How Irish start-ups are using data to bring insights to our food and health

18 Aug 2016

Nora Khaldi, CSO and founder of Nuritas, speaking at Inspirefest 2016. Photo via Conor McCabe Photography

If you are what you eat, Next Generation Recruitment’s Emma Quinn wants to know if more data can help make better, healthier and more sustainable food decisions.

We are at an interesting time in terms of our awareness of what is in our food and the effects it can have on us.

What some people are doing in terms of data and food may seem a little extreme at times. However, we are what we eat, and it does make sense that what goes into our bodies will affect our behaviour, mood and performance.

In five to ten years time, some things that seem extreme now will probably be seen as commonplace, logical and accepted behaviour. As humans, we have a tendency to forget very quickly that we used to do things differently to how we do them now. Smoking and drinking during pregnancy is a good example of how data has informed and affected behaviour, with levels of consumption now reduced during pregnancy.


Recently, there has been a series of articles about how big data has helped athletes improve their performances at the Rio Olympics. Within the food sector, there have also been many exciting innovations and developments driven by data-based insights.

Irish company Nuritas aims to promote healthy living through scientifically proven ingredients. CSO and founder Nora Khaldi explains, “The key to reducing and preventing disease begins and ends with food and the best way to uncover what was really in food was looking at the data within to see what food is fully capable of.”

Nuritas aims to discover ingredients from sustainable sources, including food side-streams currently not used to their full potential, to optimise global food resources. They are using artificial intelligence and DNA analysis to data-mine billions of molecules.

The aim is to give access to health-benefiting components within foods, called bioactive peptides. These peptides provide unique solutions for the maintenance of health and wellness. Benefits include: anti-inflammatory activity, antimicrobial activity, muscle recovery enhancement, skin anti-ageing solutions, and potential management of blood sugar levels for type 2 diabetics.

Biotech start-ups

We are also seeing a lot of growth in the area of biohacking, where the aim is to look at what we put into our bodies and tweak this to achieve more optimal results. While some aspects are still contentious, the increased ability to test our own blood-sugar levels, heart rate, weight and other key indicators does help to give us more awareness of our own vital statistics.

In Cork, the biotech start-up accelerator IndieBio is helping to support the development of many interesting food-related ideas. Many award-winning companies have already emerged in the 16 months since it started. Several of which have already spun out into potential multi-million-euro businesses.

As Ron Shigeta, chief science officer for IndieBio explains, “Biotechnology can have the ability to change the world and put us back on balance with the earth.”

In terms of talent-watching for the future of food, the annual end-of-programme IndieBio graduation showcases in both Cork and San Francisco have proved a great source of innovations to look out for.

New ideas

There are other options for getting your food-based idea started and Bord Bia has produced a guide to useful resources for developing food-related business ideas. They also launched a new food accelerator called FoodWorks, so watch this space for more innovative Irish food initiatives.

At Next Generation Recruitment, we’re looking forward to seeing what ideas companies have come up with using data-driven insights at the inaugural Irish DatSci Awards on 22 September. We might see some of you there as nominees, supporters or advocates of one of the awards. Otherwise, come along to support this showcase of great Irish data science talent and, naturally, for the fantastic networking opportunities.

The DatSci Awards will be an opportunity to showcase all the great data-led initiatives taking place in Ireland. Getting key thought leaders and influencers into the same room also creates potential going forward in terms of future collaborations and the cross-fertilisations that might take place.

By Emma Quinn

Emma Quinn is senior marketing manager of Next Generation Recruitment which, in association with CeADAR, will host the inaugural DatSci Awards in September 2016.

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