Dr Michael Maguire, CEO AVECTAS

AVECTAS leading the way in non-viral cell engineering technology

Dr Michael Maguire, CEO AVECTAS

“Horizon 2020 was all about scientific excellence; this project allowed AVECTAS to further develop our pioneering SOLUPORE® technology within a structured framework.”


Dr Michael Maguire, Chief Executive of AVECTAS

Key Takeouts:

  • AVECTAS, a spin-out company from Maynooth University, has developed a game-changing approach to engineering cells for use in immunotherapy.
  • AVECTAS received €2m from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme via its SME Instrument.
  • This support along with that of investors was key to enabling AVECTAS to progress the commercialisation of its SOLUPORE® platform including completing successful preclinical studies.

H2020 Case Study: AVECTAS

Case Study

Cellular immunotherapy is an exciting new approach to treating cancer that offers hope to millions of people worldwide as it has the potential to cure the disease without the harsh side effects of treatments such as chemotherapy.  It involves editing genes outside the body, in effect arming them to attack and kill cancer cells when they are infused back into patients.

Generally, viruses are required to re-engineer cells but AVECTAS, a company headquartered in Dublin and with locations in Canada and the USA, has developed a novel, non-viral gene editing approach that has multiple benefits over alternatives.

“At AVECTAS we’re looking at the next generation of cancer therapy products, including complex gene editing that will address the treatment of solid mass tumours.” explains Dr Michael Maguire, CEO of AVECTAS

“We have developed a cell engineering platform, SOLUPORE®, which works by temporarily making the cell membrane permeable to allow cargo such as mRNA, RNPs and plasmids into the cell.”

The key difference between our platform and competing technology is the gentleness. Currently, cells that are being modified are typically from a patient who may be ill and the cells may be fragile. Our approach minimises stress to cells so they function extremely well when reintroduced to the patient.”

As well as delivering benefits to patients, the SOLUPORE® gene editing process is a shorter, simpler and much more cost-effective one than other processes currently available, offering the potential to deliver life-changing treatment at an affordable cost.

 

Support for commercialisation

Having developed the SOLUPORE® platform, the next step for AVECTAS was scaling the process and aligning it to regulatory compliance to enable commercialisation. To achieve this, the company applied for support under the SME Instrument of Horizon 2020 and received additive funding of 2m.

The SME Instrument supports innovators to commercialise ground-breaking concepts that could shape new markets or disrupt existing ones in Europe and worldwide.

“This support was absolutely fantastic for the company at the stage we were at and for our ambition. It was as much about validating what we were doing as about the grant, as AVECTAS has always been very well supported by our investors,” says Maguire.

Horizon 2020 is all about scientific excellence. The objectives and deliverables that were part of the project provided a structured framework and a discipline that was valuable to us. In addition, we felt trusted, supported and part of something bigger.”

As a result of the SME Instrument support, AVECTAS achieved a number of progressive strategic objectives. “The SME Instrument enabled us to accelerate our discussions with government agencies, academic institutes, regulatory bodies and other companies in the formation of a national strategy. There are very progressive efforts now across industry, academia and the funding community to join up the thinking around cell therapy and for Ireland to do the same in this field as we’ve done in biotechnology where we’re now a world player. It’s exciting to see what will come of that.”

 

Persistence pays

Maguire is keen to encourage other companies to take advantage of the support available through Horizon Europe (Horizon 2020’s successor) but stresses that it should be viewed as additive rather than core funding.

“I feel strongly that companies need to have solid investment and avoid being dependent on grants such as Horizon funding. That’s not the right way to run a business and it can take you down avenues that don’t align with your company strategy. Additive funding such as Horizon Europe can allow you to accelerate progress but shouldn’t be the only source of finance,” says Maguire.

There is also much to be learned from the application process itself which hones focus and delivers fresh perspective.

“We made a number of applications for this funding before being successful and we learnt from the feedback on each of them, including how the outside world views your business. I would encourage people to be persistent and don’t get dispirited if the first or second applications are unsuccessful.”

AVECTAS has benefitted from a range of Enterprise Ireland support since its set-up and also got assistance with preparing the Horizon 2020 application.

Recently it has secured further funding through the Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund run by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. It is partnering with Bluebridge Technologies and NIBRT to expand its Solupore® platform to manufacture next-generation allogeneic products that can be produced at scale for large numbers of patients. The allogeneic approach uses cells from donor tissues rather than the patient’s own cells.

The project will take AVECTAS further towards commercialising an advanced, large-scale, digitalised cell engineering platform optimised to manufacture ‘off-the-shelf’ cell-based therapies for cancer treatment.

For further information about 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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H2020 CityxChange team

+CityxChange helping to create the positive energy cities of the future

H2020 CityxChange team

Horizon 2020, and its successor Horizon Europe, are designed for innovation. It enables participants to take risks and therefore achieve more.”


Terry Connolly, Limerick City and County Council, +CityxChange project

Key Takeouts:

  • Limerick City and County Council is taking part in a five-year, €24m, pan-European project to create positive energy blocks within cities.
  • The project is funded by Horizon 2020 under its Smart Cities and Communities call.
  • Now midway through the project, +CityxChange is set to roll out its blueprint for carbon reduction across seven European cities.

H2020 Case Study: CityxChange

The European Union’s (EU) ambitious vision of creating positive energy cities – those that generate more energy than they use – is being advanced by a major pan-European project, +CityxChange, running over five years.

The aim of the project, which has received 24m from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, is to create positive energy blocks within two ‘lighthouse’ cities and then roll out the learning and solutions across five other European cities. This will establish a blueprint for creating energy positive urban environments, essentially co-creating solutions to global-scale challenges at the local level.

Trondheim, Norway and Limerick, Ireland, are the lighthouse cities, but as Terry Connolly of Limerick City and County Council explains, the challenges in each are very different.

Trondheim’s positive energy block is a new build that was designed to be energy positive. In Limerick we’re trying to do the same thing with Georgian buildings, which is a massive challenge,” says Connolly.

Limerick City and County Council is working with a number of expert partners to develop solutions for buildings located in the Georgian Innovation District to help generate more energy than they consume and allow for any excess energy to be returned to the grid.

+CityxChange involves extensive data collection, engaging communities, upgrading building stock, accelerating the clean energy transition and balancing energy use. Despite the challenges, however, including the impact of Covid delaying the energy monitoring elements, the project is progressing well.

“We’ve completed the data collection and building modeling work and are well advanced with citizen engagement. The response from the public has been great.

We’ve recruited 20 energy champions in Limerick who are demonstrating how they are changing their energy use, and we have funded several small community innovative energy positive projects through open calls,” says Connolly.

+CityxChange’s extensive remit is being delivered by a consortium consisting of 32 partners across Europe including city municipalities, universities, and businesses and organisations in the fields of research, technology, community engagement, energy production/distribution and logistics.

“In essence we’re looking at how digital technologies can be exploited to improve quality of life, make cities more climate-friendly and productive, and facilitate business development,” says Connolly.

 

Horizon 2020 supporting innovation

Connolly has been involved in numerous European projects over many years, which have spanned a wide range of funding mechanisms. He believes Horizon 2020 and its successor Horizon Europe are perfectly designed to support innovation.

“Some funding mechanisms can generate a lot of paperwork for participants, in particular those that are based on having to spend money first and then claim it back.  I believe that can make people risk averse because they’re afraid they might not get their money back”.

“Horizon 2020 is high quality funding; it’s designed for innovation. Of course, you still have all the paperwork requirements but the fact that you get most of the money up front makes you better placed to take the risks needed to deliver real innovation”.

“Also, Horizon-funded projects are by their nature at the cutting edge of research and innovation and so are extremely interesting projects to be involved in,” says Connolly.

With his extensive experience of Horizon projects, Connolly is able to offer some advice to other organizations and businesses that might be considering responding to a Horizon call.

“The key thing for anyone thinking of getting involved in a Horizon project is to ensure that it’s aligned with what you want to do. You don’t want to start something and then realise it’s beyond your capability or out of step with your business focus.  A Horizon project is a contract that you have to finish.”

Enterprise Ireland’s support and expertise is an invaluable resource for applicants.

Enterprise Ireland has so much information about these projects and what’s happening across Europe and they can share that with you. They can advise on which projects you have a better chance of winning and can help with identifying partners or putting you in touch with someone who is looking for a partner”.

“We’re talking to them at the minute to prepare for Horizon Europe calls. They’re helping us pinpoint which clusters we will look at and focus on which applications might be of interest”.

“They’re also very honest, so they’ll tell you straight if they don’t think your project will work and that means you don’t waste time working on a proposal that’s going nowhere.”

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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Salaso CEO Aoife ni Mhuiri

Salaso: Using market research to hone your growth strategy

Salaso CEO Aoife ni Mhuiri

Market research is important at every stage of building a business, not just when you’re exploring new markets and verticals. For Aoife Ní Mhuirí and Salaso, market research was vital when their precision exercise digital platform was inundated with requests from new customers over the last 12 months – and this is where Enterprise Ireland’s Market Research Centre proved so useful.

“The last year has been an absolute gamechanger in terms of digital health, we experienced a large increase in inbound customer queries because we had the digital platform to deliver to patients under COVID restrictions.” explains Salaso CEO Aoife Ní Mhuirí

“As a small company, we had to focus on the right opportunities and we found the Market Research Centre particularly useful in understanding these customers. More strategically it is has helped us hone our market expansion strategy in the US.”

 

The growth of digital health

In business for 10 years, Salaso is a well-established digital platform designed for health professionals to make precision exercise prescriptions easily accessible for patients. The idea was born out of Aoife’s experience as a working chartered physiotherapist and her interest in e-learning and digital technology.

“I did the Endeavour Programme back in 2011 at the Institute of Technology in Tralee (now Munster Technological University), and that was essentially the start of Salaso. The company’s aim was to use technology and multimedia to make exercise a core part of healthcare and this led to the development of the Salaso platform . Physiotherapists, occupational therapists, primary care therapists, nurses, physicians and so on can use the infrastructure to engage their patients in exercise and physical activity programmes in order to  improve outcomes both for the patient and the clinic, hospital or practice.”

The platform can be used in countless scenarios, as Aoife explains. “It’s really for every patient; one of our clients in the US said that our infrastructure will benefit every person coming through their doors – and that’s true. No matter who you are or what you do, there’s always an exercise programme that can benefit your health and wellbeing – whether you have breast cancer, you’re recovering from a stroke, you have a pain in your back, you want to play sport and need to recover from a hamstring strain, there’s always an exercise programme for you.”

“We like to think of ourselves as pioneers in precision exercise, delivering the smart infrastructure that allows practitioners select and guide the patient in choosing the right exercise, at the right time and in the amount of time the patient has to engage in exercise.”

 

US growth ambitions

Headquartered in Kerry with offices in the UK and the US, Salaso is going from strength to strength. “There are huge opportunities for our platform in the US due to the direction that healthcare is taking over there – it’s very much about keeping people out of hospitals and surgeries, and that’s what our platform feeds into. We have an office on the East Coast and also in Nevada, working to target the value-based care market on the West Coast.”

That opportunity has grown even more due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as Aoife explains. “The pandemic changed the delivery and the consumption of healthcare forever, which is a good thing for many people, as there’s easier access to the care that they need – because the technology is  available and the infrastructure is there in the hospitals. The behaviour has changed too, now that digital healthcare is accessible. Think of someone who’s had a stroke or suffers from Parkinson’s disease who needs to access care or follow-up physiotherapy – before they would have been reliant on someone driving them there, maybe a son or daughter who has to take time off work, now they can access the care they need from the comfort of their own home.”

This, coupled with the fact that patients are becoming more educated about the many different forms of healthcare, has resulted in Salaso becoming a much sought-after platform.

“More patients are also now more involved and informed about their options; if there’s an exercise programme that might help postpone a surgery or improve recovery, then they want to know about it.”

“All of the evidence shows that if you engage with prehabilitation before surgery, the outcomes post-surgery are better. Even if you look at an area like cancer, exercise not only improves quality of life but it can also have a positive effect on survivorship.”

As Salaso grew, so did its need for market research; as Enterprise Ireland clients, the company was able to avail of the Market Research Centre to help them recognise opportunities and understand new markets. “We used the Market Research Centre for accessing a lot of the reports for the overseas markets, the US in particular,” Aoife explains.

“The centre was very useful for segmenting the industry, as well as identifying the possible leads that we could go after. It also helped us in understanding the market in the US, how reimbursement worked, and what has changed in the last 12 months. ” says Aoife

“The centre was very useful for segmenting the industry, as well as identifying the possible leads that we could go after. It also helped us in understanding the market in the US, how reimbursement worked, and what has changed in the last 12 months. For instance, a year ago, tele-health wasn’t reimbursed, but during the pandemic, reimbursement for tele health was brought in temporarily, and now it appears to be here for the long-haul. Getting information on topics like this is so useful when navigating a complicated market like the US healthcare market.”

The pandemic has accelerated Salaso’s growth as a company but expanding too fast can have its pitfalls too – and again, the data provided by the Market Research Centre can be invaluable. “There’s great opportunity for us to expand right now but we’re still an SME with limited resources, so knowing the best use of those resources is critical for the future of the company. And that’s where market research really comes in for a company like us.”

Learn how Enterprise Ireland’s Market Research Centre can support your company’s export ambitions.

Image of Mo Harvey

 The future looks regulated – regtech report

Photo of Mo Harvey, fintech advisor

The Irish fintech sector has long been dominated by the payments industry but the regtech (regulatory technology) sector in particular has been quietly achieving great heights globally and without much fanfare, until now.

Mo Harvey, Financial Services & FinTech Advisor, Hong Kong, says the sector is often overlooked as it is not consumer-facing, but in fact regtech has been steadily growing in sophistication and applicability.

“There are varying definitions out there (as to what regtech is) but, at its core, it is the use of new technologies by institutions, banks, insurance companies or any regulated entity to meet regulatory compliance challenges in a more efficient way,” she explains. “It transforms risk management and compliance functions and enables companies to strategise and grow while complying with even the most complex regulations.

“Ireland is an important centre for international financial services with a high-quality talent pool working in legal, risk and compliance functions – currently, regtech is the largest indigenous fintech sub-sector and it is bubbling with promise.” says Harvey. 

 

Global Regtech Market

According to Harvey, regtech is the ‘unsung hero’ of the fintech sector and the Asia-Pacific region is ripe for Irish firms within in the sector.

“Pre-pandemic, the global regtech market was predicted to grow from USD$6.3 billion in 2020 to USD$16.0 billion by 2025, a rate of over 20% per year, with Asia-Pacific accounting for the highest growth rate over this period,” she says.  “However, COVID-19 caused an acceleration in adoption in tandem with a fintech boom so the market could hit as high as USD$30 billion by 2025.

“Market and industry drivers such as the 2008 financial crisis, increasing regulatory enforcement actions and fines, proactive regulators encouraging regtech adoption, digital banks, payments and lending, virtual assets and remote onboarding are just some of the contributing factors which have created opportunity for specialised solutions.

“Regtech adoption is mature in Europe and the USA, but Asia-Pacific presents an interesting opportunity for regtech companies. It is a uniquely fragmented region of developed and developing markets, with a number of sophisticated financial ecosystems and complex regulatory environments.” confirms Harvey. 

 

Expanding the Irish Regtech Footprint

Enterprise Ireland began its Asia-Pacific wide regtech initiative over three years ago and has just released its ground-breaking report on The State of RegTech in APAC, and Mo Harvey says the report has even garnered support from all the key fintech ecosystem players throwing their weight behind it, from the APAC RegTech Network and The Regtech Association of Australia to the FinTech Associations of Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and Malaysia.

“We could see an increasing number of regtech companies coming out of Ireland and an alignment in terms of potential and opportunity in Asia-Pacific,” she says. “What started as an exclusive market research for Irish regtech companies to help them understand the nuances of the region, has now become the authority on regtech in Asia-Pacific.

“Consequently, people are starting to take note of what Irish regtechs have to offer out here.”

 

Plenty of opportunity for Irish firms

Covid 19 may have caused many problems for industry in every sector across the globe but the fintech expert says it has brought about some positivity for companies in the regtech sector.

Right now, we have a perfect storm of opportunity,” says Harvey. “Regtech adoption in Australia is well-advanced but it is at a relatively early stage in the Asian banking market with opportunities for further growth.

“While many banks have started using regtech, most commonly in financial crime, regtech is employed in a low percentage of risk management and regulatory compliance activities.

“The breadth of regtech adoption is expected to increase over the next year, especially in the areas of conduct, customer protection, regulatory and tax reporting, and regulatory compliance obligations.” says Harvey. 

“In addition, we are seeing regulators in key markets such as Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan, all encouraging the adoption of regtech (some regulators going as far as incentivising banks to buy regtech solutions). So now is a good time for regtechs to start building at least one Asia-Pacific market into their expansion strategy.”

 

 Ireland’s Regtech Cluster of Excellence

In outposts around the world, Enterprise Ireland is working hard on behalf of Irish businesses and its strategy with regard to regtech is to help the sector cluster in Ireland to be synonymous with excellence.

“There are a number of Irish companies already enjoying global success,” says Mo Harvey. “These include Fenergo, Vizor, Daon, MyComplianceOffice and Know Your Customer, while AQMetrics, Cerebreon, Sedicii and DX Compliance are gaining international traction. Hopefully more can follow in their footsteps.

“Marrying Europe’s position as a global leader in regulatory and compliance standards with Enterprise Ireland’s investment in innovative technology-driven companies, has provided fertile soil for Ireland to have a world-class regtech cluster and support the imminent global regtech boom.”

 

To learn more download our State of Regtech APAC report.

Jenny Melia, Minister Damien English, Katie Farrell

SQUID: Enabling every business reap the rewards of a customer loyalty scheme through a handy app

At a time when business recovery is on everybody’s mind, winning the loyalty of customers and ensuring repeat business has never been so important. Exactly in the right place at the right time is a new Irish company with a unique product that allows businesses of all sizes implement an effective loyalty scheme for a small price each month.

Established by engineering graduates and best friends Katie Farrell and Matthew Coffey, and supported by Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund, SQUID is an innovative loyalty app that is free for customers to download and can hold “virtual” loyalty cards for a range of businesses.

“It was something that a few people were talking about,” explains Katie. “For instance, for food delivery, you have Deliveroo, Just Eat and so on, but for loyalty, many businesses were still using swipe cards, paper cards or their own app. People tend not to want to sign up to too many loyalty schemes because they mightn’t want a load of cards or different accounts.”

The concept is simple so it’s no surprise that Katie and Matthew quickly found several businesses interested in their idea. “It’s a free app, and currently we have over 600 sites on it. We have about 60,000 people using it now.

“The business gets a small device that the customer simply taps with their phone and it adds a “stamp” to their virtual card for that business.” explains Farrell

 This is the basic offering but we’ve added a lot more since then; for instance businesses can now reach out to their customers through push notifications. We’re also looking at doing more integrations as well, for example with food ordering and booking – so in other words, we’re looking at anything a business has to do to drive loyalty, and then we want to simplify it.”

 

Benefits for a small investment

The rewards to the business are significant, especially as the basic package costs just €20 per month. “The app is affordable, it’s free for the users, and it’s more eco-friendly than the printed cards. But people engage with it a lot more than with a paper cards. For instance, 91% of people that placed their first loyalty stamp with SQUID this year have gone on to make another purchase and get another loyalty stamp. And then there’s the ability to actually reach out to your customers as well. We also have a discovery page so you can find new businesses in your area. 

“Each business has their own branded profile page with opening hours, location, social media links, menu etc, so it’s a way of finding new customers too.” says Farrell

Another key benefit is that the business doesn’t have to worry about GDPR. “The contact details and identity of individuals are hidden from the business owners, so they don’t know who they’re talking to or can’t contact them individually by name,” says Katie. “So in a way it saves the businesses the worry about GDPR and for the customer, they can simply turn off the push notifications if they don’t want to receive communications.”

 

Working through Covid

The app launched in October 2019, as Katie and Matthew had put together a small waiting list of customers who were interested in the scheme when they heard about it through SQUID’s initial market research. “We launched with the first five customers in September 2019,” explained Katie. “We decided to start small and grow from there as we were a small team, but we started getting a lot of interest and were onboarding people regularly until Covid hit.”

The beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a significant shift in the company’s clients. “We began with a lot of city centre cafés and their customers would be office workers getting a coffee on their way to work. We could see a spike in the morning and then at lunchtime. But when people started working from home, that changed. We were worried at the start, but the café industry did recover and a lot of new places opened up in the suburbs.

“The lockdown gave us time to look at strategy and to market online through social media. To keep some sort of cashflow going, we also added a voucher market feature into the app so people could buy gift vouchers from the businesses they wanted to support during lockdown.”

SQUID had also won funding from Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund (CSF), which allowed them to really establish the business before Covid hit and develop the app. Most significantly, Katie applied for the 2019 call for Women Entrepreneurs, which included a business accelerator programme that proved to be invaluable for the ongoing sustainability of the business during Covid.

“I applied for the CSF before we launched and had a waiting list of customers. We put a lot of work into the application and the pitch, and we got it. Before that we were self-funded, so getting the funds from the CSF was our first opportunity to do some more product development – to move it from being just a prototype to becoming an established business.

“I was part of the call for women entrepreneurs, which included participation in the Innovate programme. Each week we got to attend different workshops and talks from entrepreneurs and marketing experts. I found this great as I was able to meet other entrepreneurs who might be a little further along their path than me; I learnt a lot from the workshops and the various talks too. It was also great to get that day just to take a step back from the everyday challenges and work on the overall strategy of the business – I learnt a lot from this programme which definitely helped with the success of the business so far through a challenging time.”

Visit this page for more information about the Competitive Start Fund.

Why Export title

Export Journey: Step 1 – Why Export?

Why Export title - image of woman packing a box

In a post-Covid world access to international markets, buyers, distributors and information is now at the fingertips of Irish SMEs thanks to increased digitalisation.

When looking towards new markets, it is important to consider the potential benefits of exporting for your company such as;

1. Diversification of market and reduced vunerability

A well considered diversification plan can minimise a dependency on the domestic market and the potential exposure to domestic downturn.

2. Increased revenue and scale

Exporting opens channels to exponentially expand the home market and identify new markets to take advantage of globally. A larger market base delivers economies of scale, enabling you to maximise your resources.

3. Improved profitability

Your ongoing domestic operation should cover business-as-usual fixed costs, either directly or via other types of business financing, which should, in turn, facilitate a faster growth in your export profits.

4. Best practice and knowledge

Accessing global markets will provide additional benefits to an exporter, aside from increased revenues such as new ways of doing business, increased awareness of global best practice, cultural and international competitiveness, that could also bring benefits to your market offering in Ireland.

5. Domestic competitiveness

Considering your company’s export potential will increase its resilience against potential competition within the domestic market.

 

 

Assess & validate title and two women at a computer screen

Export Journey: Step 2 – Assess & Validate

Assess & Validate title and business people

Before beginning your export journey you must clearly identify your target market.  You may have preferences based on previous experience, understanding of the language or culture or simply some connection with the market, though a good starting point it’s not enough of a reason to export to this market.

Market Research will form the backbone of your export strategy as you begin to validate your plans.

The key elements for consideration are:

  • What makes your product unique
  • Who are your competitors in your selected research market?
  • Who are the buyers in that market?
  • How does your product compare in terms of pricing?
  • How is the product sold in that market?
  • What are the local regulations, certification for selling your product and can you currently comply?
  • A clear understanding as to why you have selected this market as the potential first market.

What supports are available?

If your business is at an early development stage the Local Enterprise Office has the supports to help you plan, start and grow

If you are are already supported by Enterprise Ireland you can contact your Development Advisor here.

The Market Research Centre provides access to world class research databases to help client companies make better, more informed business decisions. Contact the Market Research Centre here

Enterprise Ireland hosts events to assist companies’ growth plans – See our events calendar for details.

Our Market pages and Going Global guides provide expert insights and contact details for our overseas offices.

Learn how our Exporter Development team can support your growth.

 

 

 

FAITH: Improving mental health care for cancer survivors

H2020 FAITH team image and case study heading

FAITH is potentially life-changing research. To achieve the ambitious goals of the project we needed to leverage our networks in Europe and build a consortium of experts.


Philip O’ Brien, Technical Co-ordinator, FAITH Horizon 2020 project

Key Takeouts:

  • Walton, part of the Waterford Institute of Technology, is leading a project that aims to develop a model for mental health monitoring of cancer patients, to improve their quality of life.
  • The FAITH project has received €4.8m in funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
  • As well as co-ordinating FAITH, Walton is driving the development of artificial intelligence (AI) models and the deployment of a federated learning framework.

H2020 Case Study: FAITH

    Cancer remains the second leading cause of death globally and as many as one in five people living with cancer experiences depression and mood change post diagnosis. It’s a stark statistic and one that led researchers at Walton Institute, an ICT research and development centre within the Waterford Institute of Technology, to begin looking at the area of mental health in cancer patients to see if they could use their expertise to help. 

    “We believe the potential for ICT applications in health is massive. We had an initial idea about looking at markers of depression and when the Horizon 2020 call came out, which was specifically targeting improving the quality of life for cancer survivors, it was an opportunity to take the idea to the next level,” says Philip O’ Brien, technical co-ordinator of FAITH.

    The goal of FAITH (a Federated Artificial Intelligence solution for moniToring mental Health status after cancer treatment) is to provide an ‘AI Angel’ app that remotely analyses depression markers, such as changes in activity, outlook, sleep and appetite. When a negative trend is detected, an alert can be sent to the patient’s healthcare providers or other caregivers who can then offer support.

    The project uses the latest, secure AI and machine learning techniques within the interactive app located on patients’ phones. Key to the project is federated machine learning, which enables the patient’s personal data to stay within the AI model on each phone, guaranteeing privacy.

    “As the model collects data on a person’s phone it retrains itself to improve and personalize it for each individual.explains O’Brien

    “As the model collects data on a person’s phone it retrains itself to improve and personalize it for each individual. But we also want to learn from all that data to gain insights that are beneficial to the broader population, so when a model updates, that update, rather than the person’s data is sent back to the cloud. All the updates are processed and a new, improved model is sent back out to everyone and that cycle repeats,”

     

    Another important aspect of the project is a focus on explainable AI, which is about ensuring that healthcare professionals can understand why the machine has reached a particular decision about the person’s mental health.

    “Explainable AI is extremely important for building trust. As AI impacts more and more on our lives the implications of this are huge,” says O’Brien.

     

    Why Horizon 2020?

    “It was clear from the start that to achieve the ambitious goals of the FAITH project we would need to leverage our networks in Europe and build a consortium of clinicians and technical experts. By breaking the project concept into a number of key objectives we then built our consortium based on specific expertise to achieve each objective,” says O’Brien.

    FAITH brings together partners from Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Cyprus into a strong multi-disciplinary team. Trial sites in eminent cancer hospitals in Madrid, Waterford and Lisbon, involving both clinicians and patients, are assessing the concept and feedback is being used to refine the model.

    As with most Horizon projects there are multiple dependencies across the various work packages and co-ordinating the whole presents some challenges. At the helm of FAITH is Gary McManus, Research Project Manager at Walton.

    Different countries and organisations have different regulations and ways of operating so that’s one challenge. Also, from experience from previous projects, I knew it was important to remember that each partner, although working towards the global aim of the project, will have their own interests. Being cognisant of these sub-goals from the outset and, where possible, facilitating these in the overall planning process is essential,” says McManus.

    Different countries and organisations have different regulations and ways of operating so that’s one challenge. Also, from experience from previous projects, I knew it was important to remember that each partner, although working towards the global aim of the project, will have their own interests. Being cognisant of these sub-goals from the outset and, where possible, facilitating these in the overall planning process is essential,” says McManus.

    “But by having strong leaders for each work package, who are experts in their domain, we can be sure that delivery of each element will build towards the final offering.”

     

    Knowledge gain

    Having taken part in multiple Horizon 2020 projects, O’Brien believes that one of the great benefits is the extensive knowledge gain within a short period.

    “Being involved in a Horizon project is the opportunity to upskill rapidly and build on your underlying expertise. Through your links with other organisations across Europe you get an insight into different ways of working and you cross paths with people from many disciplines. For example, through FAITH we’ve been talking to a range of healthcare professionals and leveraging their experience.

    “The EU spends a lot of time and money with experts pinpointing the areas where we need to see technology improving to tackle specific challenges in the next five to ten years. By being involved in these projects you’re building on all of that knowledge rather than working in isolation. Then learning from the people you are working with across Europe pushes you up a level again.”

    Moreover, the end of a Horizon project is usually the beginning of something else.

    “One of our work packages is looking at what happens post project and how we take it to the next stage. We know bigger healthcare trials will be needed, for example. But from Walton’s point of view we’ve broken some new ground on explainable AI which has a lot of applications outside this project, so that’s an area we’d like to take forward. You need to be clear about how you build on the project, either in a well-defined follow-up project or by commercial exploitation of the output.”

     

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

     

    Positioning Strategy title and businessman

    Export Journey: Step 3 – Positioning Strategy

    Positioning Strategy title and businessman

    Your positioning strategy should set out what you will do to achieve a favourable perception in your new export market.

    Typically companies will try to achieve the same brand positioning regardless of the market. A coherent positioning strategy can be hugely advantageous, so it’s important when reviewing the export potential of your products/goods or services to consider the following:

    1. Customer profiles

    • What is your current USP and will this translate to your new foreign export markets ?
    • Do you understand your domestic customer profile? E.g. age profile, socio-economic grouping etc.
    • Are there other significant demographic patterns to your product or service’s usage?
    • Have you considered the need to modify your product/service to facilitate differences in language, culture and business environments?
    • How do you plan to deliver your services to foreign markets ? In person, via a local partner or using digital resources?

    2. Market Pricing and Value Propostion

    • Consideration whether any necessary changes to make your product/service more appealing to foreign markets and customers?
    • If you’re exporting services, what makes them unique within global markets?
    • Have you benchmarked your services in a global context? Would they be considered to be world-class and stand up to stronger scrutiny?
    • Have you considered the cost implications of servicing overseas markets? Including FX rates and fluctuations?
    • Does your product have a shelf life and will this be impacted by time in transit?
    • Will your packaging have the same impact in a foreign market or can it be easily modified to satisfy new demands?
    • Are there any climatic or geographic factors that could affect the uptake of your product or service in other markets?

    3. Route to Market

    • Do you need special export licensing or documentation to export? i.e. technical or regulatory requirements localised to the market?
    • Are there considerations for the safe transportation of your product to global markets ? i.e. specialized containers or packaging materials?
    • Would transportation costs make competitive pricing a problem?
    • How efficiently does your target market process incoming shipments?

    4. Capacity to support

    • In the event that your domestic/export demand increases beyond current projections, will you still be able to look after both markets?
    • Will you be able to serve both your existing domestic customers and any new foreign clients?

     

    5. Further considerations

    • Do you require a local presence or representation?
    • Will your products/service require local professional support or can this be done digitally?
    • Will after-sales service be required ? Can it be easily sourced locally or do you have to provide it? Does you have the resources to provide it?
    • Are there legal / IP implications to consider when entering global markets?

    Once your positioning strategy is in development, it’s time to consider how to develop your export strategy and access your target market.

     

    Take the next step in the Export Journey

     

    Export Strategy title and port image

    Export Journey: Step 4 – Developing your Export Strategy

    The next step is your export plan. You may have ideas but you need to clearly communicate them in writing so that your whole team is clear on their responsibilities. Having a plan laid out makes it easier to spot pitfalls, gaps and even additional opportunities!

    The export plan is also key in seeking supports in term of financing or grants.  Don’t overcomplicate it, keep it clear and simple.

    The key elements of a successful export plan include:

    1. The Vision

    • What you are going to do. How you are going to do it. What your expected outcome is.

    2. Human Resources

    • Have you the staff, external support and expertise? Have you skills within your team to manage language and cultural differences?

    3. Financial Resources

    • Budget, Sales targets and Pricing – Consider the additional costs involved in selling into the overseas market. Establish a target price for the end user, taking into consideration currency, payment terms, freight and carriage charges, import duties and taxes, commission to partners and competitors’ pricing.

    4. Target Market

    • Why you have selected this market; who your buyers are.

    5. Your Product

    • Your USP and how it translates internationally. Are there external factors which could impact production or sales?

    6. Market Entry

    • Sales channels; marketing plan; regulations, language and local laws.

    7. Monitoring and Developing the market

    • Are you meeting sales targets?

    8. What’s next?

    • How do you plan to grow and scale?

    Access the Market Entry Page

     

     

     

    Market Entry title and businesswoman image

    Export Journey: Step 5 – Market Entry

    Market Entry title and businesswoman image

    Your next priority is for the execution of your company’s vision within new export markets. Key to this will be preparing the company for this change and subsequent increased demand from and servicing of new export markets.

    Consideration for a successful market entry should include;

    1.Identify and allocate adequate resources such as:

      • Financial resources i.e. cash required to sufficiently support overseas exports
      • Additional equipment or fixed assets needed to increase volume or backup global sales
      • People, including staff, suppliers or other valuable relationships in Ireland or overseas

    2. Defining where your first sales will come from

    Will your customers be a distributor which imports in larger quantities, or an overseas agenct or representative acting on your behalf or will it be a separate trading company of your own business?

    3. Developing your lead generation strategy

    Supports will need to be assigned to generate business leads. Will they be predominantly offline, online or a hybrid?

    Offline: fairs, events, conferences, network meetings or

    Online: website, social media, blogs etc.

    You will need to qualify and validate the leads, managing them through a Customer Relationship Management (CMS) system such as Salesforce.

    4. Marketing and communications

    Implementing a successful marketing and communication plan is vital for sustained sales in export markets.

    When developing a plan, it is important not to do a ‘copy and paste’ of the same marketing strategy from your domestic market as these are likely completely disparate territories. While it is logical that you should retain your company values and purpose, you will need to adapt your marketing and communications strategy to your new export market

    5. Implementing a sales process

    By implementing a sales process, you are creating a set of logical, repeatable steps that your sales team goes through to bring a potential buyer from an early stage of awareness to closing the sale. There are various stages that need to be considered in developing an effective sales process, such as;

    a) How will your company cultivate your sales leads?

    b) What preparation will you commit to in order to be ready to capture an overseas sale?

    c) What will be your sales teams approach to a prospective buyer?

    d) How will you adequately present or pitch your sales in an overseas market?

    e) Is your team setup to deal with buyer objections or queries?

    f) Have you experience in closing a sale in an overseas market?

    g) What follow-up work will be done post buyer presentation?

    6. Relationship building

    Relationship building is a key factor in developing sustained sales in export markets. Any company considering to expand globally is undoubtedly looking for a return on their initial investment, and companies looking for better business returns are strongly encouraged to place an emphasis on relationship building.

    Companies can quite often focus on the transactional, revenue generation portion before they consider relationship building. However, as is the case in much of the world, relationships based on mutual respect and trust outplay singular transactions. Relationships need to be worked on and require different approaches for different markets.

    Take the next step in the Export Journey

    Scale title and background image of modern city

    Export Journey: Step 6 – Scale

    Scale title and background image of modern cityYou are now successfully exporting to your first market. Now begin to build on this success and grow your exports.

    You will now have built up a good relationship with the overseas market team and keeping up to date on buyer trends and external factors impacting these trends will enable you to stay competitive.

    Factors to consider in your plans to scale exports:

    1. Resources

    Do you have the necessary resources both in terms of staff and finance to meet the demand of a new market?

    2. Capacity

    Do you have the manufacturing, packaging, logistics, linguistic capacity?

    3. Environmental

    Have you considered your carbon footprint; requirements of buyers?

    4. Sustainable Growth

    How will this impact your current financial standing? Will it strengthen or dilute your position in the market?

    5. Adjacent Markets

    Is there potential in the adjacent markets where buying patterns, pricing and local regulations may be similar?

     

    How can Enterprise Ireland support your growth?

    If you are are already supported by Enterprise Ireland you can contact your Development Advisor here.

    The Market Research Centre provides access to world class research databases to help client companies make better, more informed business decisions. Contact the Market Research Centre here

    Enterprise Ireland hosts events to assist companies’ growth plans – See our events calendar for details.

    Our Market pages and Going Global guides provide expert insights and contact details for our overseas offices.

    Learn how our Exporter Development team can support your growth.