12 Irish university spin-outs with big ideas ready for investment

19 Jun 2019

Image: © Tierney/Stock.adobe.com

A dozen big ideas will be promoted at a showcase in Dublin, but which one will be named ‘One to Watch’?

12 investor-ready third-level spin-outs will compete to be named ‘One to Watch’ at the Enterprise Ireland 2019 Big Ideas showcase in Dublin today (19 June).

Running for more than 10 years, this annual showcase gives each contender a chance to pitch their new and novel technology solutions to an audience of investors, entrepreneurs and fellow scientists engaged in research commercialisation.

The event will also feature a session on ‘big brand ideas’ with twin brothers Declan and Garech Stone, who run an award-winning creative brand consultancy based in Amsterdam; and a keynote from social health expert Julia Hobsbawm, author of Fully Connected: Social Health in an Age of Overload.

The One to Watch Award will be presented to the best pitch on the day, and the competition is once again tight.

Cortex Cognition

Cortex Cognition is a spin-out from Trinity College Dublin (TCD). Presented by Paula Bolger, this company has developed a suite of immersive virtual reality (VR) assessments for use in neuropsychology.

Traditionally, these assessments are doing using paper and pencil, but Cortex Cognition challenges that this method is lengthy, labour-intensive, vulnerable to human error and associated with practice effects. The VR-based assessments, however, are designed to be more cognitively challenging, to minimise variability in learning strategies and to assess for crucial everyday processes of spatial memory that are related to early-stage Alzheimer’s disease impairment.

As well as VR, these tests employ sophisticated speech recognition, eye-tracking, and other advanced human-computer interface and machine-learning technologies.

Exit Entry

More of a spin-in than a spin-out, Exit Entry is based at Dublin City University (DCU). Led by CEO and founder Lewize Crothers, this team is building a ‘community of opportunity’ for students to connect with employers and has already secured paying corporate customers.

With the competition for recruitment increasing and soft skills proving more and more appealing in the modern workforce, Exit Entry aims to showcase student candidates with more than just academic grades. Soft skills and interests share the spotlight with hard skills, experience and achievements in online profiles, from which employers can identify and connect with talent, and also host real-world events and interactions.


Digital imaging technology can be of great use in farming, but sometimes the data is of poor quality for quantitative analysis, modelling and prediction. Any analyst will tell you that better data breeds better outcomes, particularly when it comes to applying AI and machine learning, so ProvEye aims to assist the digital transformation of agriculture with its automated image correction methodology.

Spinning out of University College Dublin (UCD), ProvEye claims it can extract the clean signals from noisy image data collected by drones, vehicle-mounted sensors and satellites.

The company was co-founded by Tim Buckley (CEO), Dr Jerome O’Connell (CTO) and Prof Nick Holden (executive director).

E-Seed Crop Technology Solutions

E-Seed has been established by TCD and UCD researchers Dr Brian Murphy, Prof Trevor Hodkinson and Prof Fiona Doohan, but it’s Sean Daly, who leads commercialisation of the technology, who will pitch at Big Ideas.

The ‘e’ is for endophytes, which are micro-organisms that live within plant tissue. E-Seed is specifically concerned with patented endophytes that can increase crop yields. This natural microbial treatment is applied as a coating via standard seed-dressing equipment, enriching the beneficial microbiome of the crop and improving the uptake of available nutrients.

The E-Seed team members have validated their product in field trials carried out over the last four years.

Starling Surgical

Starling Surgical is the company behind QuickStitch, a wound closure device that combines the rapidity of skin stapling with the clinical advantages of suturing.

The TCD spin-out claims that, as well as the QuickStitch being quick and easy to use, operative wounds closed with the device have lower infection rates and superior cosmetic results. It’s a best-of-both-worlds approach, and a potential disrupter to a multibillion-dollar market.

Starling Surgical was co-founded by Cyrus Doctor (CEO), a BioInnovate fellow and former surgeon; and Travis Davis (CTO), who quit his job at NASA to work on QuickStitch when he heard about this project.

VorTech Water Solutions

VorTech Water Solutions is a forthcoming spin-out from NUI Galway. This company’s big idea is a novel cyclonic method of mixing air and water to cut back on the electricity required to recycle wastewater.

Funded by the Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Fund, the VorTech team helmed by lead inventor Dr Sean Mulligan combines expertise in fluid dynamics, energy systems, wastewater process and control, energy finance, and commercialisation.

Targeting a global market that is worth billions annually, the VorTech system is said to be able to treat wastewater for up to half the cost of traditional aeration methods.

Tympany Medical

Another NUI Galway spin-out, Tympany Medical is designing and developing a novel combined access and visualisation device that will enable ear surgeons to ‘see around the corners’ of the ear canal.

This device could revolutionise ear surgery, allowing surgeons to perform trans-canal procedures with a wide endoscopic view of the surgical site. For patients, it will enable minimally invasive ear surgeries performed under local anaesthetic. Hospitals will also benefit from shorter procedure times, fewer outpatient appointments and lower costs.

Tympany may also be able to diversify its technology into parallel surgical markets.


Developed at TCD, iSentioLabs has a patent-pending technology that uses wireless passive strain sensors to monitor the performance of mechanical components. This kind of smart sensing opens up opportunities in manufacturing industries undergoing digital transformation and entering the era of industry 4.0.

Specifically, iSentioLabs targets machining processes that use cutting tools to manufacture quality-critical mechanical components, such as aeronautical or medical prosthesis manufacturing. With iSentioLabs, these tools can be fitted with a sensor to allow in-process measurements that can be used to optimise the process and reduce scrap rates.

Similarly, this technology can be applied in mining, energy and structural health monitoring.


Solopep is a spin-out from the University of Limerick (UL) that has developed what it claims to be the world’s first disposable OPEP devices.

OPEP (oscillating positive expiratory pressure) devices are used to clear the airways of patients with cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or bronchiectasis. The current reusable devices are expensive and require rigorous daily cleaning.

Solopep delivers the same mechanical performance but in a smaller form factor, allowing greater discretion for patients to carry out airway clearance whenever and wherever it is required. It is intended for use in acute care or at home, as a cost-effective and safe solution for patients.

Venari Medical

Venari Medical was co-founded by BioInnovate 2017 fellows Stephen Cox, Sean Cummins and Dr Nigel Phelan, and is currently based in NUI Galway supported by an Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Fund.

This company is tackling chronic venous disease, where veins fail to circulate blood effectively, resulting in painful varicose veins and leg ulcers. Its medical device, BioVena, uses the body’s natural healing response to close diseased veins.

The BioVena device has demonstrated strong results in pre-clinical studies and Venari Medical is now fundraising to support its clinical development, including a first-in-human trial in 2020 and subsequent US and European regulatory approval in 2021.


One of the major causes of firefighters’ deaths is becoming trapped, lost or disoriented within burning buildings. Pathfinder, a project at DCU, is a hardware- and software-based solution using the Hansel and Gretel ‘trail of breadcrumbs’ approach.

Firefighters can mark their route using wayfinders, which create a localised ad-hoc mesh network within a building they enter. The mesh network is then used to track the progress of firefighters using personalised digital ID tags. This also feeds information on the internal environmental conditions to the command outside the building so that a rapid rise in temperature (which could potentially trap the firefighters on the way out) can be identified and flagged immediately.

Output Sports

Output Sports provides a system of wearable sensors, signal processing and machine learning to monitor athletes’ performance, allowing coaches and medical staff to evaluate data over time and make informed interventions that both improve performance and mitigate injury.

The idea was developed from PhD research completed in the UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science by Dr Darragh Whelan, Dr Martin O’Reilly, Julian Eberle and Prof Brian Caulfield.

To date, prototypes have been used by more than 30 professional teams in Ireland, the UK and the US including, international football teams, professional rugby organisations and Olympic athletes. Their feedback has informed development of the first product, which will be launched in late 2019.

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.