How research helped these 10 start-ups discover success

13 Jun 2016

Among our collection of 10 spin-out success stories is equine research company, Equinome

Continuing our Research Week celebration, we bring you 10 spin-out success stories that came from years of research.

Research Week

Irish research has no shortage of breakthroughs, and sometimes the hard work and toil that goes into it pays off as a commercial venture.

Looking at this selection of Irish university and research centre spin-outs, alongside other research-based ventures leveraging these institutions, it’s clear that the innovation game is a marathon, not a sprint, and some of these start-ups were up to 15 years in the making.

A solid grounding in research (and some well-protected intellectual property) can prove immensely profitable, too, as these examples of stellar success, growth and exits demonstrate.


An Irish research-based start-up is part of the reason why 2,000 Guineas winner Galileo Gold was pulled from the Epsom Derby, after a DNA test determined the distance wasn’t optimal for the horse. The surprising decision was backed by the Equinome Speed Gene Test, which was developed by University College Dublin (UCD) spin-out Equinome.

Equinome was co-founded by Dr Emmeline Hill (an equine genomics researcher in UCD) and horse trainer Jim Bolger back in 2009, with the gene test coming the following year as a way to establish optimum race distance for thoroughbred horses. Since then, more than 20 scientific publications, including studies by separate independent international research groups in the US, Italy and Japan, have added to this study and investigated the effectiveness of the gene test in other horse breeds.

Dr Emmeline Hill, Equinome

Equinome co-founder Dr Emmeline Hill with her 2014 NovaUCD Innovation Award. Photo via Nick Bradshaw

Equine nutrition company Plusvital acquired Equinome in 2015, and has been tapping into the university spin-out’s advanced testing capabilities ever since, having developed novel equine genetic tests, innovative nutraceuticals and other equine performance and health products.

Plusvital now expects to employ 50 people here in Ireland over the next five years while making an investment of over €3.5m in equine science research over the next three years.


FIRE1, or Foundry Innovation & Research 1, is a medical device maker headquartered at NexusUCD, the industry partnership centre at UCD. Here, companies such as FIRE1 mingle with UCD’s research base, allowing for collaboration with academics and researchers at the Dublin university.

So far, the partnership has proven successful, with FIRE1 recently raising $7.5m in a Series B funding round for development of its novel remote-monitoring device. The Series B funding round was raised from existing investors, including leading venture capital firms Lightstone Ventures and New Enterprise Associates, as well as Medtronic.

This announcement also came with the appointment of UCD alum Dr Conor Hanley as FIRE1 CEO. Hanley is no stranger to the commercialisation of medtech research having co-founded and led BiancaMed, a UCD spin-out that developed a novel, non-contact method to monitor sleep and breathing. San Diego-headquartered medical device manufacturer ResMed acquired BiancaMed in an all-cash deal in July 2011.

Conor Hanley, FIRE1

Conor Hanley, CEO, FIRE1

Fresh in his new role, Hanley will be discussing the transformation of the health industry at Inspirefest 2016 alongside healthcare innovators Dr Charlotte Blease, Lisa Helen and Dr Dónal Holland.


Whenever you pick up a new blockbuster game title, have a look at the back of the box for the logo of Havok, an incredible Irish tech success story.

Not many people know it, but the company that makes the realistic CGI in games and movies possible began as a graphics research project to recreate crystal glass rendering at the computer science department of Trinity College Dublin (TCD). In 1997, the project shifted to the simulation of physics in educational games and, in 1999, Havok was born.

David Coghlan, Havok

David Coghlan, managing director, Havok

Founded by Hugh Reynolds and Steven Collins, Havok’s physics engine featured in many of the top video games of the early 2000s and, by 2006, the company had veered into artificial intelligence with Havok Behavior.

By the time Intel acquired the company for $110m in 2007, some 50 top game titles that year –including Assassin’s Creed, Halo 3, BioShock and Half-Life 2 – were powered by Havok’s technology. Just a year later, Havok won an Emmy for the role its advanced physics engine played in iconic movies such as The Matrix and the Harry Potter franchise.

Iona Technologies

Some might say that an earlier decision by three hardworking, softly spoken and enterprising academics at Trinity College Dublin to turn their research into a business paved the way for a generation of software companies like Havok.

Iona Technologies – which was founded by Chris Horn, Sean Baker and Annrai O’Toole – grew swiftly from an R&D endeavour in a TCD lab in the mid-90s to become a software sensation when it floated on the NASDAQ in 1997, reaping $140m in the process.

Annrai O’Toole

Annrai O’Toole, co-founder, Iona Technologies

Iona is the second-ever Irish technology company to go public on NASDAQ and was the fifth-largest IPO in the exchange’s history at that time. The company reached a peak value of $1.75bn at the turn of the millennium, when it was leading the world in the development of middleware for large enterprises, before it was sold in 2008 to US firm Progress Software for $162m.


Dr Trevor Parsons and Dr Viliam Holub are the founders of Irish technology company Logentries, a massively successful research spin-out.

Research spin-out Logentries

Dr Trevor Parsons and Dr Viliam Holub, co-founders, Logentries. Photo via Nick Bradshaw

The two Irish Research Council alumni founded Logentries in 2010 from their decade-long joint research project with IBM at UCD, where they worked in the university’s Performance Engineering Lab looking at root cause analysis of common performance and IT issues.

The thing about log entries is that less than 1pc of them contain significant game-changing information, and they are hidden among the other 99pc. Logentries’ cloud-based software-as-a-service collects and analyses data from log files in real time, leaving its customers to focus on the data that matters most.

The award-winning company was one of the first start-ups to participate in the NDRC LaunchPad programme in 2010, and was acquired by US security analytics giant Rapid7 for $68m in October 2015. While now headquartered in Boston, Logentries’ origins are in the Irish capital, as is its talented research and development team.


In 2014, Irish start-up FeedHenry made headlines with its impressive €63.5m sale to US firm Red Hat. Founded in 2009, FeedHenry originated at TSSG, the research centre based at Waterford Institute of Technology, focused on telecommunications software and applied research.

FeedHenry was founded by TSSG CEO Barry Downes, and the mobile app development platform leverages significant research knowledge developed through a number of European Commission R&D programmes focused on next-generation service architectures, platforms and services.

Barry Downes

Barry Downes, CEO of TSSG and founder of FeedHenry

FeedHenry’s cloud computing enterprise mobility platform is built to provide fast, secure and scalable deployment of sophisticated business apps across all smartphones and web devices. TSSG collaborated with FeedHenry to launch their developer portal, which enables developers to build an app once using open technologies such as HTML 5 and JavaScript, deploy the app into the FeedHenry cloud and run it on any device.

With branches in Dublin, England and the US, FeedHenry established itself as a global player, and its commercial success has paved the way for more successful and profitable TSSG spin-outs, such as NearForm.


Nuritas was founded by Dr Nora Khaldi, a highly-published mathematician and scientist with a PhD in molecular evolution and bioinformatics from TCD.

In 2013, while Khaldi was a postdoctoral researcher at UCD, she completed the VentureLaunch Accelerator Programme at NovaUCD. The aim of this programme is to equip researchers with the knowledge, skills and understanding required to lead commercial ventures based on their research. Armed with this experience, she successfully brought Nuritas through the NDRC VentureLab accelerator in 2014 and, late last year, achieved a record first-round financing of $3.2m.

Nuritas uses artificial intelligence to disrupt and accelerate the way therapeutic molecules are discovered, with the aim of creating personalised nutrition for the future of food and health. The company has been identified as one of the world’s most innovative start-ups and Silicon Valley investor Ali Partovi (an early backer of Facebook, Dropbox, and Airbnb, among others) said it has the potential to become bigger than Mark Zuckerberg’s global social network.

“I was told this was impossible and I decided not to listen,” said Khaldi, who will be part of the Ignition Talks from founders at Inspirefest 2016.


Former Start-up of the Week NVMdurance provides software proven to make memory storage last longer by extending the intrinsic endurance of the NAND flash, and is a prime example of what is possible when professionals from the start-up, multinational and academic fields unite.

Research spin-out NVMdurance

NVMdurance CEO Pearse Coyle with founders Joe Sullivan and Conor Ryan

In 1999, while working at the Limerick base of Analog Devices, co-founder Joe Sullivan was tweaking the parameters of NOR flash memory at a nanoscale, and his work was published in prominent academic journals. Sullivan then teamed up with Conor Ryan, a lecturer at the University of Limerick, as Evolvability. In 2008, they began patenting their technology and, by 2012, the NDRC came on board as an investor.

NVMdurance came to life 14 years later when Evolvability united with the ADAPT research group through the NDRC. Just as they secured a US seed investor in 2013, the company won the Most Innovative Technology award at the world’s major annual Flash Memory Summit.

NVMdurance recently raised a further €2.23m from its existing investors and, with its heavily protected and highly valuable intellectual property, is likely to be snapped up by a storage manufacturing giant. In fact, CEO Pearse Coyle claims they have already turned down five acquisition attempts.

Opsona Therapeutics

Opsona Therapeutics is a drug development company that spun out of immunology research at Trinity College Dublin in 2004. The company was co-founded by one of Ireland’s best-known scientists, Prof Luke O’Neill, along with Prof Kingston Mills and Prof Dermot Kelleher.

O’Neill now serves as chief scientist with Opsona Therapeutics alongside his role as chair of biochemistry at Trinity. He leads a 17-member research team of PhD students and postdoctoral scientists working in the area of inflammation and inflammatory diseases and says he learned a huge amount about commercialisation from Opsona’s first CEO, Mark Heffernan.

Prof Luke O'Neill and research team

Opsona Therapeutics chief scientist Prof Luke O’Neill (second from right) with some of his Trinity College Dublin team

Opsona is developing a range of drugs and technology to treat cancers and autoimmune diseases, and has validated and developed a series of new drug candidates and strategies that modulate the human innate immune system. The flagship product is OPN-305, an antibody to reduce pro-inflammatory cytokine production, which is now at the clinical testing phase.

As a treatment for complications following kidney transplants, OPN-35 addresses a potential €500m market in Europe and the US, giving Opsona Therapeutics no shortage of backing from major pharma brands. Novartis, Amgen, and Roche have all contributed to funding and, in 2013, Opsona raised €36m. Last year, it was reported that the company was considering an IPO.

Shimmer Sensing

Shimmer Sensing is a clinical-grade wearable wireless sensing technology provider founded in 2008 as a spin-out from research Ben Kuris developed at Intel Digital Health Advanced Technology Group in Massachusetts.

Shimmer offers consultancy, design, customisation and volume manufacture of scientifically reliable wearable sensor technology, helping other companies overcome the challenges of getting these products to market as part of digital health solutions. Start-ups, Fortune 500 companies and universities in over 65 countries have used Shimmer’s technology in connected health, rehabilitation, clinical assessment, elite sport and neuro-marketing.

In 2014, Shimmer won a €10m contract with US company Emerge Diagnostics to provide technology that would help to diagnose the severity of occupational injuries in order to improve claim management within businesses. A recent partnership with Wyss Institute at Harvard University will see Shimmer supporting live and interactive remote monitoring for patients with Parkinson’s and traumatic brain injuries, as well as stroke survivors and children with cerebral palsy.

Shimmer manufactures all of its products at its HQ in Dublin City University’s Alpha campus, where the business can connect with the university’s research base, plus there’s an R&D facility in Boston and an Asian office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book your tickets now to join us from 30 June to 2 July 2016 for fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity.

Racehorse image via ppart/Shutterstock

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.