‘High risk but high reward’: Backing Ireland’s deep-tech start-ups

5 Dec 2022

Image: Connor McKenna/SiliconRepublic.com

Enterprise Ireland’s Big Ideas event highlighted how deep-tech companies from research backgrounds are making an impact in Ireland.

While tech companies in Ireland continue to attract investment both domestically and from abroad, one group that can find it challenging to draw interest from investors is the deep-tech start-up community.

“[Deep-tech start-ups] have a longer route to market, so they’re high risk and high reward,” Enterprise Ireland’s Deirdre Glenn told SiliconRepublic.com at the Big Ideas showcase last month.

“So actually getting somebody to write that first cheque, that first round of investment, who is willing to invest in this very early-stage start-up as they start on this journey – that’s probably their biggest challenge.”

Enterprise Ireland’s Big Ideas showcase 2022 saw 12 investor-ready deep-tech start-ups pitch their business models in front of a live audience at Croke Park on 24 November.

Now in its 14th year, the annual event showcases research-led start-up innovation emerging from higher education institutes. It aims to provide founders with direct access to investors as well as potential talent to join their companies as they kick-start their business journeys.

Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation at the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment Dara Calleary, TD, said that Ireland has one of the “most vibrant and collaborative commercialisation ecosystems in the world”.

He also emphasised the importance of State funding for innovative companies. “As these founders face a more challenging start-up funding environment, it’s important to sustain and support their growth, and instruments such as the Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund play a critical role in addressing potential funding gaps for deep-tech start-ups.”

Fada Medical and NanobOx

One of the two founders who took home a trophy at the event was Robert Wylie of Fada Medical. This Galway-based medtech is on a mission to improve insulin delivery for people with type 1 diabetes.

It has developed novel diffusion technology that can extend the wear-time of infusion-set cannulas, supporting consistent long-term insulin pump use.

“This is a massive boost of confidence really and it’s a very exciting time for the project,” Wylie told SiliconRepublic.com after winning the Viewers’ Choice award, which was voted on by the audience.

The Big Ideas grand prize, One to Watch, went to NanobOx – a NovaUCD spin-out founded by Dr John Favier and Dr Mohammad Ghaani. The duo have developed a highly energy-efficient technology to oxygenate water using nanobubbles.

Many commercial bioprocesses require oxygen levels in process waters to be consistently maintained. This can be a significant operating cost for a process that can be critical to productivity – for example, in the farming of fish stocks or biological wastewater treatment.

While only two start-ups went home with trophies, the annual Enterprise Ireland event presented a valuable networking opportunity to all pitching founders who get seen by investors and potentially found future collaborators.

“If you are an entrepreneur and you are interested in getting involved in deep-tech start-up, just get in touch with us – we’d be delighted to see how we can match you up with really good ideas,” added Glenn, who is the director of commercialisation at Enterprise Ireland.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic