Under the microscope: how Hooke Bio found success

The brilliant 17th-century scientist Robert Hooke proved an unlikely source of inspiration for an ambitious MedTech company in Shannon.

“Robert Hooke was the incredible mind behind Hooke’s Law and early microscopy advances. Despite facing many challenges in his life, he was determined and truly ground-breaking in his fields. We see some of ourselves in him,” beamed COO of Hooke Bio, Dr Finola Cliffe.

Finola has 15 years’ experience in cell culture. In 2014, she joined Hooke Bio, where she now leads a team of scientists and engineers developing technology for 3D microtissues. This technology has the potential to replace the need for animal testing and provide more accurate testing models.

“It’s fantastic being part of a small company with good intentions. But we often wonder where the next segment of funding is coming from,” Finola says.

Forging a new path

The team was initially based at the University of Limerick and it was here they received their first investment under the Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Fund. By August 2016, this additional support allowed Finola to successfully develop a working prototype. Her team now faced a new challenge.

“It took us months to get hold of usable data. Then it dawned on me, ‘this is going somewhere but we don’t have enough runway.’” she says.

While the first fund allowed the team to build a working prototype, a second would allow them to take things further again. In 2017, the team successfully secured a second Commercialisation Fund to build a more robust prototype on a larger scale. Even with new financial support, Finola was still concerned.

“We knew technology. But we were green behind the ears in how to market a product. This was a massive challenge for us to overcome. We needed to understand how to position ourselves – the funding helped with this and was the first stepping stone.”

Leaping into the unknown

Through the Enterprise Ireland mentorship programme, Terry Sullivan, former MD of Clonmel Healthcare, was enlisted to help with the next step – selling the idea. He, along with Prof. Mark Davies, the founder of Hooke Bio, devised a plan around costs and milestones with the team.

The Transfer Technology Offices (TTO) became more involved. They’re responsible for technology transfer and aspects of research commercialisation at universities. Working closely with Enterprise Ireland, TTO contacted experts who could share further insights into larger pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, Novartis and AstraZeneca.

“It was a steep learning curve but we learned a lot during this time. We were beginning to understand how to best pitch ideas to research and development units. The Market Research Centre was like gold dust for us,” says Finola.

As part of Enterprise Ireland, the Market Research Centre offered access to free reports that would typically cost thousands of Euros. This provided important knowledge on the competition and proved crucial in seeking investment.

Reaching the masses

The team eventually finished a business plan and began networking with potential investors in Ireland. The media was one way to be heard.

“We got our name out there, did interviews with journalists and told our story. It was something new to us, but our confidence grew,” she says.

Finola noticed that investors were becoming more familiar with the company. Having won the Big Idea Showcase in 2017, even more investors came forward.

“We were getting a lot of traction and that was worth an awful lot to us. We have grown so much since the initial funding.”

Finding a new home

It wasn’t long until the team secured its initial investor funding and spun out of the University of Limerick. However, more funding would be needed to secure new premises and set up labs.

In early 2019, after the team secured disruptive technology and innovation funding, they moved to Shannon. Their new premises contain offices, engineering labs, and workshops, making it an entirely self-sufficient business.

“We don’t need to outsource anything, which is quite unusual for a company of our size,” she says. “We can make all our prototypes in-house – we can mill stainless steel, acrylic, mostly any material we want. A lot of components are needed when testing.”

Believing in yourself

Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund has opened up a world of opportunities for Finola and her team, helping them on a path to success.

The company has just completed its second round of investment and released two new patents. In Jan 2019, Hooke Bio won €1.9m in the first round of funding through the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund, in collaboration with The Centre for Advanced Photonics and Process Analysis and NUI, Galway.

For anyone thinking of embarking on a new journey with Enterprise Ireland, Finola has some advice: “Communication is everything. If you’re unsure of next steps, just go for it and pick up the phone – if you don’t try, you’ll never know”.

 

Discover how to take your idea from lab to market with Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund.

Forming unbreakable bonds: how Plasmabound found success

“This goes against science,” marvelled Nick Barry, a tech inventor and founder of PlasmaBound.

It was 2013, and Nick was working for the UCD-based Irish Centre for Composite Research (IComp).

Excitedly, Nick asked his professor, Denis Dowling, to look at the testing sample.

“Okay, I think we have something”, confirmed Prof. Dowling.

Nick had discovered a new process for bonding composite materials like carbon fibre. A solution that could help automotive, aerospace, marine, and electronics manufacturers build even stronger, lighter products.

Finding a solution

Nick quickly realised the significance of his findings and was determined to develop a product for the market.

New design opportunities beckoned. Companies could potentially build significantly cheaper solutions without metal fixings and, importantly, reduce their CO2 footprint globally.

“When I developed the solution, I immediately thought ‘product’. Fortunately, I’d been aware of the Commercialisation Fund since my PhD days, so it was always in the back of my mind,” says Nick.

“I saw a benefit to the human race. So, I went home to my partner (and now wife) and told her repeatedly how exciting it was!” he laughed.

Forging a new path

Hugh Hayden, UCD Case Manager of the Technology Transfer Office (TTO), was on hand to provide support. After viewing the solution and reviewing UCD’s internal Invention Disclosure Forms, he agreed that this would be a perfect project for Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund.

Things moved quickly from there. The TTO reached out to David Flood, Commercialisation Specialist at Enterprise Ireland.

Over a cup of coffee, David listened closely to Nick’s story and was blown away by the project’s potential. David then dug deeper into Nick’s solution, working out what would be needed to commercialise a minimum viable product (MVP).

“David was fantastic in reflecting the fund’s requirements. You might say, he gave me the sandbox in which to build my castle,” says Nick.

Removing barriers

With funding secured, Nick began developing an MVP. He went about ensuring the technology could treat a number of complex composite materials at scale.

Barriers to the market had to be removed. Nick and his team contacted industry leaders to communicate the idea. The MVP was a game-changer – Nick needed to show companies how it could reduce the weight of their products and their carbon gains.

Searching for answers

The MVP was demonstrated at three different sites. With potential customers in attendance, demonstrations took place at FiftyOne Bikes in Dublin, Custom Composites in Meath, and ÉireComposites in Galway.

“We needed to show that we could meet required specifications with certain materials. So, that’s exactly what we did,” says Nick.

In the first 12 months, Nick had 11 letters of interest from firms. To drive the project forward, Nick took it upon himself to gather feedback and learn what was needed in the short and long term.

“After a couple of rounds of feedback, we were successful in gaining support. But it was only once we had secured the Commercialisation Fund

Thinking bigger

In 2017, Nick was ready to take the next step by forming a spin-out company.

“It was the logical next step. But I had no idea what it would take to grow a company. Enterprise Ireland helped us understand each step and what was required,” says Nick.

His brother Alan Barry came on board as CEO, a serial entrepreneur, who had followed the project closely from a very early stage. Xavier Montibert joined as Commercial Director in 2018, bringing connections with industry leaders and a proven track record of delivering innovation.

PlasmaBound continued to grow and recognition quickly followed. In 2018, the company reached the final of Enterprise Ireland’s Big Ideas and featured in The Ones to Watch and SBP’s 100 Hot Start-Ups. Nick and his team aren’t stopping there.

“The start-up journey is going extraordinarily well,” beams Nick. “The team is motivated and everyone’s excited about what the future holds.”

Believing in yourself

Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund helped Nick on his path to success. Subsequently, his confidence grew.

“The project gave me faith that I could actually do this. Having an organisation like Enterprise Ireland demonstrate trust in your idea makes you feel good about yourself. Sometimes science is all about confidence.”

For anyone embarking on their own project, Nick has some advice: “Remember, be positive. Always communicate with those close to you and enjoy the journey.”

 

Discover how to take your idea from lab to market with Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund.

Output Sports

Meet Output: the smartest team in sport

A passion for sports and data has proved the winning formula for Dr Martin O’Reilly, co-founder and CEO at Output Sports.

Founded in 2018, the company develops technology to test and track the performance of athletes. However, the origins of the team stretch back further.

In 2012, Martin was first exposed to wearable sensors, signal processing, and machine learning during an undergraduate degree in Sports and Exercise Engineering, NUI Galway (NUIG).

“At first, I was just interested in what could be measured in the gym and that led to a PhD in Machine Learning for Signal Processing at UCD”, laughs Martin, as he reflects on his commercialisation journey with Enterprise Ireland.

Getting the ball rolling

Martin discovered a problem during his fieldwork.

He realised that athlete testing and tracking involved the use of cumbersome, bespoke equipment. These tools were unreliable, expensive and time-consuming.

When he looked deeper into the issue, he realised that strength coaches and medics were spending less time doing the things they truly cared about – coaching and rehabilitating others.

Products like Fitbit and Nike’s FuelBand provide macro-level analysis like step and calorie count. But, Martin wanted to go further by measuring performance related attributes like strength, power, balance, speed and mobility.

Martin and his fellow PhD student Dr Darragh Whelan (also now co-founder and CSO at Output Sports) began collecting interdisciplinary research and exploring algorithms. They felt sporting performance could be measured more accurately, and at a lower cost, by developing a single, wearable motion sensor.

Martin and Darragh’s PhD advisor Brian Caulfield, Director of the SFI Insight Centre for Data Analytics at UCD, adopted a leadership role in their project.

“Brain’s involvement was pivotal for us. He surrounded us with anthropologists, statisticians, doctors, and physios. He’s a brilliant creative mind and still sits on the board today as an adviser,” says Martin.

Setting the bar high

The team was about to be given a jolt of confidence. Darragh conducted 80 interviews with sports practitioners who completed quantitative and qualitative surveys.

“Their pain points almost perfectly matched our algorithms and research. That encouraged us to commercialise,” says Martin.

In 2018, the team applied for an Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Fund, allowing them to ramp up and develop a minimum viable product (MVP).

The team gathered extensive feedback from 30 potential users, as they tinkered and iterated the MVP. In 2019, Julian Eberle, the third co-founder and also CTO, came on board and began leading the technical side of things, such as developing mobile applications and implementing the MVP’s algorithms.

“We were beginning to put the meat on the bones,” says Martin. Together with Enterprise Ireland, they created a rigorous project plan with a series of milestones and timelines. Martin and the team regularly met with Enterprise Ireland advisors Gerard Lande and Tom Bannon to help focus the project from a commercial viewpoint.

After many months of hard work, the team launched Output // Capture in February 2020. The product can test multiple aspects of athletic performance with a matchbox-sized wearable sensor that can be fitted to your wrist or upper arm.

With Enterprise Ireland’s support, the team began reaching out to contacts in the world ofsport. They were excited by the names showing interest.

Believing in your team

Soon after launching Output // Capture, the company spun out from UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science. The team made the short move to the university’s innovation hub NovaUCD, where they are now based.

Output Sports now has 200 clients from professional sports teams right down to school and university levels. Among the company’s partners are several professional soccer clubs, this includes Premier League sides including Burnley, Norwich City, and Watford. The team also partner with Leinster Rugby and the England men’s football team.

Having successfully commercialised their product, Martin still works alongside Enterprise Ireland today.

“We received funds from other investors, but the key to that was the backing we received from Enterprise Ireland. They also helped with grants and opened doors for us to make important contacts, so they’ve been fantastic.”

For anyone embarking on their own project, Martin has some advice: “Surround yourself with mentors and listen. Most of all, enjoy yourself. We’ve loved every second of our journey.”

 

Discover how to take your idea from lab to market with Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund.

CropBiome

Green shoots: how CropBiome gave hope to Irish agriculture

It’s not news that our planet faces unprecedented food shortages, due to growing populations and climate change . But there is hope, in the shape of a new Dublin-based business.

Dr Fiona Doohan, Professor of Plant Health at University College Dublin (UCD), has studied plant diseases for over 20 years. She’s all too familiar with the challenges we face and has worked hard to find a solution. With the support of Enterprise Ireland she is turning that into a cutting-edge response.

“Agriculture is changing dramatically. While we’ve taken an awful lot of the chemicals out of crop growing, we still need to have high yields to feed the population,” says Fiona.

In 2019, she co-founded CropBiome, which creates biological products that can boost crop yields. That means cultivated plants become high in nutritional value and climate-resistant, which is good for the environment and farmers’ pockets.

Planting a seed

It was during Fiona’s collaborative research with Trinity College that she realised there was commercial potential in her work. They discovered that there was more microbial diversity in wild plants compared to cultivated plants. In layman’s terms, microbial diversity covers all the organisms that help life thrive. For crops, it drives growth, yield, and adaptation.

“Microbial diversity has been lost through agricultural practices. So, we wondered what would happen if we put it back in?” says Fiona.

Initial experiments followed, and the team found great potential to improve drought tolerance in cultivated plants.

They wanted to develop a technology that isolated the beneficial microbes from wild plants, which could then be used on cultivated plants. But they needed to build a prototype, which could then be used to produce products like seed coatings and a soil health indicator. This technology would not only improve the sustainability of crops globally, but also enhance the diversification, safety and transparency of Irish food systems.

Fiona was already aware of Enterprise Ireland’s Commercial Fund from previous projects at UCD. And in 2017, she was successful in her application for funding.

Branching out

Fiona now had the resources to wrap up the critical scientific issues and create the prototype. It was a long process, as the prototype could only be tested seasonally, to align with crop planting. However, early signs were positive.

In the meantime, they shifted their focus to the business side of things. With the help of Enterprise Ireland, they conducted market analysis and created a business plan. A timeline and a series of milestones were also built to keep the project on track.

“I’m a scientist and that’s a long way from commercialisation,” says Fiona. “These things were new to me. What I know about start-ups now and what I knew then is very different.”

As work progressed, a significant announcement further validated the project. The EU Green Deal was unveiled – a set of initiatives to move Europe to a cleaner, circular economy by 2050. From an agricultural perspective, it would mean removing chemicals from crops and further reducing pesticides and fertiliser. These requirements aligned with Fiona’s long-term goals.

Growing together

Through Enterprise Ireland’s Business Partners Programme, Fiona met Sean Daly – a pivotal moment for the project.

Initially an Enterprise Ireland adviser, Sean’s enthusiasm for the technology would lead to his appointment as CEO at CropBiome. With over 20 years business development experience in agribusiness and life sciences, he would help the company grow further and secure additional investment.

“Sean brought huge value to us. Without his input, we wouldn’t have a spin-out company today. He brought a level of commercial realisation to the project that wasn’t there before,” she says.

For Fiona, years of hard work was about to pay off as the team successfully launched their new microbe discovery platform. Industry recognition has quickly followed, Fiona took home the main prize at the 2021 NovaUCD Innovation Awards. More recently, CropBiome successfully secured the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund (DTIF) which will be critical for the further development of the technology.

Believing in yourself

In February 2022, CropBiome will spin out from Trinity College into their new home in UCD’s innovation hub, NovaUCD. The move was supported by Enterprise Ireland’s High Performance Start-Up Fund.

“Enterprise Ireland has been supportive the entire way. If we hit any glitches, they were the first to help us find a path to overcome them,” says Fiona.

As she reflects on her commercialisation journey, Fiona has some advice for those embarking on their own project: “There were times of anxiety, but there is a huge amount of support that can help you along the way – you just have to reach out.”

 

Discover how to take your idea from lab to market with Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund.

Biologit

Hardwired for success: how Biologit is improving clinical safety

Cars beep and lorries rumble past on the busy streets of São Paulo. Nicole Baker, PhD, CEO and co-founder at biologit, is in Brazil on business as she reflects on a familiar problem. “There’s so much medical literature out there. The volume is so high it can be difficult to follow it all,” she says.

This issue would inspire Nicole to create her own start-up company, with the support of Enterprise Ireland. Before spinning out, the core technology would be developed at Trinity College.

With over 20 years of experience as an immunologist and pharmacovigilance professional, Nicole understood that searching for the latest information on drugs or side effects can pose a real challenge for pharma companies and researchers. Screening can be laborious and impact patients’ safety.

“I kept thinking ‘how can we do this better at a much bigger level?’” says Nicole.

Seeking out opportunity

With that question in mind, she approached Bruno Ohana, PhD, and now CTO and co-founder at biologit. The pair had known each other for years through different projects.

After some discussion, they concluded that AI could filter out redundant information and provide relevant research in an easily accessible form. They created working models to put their theory into practice and were pleased by the results. Nicole recognised that additional expertise and skills would be needed to develop the technology further – she reached out to Enterprise Ireland.

“We wanted to dedicate ourselves full-time, so funding and support would be critical to creating the product,” she says.

Enterprise Ireland confirmed there was potential in the project. They talked through commercialisation avenues and collaboration possibilities to take the idea forward.

The next step was introducing Nicole and Bruno to Professor Lucy Hederman, Assistant Professor, Computer Science, at Trinity College. While Nicole and Bruno had extensive market intel and knowledge of technical strategy, Lucy had the means to build the technology solution.

Having reviewed the working models and accompanying results, Lucy came on board as scientific lead. Trinity’s lab facilities and Lucy’s work would prove to be the backbone of the project. Now the team had invaluable access to a greater level of information around health informatics and AI.

With this collaboration in place, Nicole successfully applied for Commercialisation Funding in 2020. The team could now begin creating a minimum viable product (MVP). The project was gathering real momentum.

Building something special

A team was assembled at Trinity College, with Lucy and Bruno now working in conjunction with the UCD Adapt Centre. With the world in the grips of a pandemic, meeting people in person proved difficult.

“Unfortunately, this hampered things, everything was virtual. We missed interacting with other researchers over coffee, which is easier for making connections,” says Nicole.

Two engineers were hired, along with a group of pharmacovigilance professionals to share their expert knowledge. With everyone on board, the team got to work.

“Our solution needed to de-duplicate and tag every incoming article with predictions based on AI models in collaboration with subject matter experts. This wasn’t going to be built in a week,” she says.

The team created a more accessible workflow by building a front-end for the MVP to speed things up.

After many hard hours and months, the MVP was taking shape.

Thinking bigger

With Enterprise Ireland’s support, Nicole drew on her vast industry experience to gauge reaction to the product. The team gathered feedback through interviews and testing sessions.

Sandboxing was also key to providing further validation, allowing the team to test the MVP in a safe, isolated environment that mimicked the experiences of end-users.

The results exceeded the team’s expectations. They had already submitted a patent and secured disclosure on the technology in conjunction with the Technology Transfer Office at Trinity College, which owns the intellectual property.

They had successfully created a product that could collect information and data about problems in medications. A database of scientific research that was far easier for users to view.

Nicole and the team began receiving industry recognition. She was a finalist in Enterprise Ireland’s Big Ideas 2020. Along with the Dublin Business Innovation Centre, the event allowed Nicole to network with industry leaders and establish important contacts. “Those events were invaluable, allowing us to meet investors and decide where we wanted to go next,” says Nicole.

With the help of Neil Gordon, Start-up Development Manager at Trinity College, Nicole opened dialogue with investors and presented the product. After several discussions, Nicole and Bruno secured private funding. This would be the platform to found Biologit in 2021.

Looking ahead

The future looks bright for Nicole and her team. Biologit now works alongside 20 pilot partners in the pharma industry, rigorously testing its AI models across many cases. “This was something we really worked for – it wasn’t just handed to us. Knowing Enterprise Ireland was behind us filled us with great confidence. They have been great partners and we’re still connected with them today,” says Nicole.

For those embarking on their own commercialisation project, Nicole has some advice: “Focus on your product. It’s a lot of hard work, but with a certain belief, you can accomplish what you set out to achieve.”

 

Discover how to take your idea from lab to market with Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund.

Tech with heart: how CroíValve made a difference to patient safety

A trip to Paris was the catalyst for Dr. Martin Quinn, CMO and co-founder at CroíValve. “I was always interested in new treatments and one dawned on me in France,” he says.

During an interventional cardiology conference, Martin and the other attendees were going over treatments for tricuspid valve regurgitation (TR). A common heart disease that affects over half a million people every year in the US and EU alone. “I thought, ‘there’s a better way of doing this,’” he says.

Diagnosing a problem

Later that evening, Martin began jotting down ideas and sketching models. It was the beginnings of a game-changing device that would eventually be commercialised with the support of Enterprise Ireland.

Having spent 17 years as a Consultant Cardiologist, Martin has witnessed first-hand the harsh realities of TR. A vast majority of these patients are elderly and too frail for open-heart surgery. TR happens when the tricuspid valve doesn’t close properly. This causes blood to flow backwards, which over time can lead to permanent heart damage as well as liver and kidney problems.

Martin wanted to create a device that sealed the gap in the tricuspid valve, thereby restoring valve function without a big operation. On his return from Paris in 2014, Martin set the wheels in motion and filed a patent for a new concept.

Remedying a solution

To build the device, Martin needed a partner who combined both business and technical understanding. Dr Bruce Murphy, an Associate Professor in Biomechanical Engineering, was the perfect fit.

“A colleague of mine told me about a guy in Trinity College, Bruce, who was building a mitral valve for the heart,” he says. “I was astonished that he was building something so sophisticated here in Dublin.”

Martin and Bruce agreed to develop a prototype together. It was Bruce who suggested applying for Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund, and the pair were successful in their application in 2016. “The fact that Enterprise Ireland invested in us showed we were onto something,” says Martin.

With funding secured, the team began to grow. A chance meeting between Bruce and Dr Lucy O’Keefe, now CEO and co-founder at CroíValve, would prove to be a pivotal moment. She was a key hire, bringing extensive experience in start-ups and medical device development to the project.

Caring about safety

As part of the Commercialisation Fund, it was agreed that the team would develop their technology in Trinity College. Martin assigned his intellectual property to the university to develop the idea further.

During gaps in Martin’s busy schedule, he would provide clinical input as the team fine-tuned their designs and built a working prototype. “It was a huge learning curve for me. I’m not from an engineering or business background,” he says.

As the prototype took shape, Martin and the team began a rigorous testing programme. This would be a critical step to ensure the end product was safe and effective. Animal models were chosen to mimic aspects of TR. Early signs were positive, and the results would be crucial in securing additional investment.

The team reached out to industry contacts, with the support of Enterprise Ireland. Having successfully pitched their prototype, the project received €3.2m in funding from HBAN MedTech, Irrus Syndicates, Atlantic Bridge University Fund and SOSV Ventures.

“That was further validation for our solution following a detailed assessment. It was a huge achievement,” says Martin.

Believing in your team

The funding accelerated the development of the technology into first-in-human studies, which took place in St James University Hospital Dublin in March 2020. Carried out by an experienced heart team, the device performed well and was implanted and removed without complications.

“That day, the staff were incredible,” he added. “It was amazing to think how far we’d come.”

CroíValve’s device has been proven safe, simple and effective through extensive pre-clinical testing. But the journey is by no means over for Martin and his team. They spun out from Trinity College and into the Liffey Trust Enterprise, Dublin, where CroíValve is now based. They’re always looking to improve the device and still work with Enterprise Ireland today.

“They continue to provide invaluable advice, financial assistance, and important introductions to key industry contacts,” says Martin.

For anyone embarking on their own project, Martin has some advice: “Focus on the benefit to people. It’s a lot of hard work but incredibly fulfilling.”

 

Discover how to take your idea from lab to market with Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund.

SPEEDIER breaking down barriers to energy efficiency for SMEs

“Horizon funding enables you to carry out high quality, robust research that can influence policy, and policy can change behaviour”

Dr Pádraig Lyons, Head of Group, International Energy Research Centre, and coordinator of SPEEDIER

Case Study: SPEEDIER

The European Union’s Energy Efficiency Directive has set an ambitious target of a 32.5% improvement in energy efficiency by 2030. With small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) responsible for approximately 13% of Europe’s total energy demand, their contribution to achieving the target is vital.

However, little of this potential has so far been realised with studies estimating that only 25% of SMEs in Europe have undertaken an energy audit. The reasons cited range from lack of time, resource, in-house expertise and finance, to the low priority given to energy efficiency compared to other business needs.

To address these barriers the SPEEDIER (SME Program for Energy Efficiency Through Delivery and Implementation of EneRgy Audits) project was established. Funded by Horizon 2020 and led by the International Energy Research Centre (IERC) in Cork, the project developed an integrated approach to energy management for SMEs, providing information, capacity building, energy auditing, financing, implementation of energy efficiency solutions and monitoring of impacts.

Dr Pádraig Lyons, Head of Group, IERC, and coordinator of SPEEDIER, explains how it differs from other energy efficiency supports.

At IERC we’ve done a number of projects in this space and are learning about the challenges that SMEs are facing. One of these is the difficulty getting finance for decarbonization projects. So we came up with the SPEEDIER concept which is essentially a self-funding approach to becoming energy efficient.” says Lyons

The model developed is a novel funding mechanism, which builds from no-cost energy conservation activities up to higher cost activities, using the savings from each to finance the next level of investment.

“This approach creates a revolving energy efficiency fund for the business, removing any barriers relating to lack of finance, and providing an external source of expertise via the SPEEDIER consultants,” says Lyons.

 

The advantages of collaboration

SPEEDIER involved nine partners across four countries – Ireland, Spain, Italy and Romania – testing the concept in different contexts from hotels to office blocks and across a range of manufacturers.

One of the benefits of this kind of European-wide collaboration is the information we could gather across a broad range of SME types and a wide geographical area.” 

That has enabled us to draw conclusions about how we can move SPEEDIER forward post project and how it should be tailored to different sectors and countries”, says Lyons.

Although the project was hampered by the Covid pandemic, which restricted the implementation of the SPEEDIER service across businesses and meant some targets set at the start of the project had to be revised, Lyons considers that it was a success.

“It’s less about ticking boxes to say we involved this number of companies or trained that number of consultants and more about generating interest in the concept, validating and evaluating the concept and getting companies on a path. And we’re seeing a lot of interest in the SPEEDIER approach.”

 

Focus on the learning

As coordinator of SPEEDIER, Lyons, who took over the reins mid project, is realistic about the administration that comes with involvement in a Horizon project.

“There is a lot of reporting required and as project coordinators that fell to us at IERC. It’s challenging but that’s the reality of being part of a project with this level of funding. And of course, as the coordinator you have ultimate responsibility for the project so that can be an added pressure.

“Having said that, the substantial funding that’s available from Horizon projects enables you to carry out robust research where the findings are backed up with strong evidence. That kind of research can influence policy, and policy can change behaviour. That’s really important. I believe that there is no use completing a research project and then writing a report that just sits on a shelf. Turning results into information that somebody can actually use is the vital part of any research project.

“Horizon 2020, and now Horizon Europe, offer great opportunities to carry out high quality research if you make the time and space to get involved. But you need to stay focused on the learning as well as the deliverables and objectives set out at the start of the project. It’s the learning that can be commercialized, drive policy change and create the changes that are needed.”

Horizon Europe has a budget of over  €95 billion and one of its core aims is to tackle climate change in line with the European Green Deal and boost to the EU’s competitiveness and growth through excellent research, innovation and collaboration. Enterprise Ireland provides a number of supports for institutions and businesses who are interested in participating in a Horizon Europe project.

Learn more about SPEEDIER, or for information on applying for support from Horizon Europe, the successor programme to Horizon 2020, please contact HorizonSupport@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizoneurope.ie.

 

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NearForm

Nearform – Necessity is the mother of invention

“We’ve grown massively and have taken on new clients and staff. And part of that is down to the underlying improvement in our ability to deliver quickly.”

– Ger O’Shaughnessy, Head of Propositions, NearForm.

Case Study: NearForm

Every growing company juggles day-to-day demands with the need to innovate. NearForm, a Waterford-based global software consultancy with 200 staff in 29 countries, had the vision and ability to scale, but they needed help and found it in Enterprise Ireland’s Agile Innovation Fund.

Ger O’Shaughnessy, Head of Propositions at NearForm explains: “”The potential for us was to develop software tools to help us deliver more solutions at higher speed and scale in a repeatable way. While we had all the skills and leadership to do this, we needed some commercial space to be able to take staff off client work and dedicate them to research and development.”

Seeing the potential

In 2019, the team at NearForm started to look at how they could evolve their services, but they needed to innovate quickly to make their growth plans a reality. In Q4, they applied, and were approved, for Enterprise Ireland’s (Business Innovation Initiative) under the Agile Innovation Fund. Nearform’s Development Advisor  guided them through the application and approval process.

The company has a global client list: London banks, US pharmaceutical companies, retail chains in South America, as well as blue chip brands like American Express, The New York Times and closer to home, the Health Service Executive (HSE).  But despite the wide variety of fields, all these organisations face the same challenge.

Facing the challenge

Ger says: “All of our clients want to be modern digital enterprises with market leading digital services. It’s the number one challenge in our market, not just for growth but for survival, as the world is dominated by fast-moving digital companies.”

“We’ve always been able to deliver change for clients with great digital solutions. What we came to realise – in the age of Amazon – was that delivering a great solution was not enough. We wanted to create digital platforms to deliver new features and services continuously for clients, so they could move as fast or faster than the digital native disruptors that might take their market,” he adds.

What NearForm hoped to achieve was ambitious. A lot of their work was, and still is, delivered from the open web platform – a global shared ecosystem for coders – using open source components. The team at NearForm realised that if they wanted faster, reliable solutions for their clients, they needed to move the existing open source technology forward.  By doing so, the technology would be more ‘enterprise ready’.

NearForm wanted to “advance the whole open source platform and make it available to everybody, not just our clients,” Ger says.

“Because we’re a tech services company, there’s always a pressure to be billable. We were able to do it because of the commercial cover afforded by the fund,” he says.

Learning from the process

The speedy application process for the Business Innovation Initiative (Agile Innovation Fund) had an unexpected benefit. “It made us think about our own approach and outcomes carefully,” Ger says.  “It was literally applied for in October and approved in December of the same year.”

The project kicked off in December 2019 – the timing proved to be serendipitous. Amongst the many benefits envisioned, the project aimed to accelerate their solutions. Once Covid hit, speed became even more important for their clients. And new clients soon came their way.

NearForm were approached by the HSE to create the Covid tracking app for Ireland and went on to create similar apps for nine jurisdictions. Ger says: “Everywhere from Jersey to New Jersey. We created the software, but we also donated it to the Linux Foundation so that every country could have the Covid tracking app as open source code.”

Overall, across all sectors, the impact of the innovation fund was faster delivery of high quality solutions and of course, increased revenue.  “We’ve grown massively and have taken on new clients and staff. And part of that is down to the underlying improvement in our ability to deliver quickly,” Ger says.

Their unique understanding of the open source code they advanced has caught the attention of global investors. They recently secured funding from a US venture capital firm. “One of the reasons we got investment is that they were so interested in our expertise in open source. Being able to show that we were investing in that was definitely a contributing factor to getting funding.”

What advice would he give to anyone thinking of applying for the Agile Innovation Fund and pursuing an innovation project? “It’s an opportunity to create longer-term value,” Ger says. “Our view is that if you’re not innovating then your competitors will be. Innovation is not just a nice to have, but a necessity for growth.”

To find out more about Enterprise Ireland’s Agile Innovation Fund, contact your Development Advisor or call our R&D unit on 01 727 2120.

 

Delmec

Delmec makes data capture and sharing process more efficient

“People will have ideas, you have to give them the environment to throw them out there. The best ideas come from the people actually doing the work. The guys on the ground. Never ever squash an idea. You’ll never create a good culture doing that.”

– Damien Kelly, Head of Engineering & Innovation, Delmec.

Case Study: Delmec

Delmec, a global telecoms solutions company, headquartered in Carlow, was faced with a problem. Their engineers were recording data manually while doing survey work for tower owners and mobile network operators in Africa. It was leading to vast amounts of paperwork and it was unsustainable.

Head of Engineering and Innovation Damien Kelly explains: “It was a long drawn out process, our teams had to capture all the details on site, on paper. They’d then go back to the hotel or office, take photographs or scans of the survey and send it all to our design office, who had to try to read the information, model the tower, analyse it and write up a report.”

Handwritten data resulted in inconsistencies and the sharing of data post-survey led to delays.

Delmec had to find a way to make their data capture and sharing process more efficient. By doing so, they could speed up their operations and then scale the business. Enterprise Ireland’s Agile Innovation Fund was there to help.

Taking the leap

Delmec has a Telecoms Infrastructure Management system (TiMS). A cloud based assessment management system; it allows clients to monitor tower capacity, view
maintenance schedules and input trouble-tickets for thousands of telecommunications masts around the world. The company wanted to develop an app that would replace the old paper-based and manual way of working, and work in tandem with TiMS.

“The teams all had phones, we wanted to see if there was a way to automate things onsite and to capture the information digitally by tapping into the TiMS system,” Damien says. “We knew it was going to be a large undertaking. But we needed to jump on it because it was going to build the business for the next five to ten years.” he says. But there were doubts over changing familiar ways of working and the level of investment required. “We knew it was going to be a long journey and we needed buy-in from everyone to be able to do it,” Damien says.

A partner in change

After some research, Delmec signed up to a webinar to find out about Enterprise Ireland’s Agile Innovation Fund. The company liked what it saw and applied. The process from application to decision was quick, only taking four months to complete.

The application for the fund also helped Delmec map out the project. “Part of the application process involves scoping. By doing that, you’re then visualising what it is and you’re identifying problems,” he says.

“Enterprise Ireland holds your hand through the whole thing, there’s a lot of work but you’re not on your own,” Damien says.

Once the Agile Innovation Fund was secured, the internally-named ‘Eiffel’ project got underway. As with any app build, there were different iterations; it took eight months to complete its first stage.

A towering success

“It opened the floodgates to everything,” Damien says. Their design teams could access data in real-time and client partners were wowed by the speed of the process. The Agile Innovation Fund enabled Delmec to scale, they secured new contracts in Asia and the Middle East and they are now planning to expand to Europe.

The streamlined process means it can work with contractors in remote locations if needed. This proved to be essential when Delmec couldn’t dispatch their teams to towers due to local COVID-19 lockdowns. “If we didn’t have the app, I don’t know what position we’d be in now. We rely heavily on it,” Damien adds.

Delmec has built on the functionality of the app, moving it from a real-time data capture and sharing tool to something much more powerful. It not only drives efficiency throughout the entire business, it now drives ideas. The app tracks suggestions from team members who think something could be done better, everyone from accountants to engineers are encouraged to input.

The Eiffel project has also changed the mindset of the team. They have seen the benefits of embracing innovation and want to continue to evolve. It has given the business an edge over risk-averse competitors who are slow to embrace change.

How can other businesses nurture an innovative mindset? “People will have ideas, you have to give them the environment to throw them out there,” Damien says. “The best ideas come from the people actually doing the work. The guys on the ground. Never ever squash an idea. You’ll never create a good culture doing that.”

To find out more about Enterprise Ireland’s Agile Innovation Fund, contact your Development Advisor or call our R&D unit on 01 727 2120.

 

John O Carroll Eblana Photonics

Eurostars support invaluable for SMEs developing new products

John O'Carroll

“Eurostars funding is invaluable to small businesses as it reduces the risk involved in developing new technologies.

Eblana Photonics, lead partner on TLPON Eurostars project

Key Takeouts:

  • Dublin company, Eblana Photonics, led a small consortium whose aim was to develop novel photonic integrated circuits (PIC) for optical communication applications.
  • The project was part funded by the European Union’s Eurostars research and innovation programme which is aimed at R&D-performing SMEs.
  • The TLPON project has opened new doors for Eblana to develop PIC-based laser products for telecom and spectroscopy.

Case Study: Eblana Photonics

Dublin-based Eblana Photonics, which specialises in the design and production of advanced lasers for communications, sensing and measurement, has long appreciated the value of collaborative projects. Over much of its 20 years in operation it has drawn on the support of European funding programmes to enable it to target new markets with innovative products and establish itself as a provider of world-class technology.

Recently the company completed a project, TLPON, funded under the European Union’s Eurostars programme. Eurostars is a large international funding programme for SMEs that want to collaborate on R&D projects to create innovative products, processes or services for commercialisation.

The main goal of TLPON was the development of novel photonic integrated circuits (PICs) for optical communication applications, with the new NG-PON2 application being the primary target. NG-PON2 is a telecommunications network standard mainly for higher speed fibre to the home networks.

“TLPON was about developing a multi-channel laser approach to increasing the speed and capacity of networks to meet future bandwidth demand, which is rising because of the use of Netflix and similar media and also the increasing resolution in 4k and 8k devices,” explains John O’Carroll

 

Building the European consortium

Eblana Photonics put together a strong consortium that included Dublin City University (DCU), Foton Institute and Orange Labs, the last two based in France.

“We were able to build on our close relationship with DCU. I talked to them about this project and they were interested as it’s an area they were researching as well. Through DCU’s links with one of the French partners, Foton, we were able to bring them on board and they and in turn brought Orange Labs in as the fourth partner.

“Once we had identified the consortium, we contacted Enterprise Ireland and got great advice on what to focus on in the proposal to qualify for the Eurostars programme,” says O’Carroll.

 

The benefits of collaboration

Eblana’s experience of device manufacturing married with the other partners’ research expertise and systems knowledge created a highly effective consortium. This was underpinned by the fact that the partners’ roles within the project complemented each other, and members of the consortium had successfully worked together in the past.

“Having access to the experience of DCU and the international partners was invaluable. For example, we got feedback from Orange Labs on the requirements of an end user and we benefitted from DCU’s characterisation and device packaging expertise and from Foton’s electronic circuit design and device characterisation capabilities.”

 

Commercial application

As the project progressed, however, the NG-PON2 standard was overtaken by other standards.

“When we started TLPON there was a lot of interest in the market for next generation optical networks, and it looked like it was going to be widely applied. But during the project, some other standards came into force and the market went in a different direction,” explains O’Carroll.

“However, the research wasn’t wasted as we were able to modify it and select elements of it to apply to our products roadmap. Before TPLON we didn’t have PICs in our product range, but afterwards we were able to use the research learning to integrate a laser with a modulator.  And if NG-PON2 gains traction within the next couple of years we can turn our attention back to that and develop products in that area.”

TLPON has been transformative in developing Eblana’s capabilities in the area of photonic integration and has presented new opportunities for the company to develop PIC-based laser products for telecom and spectroscopy.

Why Eurostars?

The technologies developed with the support of EU funding have been instrumental in helping Eblana Photonics target new markets with new and innovative products over the years.

“Most of our current product portfolio has been developed with the help of a European research project; the company has benefitted immensely. As with TLPON, what we developed in the projects didn’t necessarily always end up as the commercial product, but the learning led to new products for us because we were able to look for other applications for the research,” says O’Carroll.

“Particularly in the early days of the company when we didn’t have a big R&D budget, the opportunity to be involved in EU projects was invaluable. It would have been difficult for us to risk developing something ourselves that we might not get a return on. So EU programmes such as Eurostars are of great benefit to small businesses.” explains O’Carroll

“On a personal level it’s also very rewarding, particularly for people like myself who come from a research background, as it allows you to work on projects that are outside your day-to-day job and keep up to date with new research.”

Eurostars is primarily a programme for R&D-performing SMEs.  Although universities and research organisations can take part in a project, the main project partner must be an SME.

Companies that take part in Eurostars projects typically see an average of 15% annual turnover increase, while almost 70% of them enter new markets or gain market share.

For advice or further information about applying for Eurostars support please contact David Flood or consult the Eurostars website.

 

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Paul McCloskey, Tyndall Institute

LEDLUM, a shining light in LED efficiency  

LEDLUM

Horizon 2020 was about putting together the right consortium that could do cutting-edge research and also produce something that can be commercialized in the near future.

Paul McCloskey, Head of Integrated Magnetics group at Tyndall National Institute

Key Takeouts:

  • Tyndall Institute played a key role in a recently completed project that aimed to significantly reduce the size and weight of LED drivers while increasing their lifetime expectancy.
  • The ambitious 3.5-year project received €4.1m from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
  • The outcomes included near-market LED driver prototypes with 40% volume and 59% weight reduction, a research prototype with a volume of just 12% of current best in class, and significant advancement in the field of magnetics on silicon.

H2020 Case Study: LEDLUM

As the world faces the imminent impact of climate change, there has never been a greater focus on environmental issues nor a greater sense of urgency. While governments debate macro issues, some researchers are looking at small concerns that can have a big impact. One of these is LED drivers.

LED light bulbs are much more energy efficient and environmentally friendly than traditional bulbs. They can last up to 20 times longer than standard forms of lighting, so fewer bulbs need to be manufactured, they can be up to 80% more energy efficient than conventional bulbs and they contain no toxic elements that require specialist disposal.

The fly in the ointment, however, is the LED AC/DC converter, known as a driver, which is not only much less reliable than the bulbs themselves but also bulky and difficult to integrate into the light fitting.

This driver was the focus of LEDLUM, a Horizon 2020-funded project involving seven European partners drawn from business and academia, and over €4 million in EU funding. LEDLUM’s objectives were to make major improvements to the volume, weight, lifetime and size of the driver to create a more environmentally friendly product.

Among the partners was Tyndall National Institute in County Cork, which brought its expertise in the area of magnetics on silicon to the table. Paul McCloskey, Head of Integrated Magnetics group at the Institute, led the ‘passive components’ work package. He explains how the consortium took a pragmatic approach to achieving the project’s aims.

“Horizon 2020 projects are a combination of research that pushes the boundaries and the development of something that companies can commercialise.” says McCloskey

Within LEDLUM there was initially a little built of tension between those two objectives as the companies in the consortium were more focused on the commercialisation of a product and the universities on pushing the science. So as a consortium we came up with the idea of having two tracks. The development track aimed to get close to something that businesses could use in the near future to create a product, while the research track had a lower level of technology readiness and an emphasis on demonstrating how the challenging goals set might ultimately be achieved. I believe the project delivered on both.”

LEDLUM’s outcomes included the development of near-market LED driver prototypes with 40% volume and 59% weight reduction, a research prototype with a volume of just 12% of current best in class, and significant advancement in the field of magnetics on silicon.

“Horizon 2020 is a way of getting involved with companies that will ultimately use the science in a real-world application.” says McCloskey

One of the outcomes of this project was the licensing of Tyndall’s magnetics on silicon technology. We’ve developed a capability and reputation in this area over many years. Through LEDLUM we further developed the technology and were able to transfer it to one of the biggest silicon foundries in the world with the production scale up at a facility in Europe. That’s a major achievement for us. That’s tying our research into a real-world product,” says McCloskey.

 

Competition and support

Running from 2021 to 2027, Horizon 2020’s successor, Horizon Europe, has a €95 billion funding pot and the triple aim of developing scientific excellence, tackling global and industrial challenges and supporting innovation and inclusivity across Europe. And like Horizon 2020, it is a highly competitive arena.

“There are a lot of organizations chasing this funding. But Ireland performs above average in terms of winning this type of EU funding and Tyndall is one of the most successful institutes. We’ve been involved in these kinds of projects for many years as our research depends on securing this type of funding,” says McCloskey

To help research institutes and businesses to secure Horizon Europe funding, Enterprise Ireland regularly gives talks highlighting what Horizon calls are coming up, how to go about getting involved and how to build a consortium. They also fund travel costs associated with building the consortium and offer support to write the proposal.

 

Advantages of collaboration

Horizon 2020, and now Horizon Europe, is about putting together the right consortium that can do cutting-edge research and also produce something that can be commercialized in the near future.

“That opportunity for collaboration is hugely important. You get the chance to work with other universities and businesses throughout Europe. When you talk to companies you hear what the real-world problems are; understanding that is a terrific insight for a researcher. Overall, I found the LEDLUM project to be an enjoyable and instructive process,” says McCloskey.

For advice or further information about applying for Horizon Europe support, please contact HorizonSupport@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizoneurope.ie

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COGNIPLANT team

COGNIPLANT optimising production plants in the process industries

COGNIPLANT team

“Horizon 2020 helps us to look 10 years into the future and enables us to tap into the huge R&D capability across Europe.”

Eoin Keane, Energy Specialist, COGNIPLANT Horizon 2020 project

Key Takeouts:

  • Aughinish Alumina (AAL), part of the RUSAL group and one of the world’s major producers of aluminium and alumina, is taking part in a project to develop an innovative approach to the advanced digitization and intelligent management of production plants.
  • The COGNIPLANT project has received €8.5m in funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
  • AAL helped to define the requirements for the design of the COGNIPLANT solution and its County Limerick facility is currently testing and demonstrating the solutions identified by the COGNIPLANT consortium.

H2020 Case Study: COGNIPLANT

A global shortage of raw materials, increasing energy prices and environmental concerns have made the goal of improving the performance and energy efficiency of process industries a European imperative.

Among many initiatives tackling the issue is the COGNIPLANT Horizon 2020 project. Using the latest developments in advanced analytics and cognitive reasoning, coupled with the digital twin concept (a computer model that simulates the operation of the plant), it aims to design a monitoring and control solution that will significantly improve the performance of production plants and reduce CO2 emissions.

The COGNIPLANT consortium involves 14 partners from universities and businesses across Europe including four production sites that are testing and demonstrating the technology. One of these is County Limerick company Aughinish Alumina (AAL), part of the RUSAL group and one of the world’s major producers of aluminium and alumina.

The best-in-class company has the reputation of being forward-thinking and innovative and has set itself ambitious carbon reduction targets. Taking part in the COGNIPLANT project was an opportunity to help develop the technology that will contribute to it achieving those targets.

“The COGNIPLANT solution is aligned with the decarbonisation goals of the company where advanced process control techniques are used to minimise energy usage,” explains Eoin Keane, AAL’s Energy Specialist

“Currently there are hundreds of sensors installed on the plant relaying information into a central data storage system. The operations teams and engineers review this information continuously to ensure the process is running smoothly. The goal of COGNIPLANT is to make this intelligence available 24/7 to the control room operator so that they can make informed decisions when the wider team is not available.”

The COGNIPLANT consortium includes expert modellers who are using the data and expertise gathered from the test sites to identify opportunities to optimise the plants. It’s an iterative process, which over the next 12 months should culminate in a packaged solution for process industries.

 

The Horizon advantage

Having been involved in Horizon 2020 projects before, AAL was aware of the benefits of pan- European collaboration.

“We’ve done Horizon 2020 projects in the past and benefitted immensely from them, including building up relationships with experts across many disciplines. When this opportunity arose, which is looking at energy-intensive industries, the co-ordinator of COGNIPLANT, Ibermática, asked us if we wanted to come on board and we were keen to get involved,” says Keane.

“Being part of COGNIPLANT gives us the opportunity to develop detailed and insightful models of the process beyond what is currently available to us. The modellers bring in expertise from many different areas that we would otherwise not be able to access.”

The sharing of knowledge between the partners in the consortium is a valuable aspect of the Horizon experience, even when it does not directly relate to the core project deliverables.

“We’ve been able to share our knowledge and experience of sensors with the lime plant in Italy which was installing a particle-size sensor and we’ve also shared our experience of data handling. We’re building connections with other industries too, for example, the group of researchers in Munich who are working in the field of chemicals in heavy industry. We’re thinking about building on that connection in the future around decarbonization and climate action goals. Horizon Europe will be the route we’ll go down to develop actions in this area,” says Keane.

On a personal level, Keane feels he has greatly benefitted from the opportunity to network with people from other disciplines and backgrounds, to get an insight into what other companies across Europe are working on and see the synergies around climate change.

 

Navigating the Horizon environment with Enterprise Ireland’s support

Identifying the best-fit Horizon project, negotiating the consortium build and keeping on top of pan-European developments can be challenging, but AAL has found Enterprise Ireland’s help to be invaluable.

“Enterprise Ireland helps to identify suitable matchmaking events for us to attend, which help in forming a consortium. They are also available to answer any questions or offer support when needed.” explains Keane

 At the moment they are helping us with the next round of calls for Horizon Europe, pinpointing future projects around climate change and the circular economy. These are areas where you need to think outside the box and that’s why Horizon is so important to us; it allows us to tap into the huge R&D capability across Europe, which is very exciting. Horizon really helps us to look 10 years into the future.”

For advice or further information about applying for Horizon Europe support, please contact HorizonSupport@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizoneurope.ie

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