The real difference incubation can make to technology-based start-ups came to light at a recent competition at the Learning and Innovation Centre (LINC) in the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown in Dublin.
The value of incubation for start-ups was evident at the Jumpstart competition there as the winning team had been runner-up in 2010 and a year spent at the centre had helped it to progress its business model significantly.
Set up by food technologist George Howlett and IT professional Philip Gillen, Safefood 360 won the €25,000 Jumpstart prize.
With a BSc in food technology and an MSc in food safety management, Howlett has worked with more than 200 Irish food businesses over the years. Gillen has a BSc in information technology, was founder of StarTech, and IT manager for Butlers Chocolates.
They have developed a web-based food safety management system that allows food processing businesses to manage all aspects in one fully integrated system. It allows them to set up, record and report all aspects of their food safety management system and ultimately cuts down on paperwork and consultancy costs.
“The application is now fully built and was launched on time. We have five paying customers and 130 trial signups after three months,” says Howlett.
“The internet, coupled with the global alignment of food safety standards, enables a significant global market opportunity. Food safety management is a core commercial and compliance process for food businesses and the market is untapped by global software companies for integrated solutions. There are an estimated 250,000 food processing businesses worldwide, making it a global market worth around €750m.”
The Jumpstart prize will be used for marketing and customer acquisition, product development and for key hires and overheads.
The judges, who included Gavin Duffy from Dragons’ Den and Emer Jameson, managing director of Yourlocal.ie, were particularly impressed with Safefood 360’s funding record over the past year – it has raised €250,000 in private Business Expansion Scheme funding and secured an additional €250,000 from a local private investor, which is due to be matched by Enterprise Ireland.
LINC’s enterprise support programme
Safefood 360 took part in the LINC’s M50 Enterprise Platform 2010 Programme (M50 EPP), a one-year practically-focused enterprise support programme aimed at entrepreneurs who are in the early stages of starting up businesses.
Claire Mac Namee, enterprise manager at the LINC, says companies that come on this programme have the benefit of top-class mentors in all areas of new business development, which really helps them accelerate their businesses forward.
Built in 2001, and officially launched last November, the LINC was successfully awarded more than €1.1m from Enterprise Ireland as part of the Campus Incubation Programme funded through the National Development Plan in 2008.
Assumpta Harvey, manager of the LINC, believes that with the support of such centres, emerging companies have a better chance of survival in the business world as they attempt to stay afloat in the all-important first three years.
“The early stages of a company’s development can be very isolating. Research shows that businesses starting through an incubator have an 80pc chance of survival in comparison to those outside an incubator, who have a 50pc chance of survival.”
Photo: George Howlett (left) and Philip Gillen, directors of food safety management system company Safefood 360