the island of Ireland. Any crops, such as rice, grown on this contaminated farmland will be poisoned and not fit for human consumption. Given that China is trying to feed a fifth of the world’s population, its highly contaminated soils are a major concern.
However, new technology is emerging that could have a key role to play in solving this crisis and allow Chinese farmers to grow safe, high yielding crops. MicroGen Biotech, a start-up company based out of Ireland’s Institute of Technology Carlow and co-founded by Dr. Xuemei Germaine, has developed a new biotechnology that can protect crops from heavy metals in soils.
According to Dr. Germaine, who is the company CEO, MicroGen Biotech has developed a range of plant growth promoting bacteria, or PGPB for short, which are tolerant to heavy metals and can protect plants against metal toxicity, while at the same time increasing root length, improving nutrient uptake and boosting yields by up to 10%.
Right now, MicroGen has over 800 field trials ongoing in China where it is trialling its PGPB technology on rice crops growing in heavy metal contaminated soil. So far, the company is finding its microbial products are resulting in a 30% to 40% reduction in cadmium, which is a significant impact.
MicroGen Biotech in China
While China is the core market being targeted by MicroGen, the company’s new microbial biotechnology has far reaching applications that will be of interest to farmers all over the world. After all, soils that are high in heavy metals is not just a Chinese problem but rather a global one.
In South America, cocoa farming is significant in countries such as Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia where a significant dark chocolate industry exists. However, in many of these countries soils contaminated with cadmium is a major problem for farmers.
The problem escalated significantly for South American cocoa famers earlier this year when the European Union, which is a major importer of dark chocolate, announced very strict limits on the amount of cadmium in cocoa products.
Since January 2019, a 100g bar of dark chocolate containing more than 50% cocoa solids must not have more than 0.08mg of cadmium. MicroGen has seized on this dilemma for South American farmers and is now trialling its technology in cocoa plants to help safeguard the crop from cadmium contamination.
While MicroGen’s core focus is developing crop protection products through biotechnology, it has also developed a range of products that can clean up polluted soils using microorganisms that degrade toxic substances. This process is known as environmental bioremediation.
The company was recently engaged by Greencore to carry out a commercial trial of this technology at the old sugar factory in Ireland’s Carlow town, where parts of the land have been contaminated following the decommissioning of the sugar plant.
The trial at Greencore’s old sugar plant was successful with the soil decontaminated and the pH restored to a healthy level once more. MicroGen has since signed another agreement with Greencore to carry out a second commercial trial at the Carlow site after another part of the old sugar factory was found to be contaminated.
MicroGen Biotech was founded in 2012 by Dr. Germaine and is a spin-out of IT Carlow. Prior to starting the company, Dr. Germaine had completed a PhD in environmental biotechnology before joining Pfizer for a number of years.
In 2014, the company became a client of Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, after it received €50,000 in seed funding from the state agency’s start-up fund in exchange for 10% of the equity in the business. Dr. Germaine admits she had no business experience when starting the company but was able to avail of Enterprise Ireland’s new frontiers programme, which provided her with six months of business training.
A year later, in 2015, MicroGen Biotech carried out its first significant funding round when it raised over €800,000 from private and public investors, including €250,000 in matched funding from Enterprise Ireland’s high potential start-up (HPSU) fund.
MicroGen Biotech is still a young company but its technology is enormously promising and has applications all over the world. With the world headed to 10 billion people and more food needed than ever before, MicroGen’s range of biotechnology products looks like an important development.
Right now, the company is seeking to raise a substantial $7m (€6.3m) in new capital from investors.
However, given the exciting results already provided by the company’s range of biotechnology products, this latest funding round is sure to attract plenty of interest from agritech funds and investors in Ireland, Israel and the US.
This article originally appeared in a special publication by the Irish Farmers Journal in partnership with Enterprise Ireland.
Enterprise Ireland, Ireland’s trade and innovation agency, is the second most active investor in seed funding in the world, according to a newly published ranking from PitchBook.
The ranking of the most active global investors by venture capital (VC) deal count saw Enterprise Ireland, which made 200 investments in 2019, in the number two slot globally and first in Europe. The most active global investor, with 285 investments, was 500 Startups, an early-stage VC and seed accelerator based in California.
Committed to the cutting edge
This rate of investment in high potential startups was not unusual for Enterprise Ireland. In fact, it’s consistent with its rate of investment in 200 or so companies annually over the past six to seven years. It’s also indicative of its dedication to building a pipeline of cutting-edge innovative Irish companies.
“As the Irish Government’s trade and innovation agency, we are primed to invest in Irish startups, some of the most innovative and dynamic in Europe.” said Leo McAdams, Head of Enterprise Ireland’s Investment Services Division.
“We aim to support companies at all stages of their journey, from very early startup to seed fund startup and then through to scaling, with a focus on connecting them with international customers across multiple industries.”
“We not only invest directly in companies, but also invest in venture capital funds so they too can support innovative high-growth Irish companies set to scale internationally. We also support a network that facilitates connections between angel investors and early-stage Irish companies that generates significant investment opportunities.” added Leo McAdams.
Bringing the Irish Advantage to the world
With 40 offices internationally, Enterprise Ireland strives to build successful, long-term business relationships between international companies and Irish partner businesses, which are inevitably ambitious and international in focus.
Born of the Irish culture of entrepreneurship, they spark to life and grow alongside global heavyweights in technology, life sciences and financial services that are based in Ireland. They meet the standards of these global leaders and also benefit from the support of a world-class R&D ecosystem. Combining all these qualities gives what we call the Irish Advantage.
Record sales in multiple sectors
And we’re seeing the Irish Advantage really come to fruition in multiple sectors, with Irish companies achieving record international sales. Take travel tech. Although you might not realise it, whenever you travel overseas, you’re likely to encounter the best of Irish innovation.
Got a tailored email from your airline? That was likely powered by Boxever, which provides AI-powered personalisation. Rented a car through that airline’s website? The transaction was almost certainly due to CarTrawler, a leading travel tech platform. And if you treat yourself to a top-of-the-line rental car, its digital connectivity capability probably came from Cubic Telecom.
Not only are all these businesses Irish, but they also all benefited from investment or support from Enterprise Ireland at critical points, as have many other Irish companies that have become worldwide market leaders.
Driving innovation and partnership
Across many sectors such as medtech, ICT and emerging technologies, Irish companies are driving innovation and delivering state-of-the-art solutions to customers around the globe.
In Enterprise Ireland, we seek to connect companies in need of inventive solutions with the Irish companies offering cutting-edge products and services and provide our international partners with a gateway to Irish innovation.
How the Hot 10 lister helps small and medium-sized companies to fire on all funding cylinders.
Andrea Reynolds knows exactly how important the right source of funding, at the right time, on the right terms, is to any business. She founded Swoop Funding because she also knows how hard it is to secure.
Reynolds is a chartered accountant who started her career with professional services firm KPMG in Dublin, specialising in financial services and working with clients that included banks and insurance companies.
She moved to London with KPMG in 1999 and quickly gravitated towards smaller, younger businesses. Within a few years she was walking the talk, having left to set up her own firm providing corporate finance consultancy to start ups.
“I could see how challenging and time consuming it was for these companies to raise funds. I understood that it’s not just about getting the loan, or the finance, it’s about getting the right blend, the right mixture of, for example, loan and equity investment,” says Reynolds.
It’s exactly the kind of activity that in larger firms is looked after by a chief financial officer. “The problem is that, while every business needs a financial advisor, not every business can afford one. Yet, if you are in a small business, you are busy enough finding customers without having to do all this as well,” she says.
At best, the result is hours spent googling. Reynolds reckoned there had to be a better way: “I felt sure the technology had advanced enough to provide a solution.” And it had.
In 2018, together with co-founder Ciaran Burke, a fellow KPMG alumnus, she developed Swoop Funding, a platform that prompts a business towards the debt finance, equity investment or grant award it doesn’t just need but is most likely to get.
The genius is that it integrates all of a user’s data points, including bank accounts, accounting software and Companies Registration Office information, to come up with guidance.
The platform analyses the data to establish key metrics such as a business’s debt/service coverage ratio (DSCR), a measurement of the cash flow available to pay current debt obligations.
“It’s the number every lending institution looks at before deciding whether to give you a loan or not, and yet nobody is aware of it. The result is that, too often the business gets declined for a loan it should never have applied for in the first place,” says Reynolds.
She is the first to admit that Swoop Funding’s own start-up journey was fuelled by timely access to the right supports.
One of its first wins was securing Competitive Start Funding from Enterprise Ireland, Ireland’s trade and innovation agency.
Swoop went on to win an award from the open banking challenge, a competition funded by the main UK banks and managed by Nesta, an innovation fund. Earlier this year it secured £5 million from the RBS bailout fund.
All of its funding has helped fuel growth. Just over a year since its launch, Swoop Funding now has more than 1,000 providers on its website, including debt, equity and grant providers from across the UK and Ireland.
What makes the platform even more compelling is the fact that it provides a clear picture of a user’s spending behaviour and proactively identifies savings too, all the time improving its DSCR.
Swoop helps reduce its cost base by prompting significant savings across banking, insurance, foreign exchange, international payments and utilities. That frees up a business to do what it does best – making sales.
No business is too small. “We had one customer who had a turnover of £100,000. The owner paid his tech developers in Poland each month through his bank. Simply by switching to Transferwise Swoop helped him to save £7,000 a year,” says Reynolds, who could see the small and medium enterprise sector was ripe for such a product.
“Nobody thinks about the SME sector as a customer segment. It’s completely underserved and overcharged, despite the fact that every economy relies on them.”
Swoop Funding doesn’t add to their burden, it lightens it immeasurably. “Our product is free to use. We only get paid if we are successful, which is exactly as it should be.”
By October 2019, Swoop had generated €50 million in funding and savings for its users. Inclusion in The Fintech50s’s Hot Ten 2019 list, which marks it out as one of the world’s most innovative fintechs, rounds off a spectacular year.
Enterprise Ireland continues to play a key role in its development. “It has been incredible,” comments Reynolds, who says that having operations in both Ireland and the UK allows her to see the difference between supports on offer in Ireland and in the UK.
They are “poles apart”, she says. “Enterprise Ireland is recognised across Europe as the benchmark of best practice. Apart from the funding element, the really relevant support Enterprise Ireland provides is what makes the difference.”
“Swoop has a genuine competitive edge as a business but by being part of Enterprise Ireland, you get an additional advantage.”
Of course, it helps too that at every stage in Swoop Funding’s development, Reynolds has known where to turn, and when, for the right mix of investment, debt finance and grant funding.
“We’re like a case study for our own platform. We have used every form of funding available to a business of our size and stage. That’s what’s nice about Swoop – we’ve done it ourselves.”
New research reveals travellers’ dissatisfaction across digital channels and highlights the need for airlines and hotels to embrace the “era of complete retailing” to become the “Amazon of travel”.
New research on the travel sector has found that 50% of airline passengers around the world report that they spend more time than is desirable using digital channels to plan and book flights.
Similarly, 45% of hotel guests report that they spend too much time planning and booking a hotel stay.
Of the travellers surveyed, 70% reported that they would like to receive personalized offers from travel sellers and 75% report they are comfortable sharing personal data if it will help them to save money or have better journeys. However, despite this, just 20% reported receiving offers that reflect their interests, travel behaviours, or stage in their lives. This is despite the travel sector being one of the pioneering e-commerce sectors and one of the largest digital commerce sectors globally.
The research was undertaken by Atmosphere Research Group, a San Francisco-based travel industry market research firm, and published in a new thought leadership report, which sets out the need for airlines and hotels to enter the era of complete retailing and distinguish their brands from competitors, to make their digital channels more compelling, and strengthen their customer experience if they want to become the ‘Amazons of travel’.
The report ‘Maximizing Revenue across the Traveler’s Journey’ was commissioned by Ireland’s trade and innovation agency, Enterprise Ireland, a significant seed investor in travel tech companies. Having created industries like aircraft leasing and duty-free shopping, Ireland’s uniquely concentrated and collaborative ecosystem comprises more than 100 travel tech companies, spanning global giants to rapidly scaling niche players. The report finds that airlines, hotels and travel sellers are increasingly looking to Irish travel tech companies to build out their ancillary product strategies and boost profits.
Travel industry thought leader and author of the report Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research Group said: “The travel technology world is thriving, but poor digital experiences weaken the joy of travel and the potential profitability of travel retailers. Entering the era of complete retailing is the next frontier for travel retailers, where they are dynamically creating and selling relevant, personalized, appealing offers to travelers. Cloud and machine learning technologies that deliver data-driven responsive technologies will be core to this.”
“Groundbreaking travel tech companies are already delivering new generations of nimble and responsive technologies that are helping travel sellers to maximize sales opportunities spanning every traveler’s journey,” added Henry Harteveldt.
CarTrawler, for example, provides the technology for airlines to offer car rental, private airport transfers and on-demand ride hailing services at more than 50,000 locations in 174 countries. Working with more than 100 airlines, CarTrawler expands the airline’s offering to their customers, creating substantial ancillary revenues. Data is at the core of their offering, using data effectively to tailor offers to increase the potential of a traveler making a purchase. In CarTrawler’s first year of working with SWISS and Vueling, each airline saw its car rental conversion increase by 151% and 298% respectively.
Boxever, the data and personalization firm working with major airlines around the world, has been one of the pioneers in harnessing the strengths of data, AI and machine learning to help airlines such as Emirates, Ryanair and Volaris to use their data better and offer smart effective personalization to improve conversion rates and average order value.
Hostelworld helps hostels worldwide who especially cater for millennial and generation z guests to offer a compete retailing solution with their property management system software. As well as managing occupancy, the software is configured to sell ancillary services online, helping hostels to improve guest experience, reduce operating costs and drive ancillary sales.
Maire P. Walsh, SVP Digital Technologies, Enterprise Ireland USA said: “The travel industry’s demand for market-proven innovative solutions that supports the complete retailing agenda is high and are increasingly looking to Ireland’s strong cluster of travel technology companies for the solutions. Reflecting this demand, Enterprise Ireland’s portfolio of travel tech companies had combined international sales of close to €0.5 billion in 2018.”
Enterprise Ireland has taken over the first special report published by The FinTech50, creator of the prestigious top 50 fintech innovators’ list.
The FinTech50: Enterprise Ireland edition showcases Ireland’s growing status as an international fintech innovation hub, with Irish start-ups seeing rising global success in all aspects of fintech, including paytech, regtech and insurtech.
Launched in 2013, The FinTech50 was the first list in the world to recognise fintech innovation in Europe, and is recognised as a globally important fintech organisation.
The FinTech50 2019 list, which was published in September, was selected from thousands of fintechs across Europe, and includes both TopTen and HotTen breakout lists.
Ireland’s Swoop Funding is included in this year’s The FinTech50 HotTen. The Enterprise Ireland takeover edition features an extensive interview with Swoop founder Andrea Reynolds, whose award winning start-up provides virtual chief financial officer services to SMEs.
Swoop is just one of a number of Irish success stories included in the publication, which features insights from key players in the industry.
Eoin Fitzgerald, senior development advisor fintech at Enterprise Ireland, explains how Ireland emerged as an international fintech powerhouse. Not only is the sector a government priority, he explains, but the agency is itself an active investor in fintech start-ups.
Jack Finucane Clarke, Enterprise Ireland’s London-based market advisor for financial services, shows how the use of deeptech, such as artificial intelligence and distributed ledger technologies, is increasingly enabling Irish start-ups to disrupt the sector globally.
Ireland is blazing a trail in ‘fintech for good’ too, he says, with a number of companies addressing the world’s un- and underbanked, including gig economy solutions provider Trezeo and AID:Tech, who has pioneered the use of blockchain to deliver aid to refugees.
The Enterprise Ireland edition also looks at how Irish fintechs are using deeptech to help some of the world’s biggest financial institutions meet their regulatory and compliance obligations. This includes companies such as Governor Software and Gecko Governance, who uses blockchain to create integrated regtech solutions for managing compliance in the funds industry.
As well as providing analysis of the challenges facing fintech around the globe, the publication captures the opportunities the sector faces in 2020 and beyond.
Launching the Enterprise Ireland takeover edition, The FinTech50 founding director Julie Lake said: “One of the best things about The FinTech50 is the inspirational stories that emerge each year from our master list of 4000-plus innovators worldwide. We can’t cover them all, so this year we are opening up our platform to give others the opportunity to tell their unique stories in their own unique voices.”
Welcoming Enterprise Ireland as its first invited curator, she said: “Fintech in Ireland is not only punching, it’s diverse and it’s scaling, with 32% of companies anticipating growth of between 100 and 500% this year. Enterprise Ireland has invested in over 80 fintech start-ups since 2014 and its portfolio of 200-plus financial services and fintech clients generated over €1 billion in revenue in 2017.”
Ding, the largest international mobile top-up platform, continues its global expansion with a new partnership with Korean fintech Hanpass. Under the new partnership Hanpass will now offer its millions of customers access to international mobile top-up from their mobile app, giving them instant access to Ding’s global network of 500+ mobile operators, across 140+ countries.
Hanpass customers with just a few clicks will be able to transfer airtime from Korea to the phone of family and friends back in their home country. International mobile top-up is the most efficient micro-value transfer option available to foreign workers looking to support those back home. The service will provide customers with a simple, safe and secure way to send mobile airtime top-up to their loved ones back home in the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and other South East Asian countries. All credited in real-time, directly to the recipient’s mobile, and in local currency.
Commenting on the new partnership, Rupert Shaw, Chief Commercial Officer, of Ding said: “Ding is really gaining momentum in Asia and this new partnership further highlights this and also shows the appetite for international mobile top-up as a service add-on for remittance companies such as Hanpass.”
Furthermore: “This is a great integration of our strengths and will enable Hanpass to leverage Ding’s global network – to continue to offer their customers a first-class service and experience.”
This new partnership will enable a wide range of expats living in South Korea to send the gift of international airtime to family and friends. In the Philippines for example, some 96% of mobiles phones are of the prepaid variety, with half out of credit at any one time, so there is a significant need to keep these phones topped-up with airtime and data.
Kim Kyung Hoon, CEO of Hanpass said: “Hanpass is excited to work with Ding to help to connect our customers with their loved ones around the world. Innovative collaborations such as these will continue to shape global business models in the race to enhance customer experience and win and retain their loyalty.”