This group wants to pioneer the next generation of Irish life sciences start-ups

20 Jan 2023

Niamh Madden, Pioneer Group; Dara Calleary, TD, Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation; Ayokunmi Ajetunmobi; Toby Reid, Pioneer Group; and Michael Oster, Spear St Capital. Image: Julien Behal

Pioneer Group is hoping its new life sciences hub in Dublin will bridge the gap that Irish start-ups face when trying to access early-stage funding.

Just before the new year rolled around, Ireland’s life sciences ecosystem got a new addition in the form of a new building called The Campus, which opened in Cherrywood, Co Dublin.

The Campus opened on 8 December, having been initially announced in 2021 by its developers Spear Street Capital.

The multi-million euro facility is managed by Pioneer Group, a firm that invests in European life sciences ventures.

On the day of the opening, Pioneer Group’s director of venture development, Dr Ayokunmi Ajetunmobi, hinted at the ambitious nature of the centre’s future plans for the Irish life sciences industry.

“Our vision is to grow and fully develop this strategically important site and amplify the existing strong fundamentals of a highly educated talent pool, groundbreaking research and rapid growth,” he said.

A little over a month on from the opening day, Ajetunmobi spoke about The Campus’ plans in more detail. He also outlined how the centre aims to fill gaps in the biotech start-up sector in Ireland, since start-ups is something it is very much focused on.

“Start-up companies will be able to use the facility to explore their ideas, test them, access mentorship and business support, as well as collaborate with industry veterans to grow their business,” Ajetunmobi told

Building a supportive environment

The Campus’ 30,000 sq ft area boasts wet and dry labs, offices and collaboration spaces for people working in life sciences.

The Pioneer Group is keen to have a diverse range of companies – from big players to tiny start-ups – on its books.

‘Start-ups typically require a supportive business environment, skilled staff and flexible laboratory and office space to fuel their growth in a capital-efficient manner. There remains a significant gap in access to seed and venture capital for early-stage Irish life science opportunities’

For start-ups, the Pioneer Group will run an annual accelerator programme to support company creation and “generate a national pipeline of companies,” said Ajetunmobi.

He said Pioneer Group will leverage its international corporate partnerships with organisations such as AbbVie, Astellas, AstraZeneca and Walgreens Boots Alliance to provide “insights to companies and possible partnering opportunities”.

“Each year, opportunities will be identified through extensive academic, clinical and industry networks. Scientific and commercial viability will be assessed through the accelerator programme and the most promising ventures will become attractive investment opportunities.”

Start-up founders will also be able to benefit from working in close proximity to some of the more established companies already using the facilities at The Campus – including APC, VLE Therapeutics, Genuity Science, Abbott and Zoetis.

An entrepreneurial journey in three parts

Ajetunmobi’s overall aim as venture development director is “to develop a cluster that can further burnish Ireland’s status as a global leader in life sciences innovation”.

The accelerator programme is the first of a three-pronged plan for start-ups which will help the Pioneer Group uncover and support some of the country’s best life sciences founders.

The initial accelerator phase will last for eight weeks, focusing mostly on customer need and market opportunity.

A 12-month launch phase will follow, during which founders will receive one-on-one coaching to help them incorporate strong value propositions into business models to attract early-stage private investment.

The third and final phase is a seven-month scale-up programme. It will be aimed at venture-backed companies using the centre’s facilities. Events, meet-ups and workshops will be provided to founders who need peer support to grow their businesses.

Ajetunmobi will oversee all of these phases in his role as director of venture development. He hopes the programme will bridge some of the gaps that he has identified in Ireland’s life sciences scene.

Bridging the funding gap

The most glaring of these gaps, said Ajetunmobi, is the lack of access to early-stage capital and the lack of access to dedicated infrastructure.

While Ireland has “inherent strengths” in its density of universities and research institutes as well as its talent pool and proximity to industry, its most talented life sciences businesspeople struggle to realise their ideas because of a dearth of funding.

“Start-ups typically require a supportive business environment, skilled staff and flexible laboratory and office space to fuel their growth in a capital-efficient manner,” said Ajetunmobi.

“There remains a significant gap in access to seed and venture capital for early-stage Irish life science opportunities. This capital is often associated with accelerator programmes that provide commercial de-risking and access to investors capable of cultivating start-up activity.

“Such a dedicated life sciences accelerator programme has remained elusive in Ireland, stifling the opportunity to build a critical mass of life sciences start-ups that can be of interest to international capital.”

The good news is that Ajetunmobi believes there is plenty of potential for growth as the talent exists. He warned that the “notable success” of the Irish biotech industry should not be taken for granted.

The Campus intends to help the sector lean slightly less on foreign direct investment, which Ajetunmobi pointed out can be volatile and dependent on “wider macroeconomic trends in which we have no control”.

He said investor confidence is looking positive at the moment across European life sciences, despite the fact there has been a collapse in public markets.

Investors are still looking for innovative companies with ideas that focus on health challenges. In particular, Ajetunmobi said he has seen an “exciting convergence of technology and biology” in recent times.

Indeed, Ireland has many companies that operate in both sectors. Recently, Wicklow’s ServBlock teamed up with Microsoft to bring blockchain technology to pharma companies.

And Irish biotech Nuritas is growing in the US following successful fundraising, as well as awards for its founder Dr Nora Khaldi.

No doubt The Campus is hoping to produce many more such companies and founders. Watch this space.

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Blathnaid O’Dea is Careers reporter at Silicon Republic