Cork event seeks to unlock the ‘treasure chest’ of potential Irish spin-outs

8 Sep 2022

LFDT Summit founders from left: UCC project director Liam Fitzgerald, Tyndall National Institute head of new ventures Peter Finnegan and UCC spin-out manager Micheal Collins. Image: Michael O'Sullivan/OSM Photo

The Launching Future Disruptive Technologies Summit came out of a necessity to improve communication between members of Ireland’s spin-out ecosystem.

A two-day event is taking place in University College Cork (UCC) this week to bring together stakeholders within Ireland’s spin-out ecosystem.

The Launching Future Disruptive Technologies (LFDT) Summit was started this year to discuss the key challenges and opportunities facing Irish spin-outs.

It was founded by UCC spin-out manager Michael Collins, UCC project director Liam Fitzgerald and Tyndall National Institute head of new ventures Peter Finnegan.

Collins told that the idea for the event came from internal discussions about the opportunity that exists in commercialising research, along with the difficulty of getting “all the parts to come together”.

“It requires quite a complex set of partners to come together. But when they do, this stuff is world-beating technology,” Collins said. “So we need to bring everybody in the ecosystem together to kind of learn about each other, start making connections. So that’s why this summit was born.”

The LFDT Summit features panels from specific stakeholder groups such as existing spin-outs and investors, discussing the current environment and ways the ecosystem can be improved.

Collins said the complicated nature of spin-outs can make it more difficult for these start-ups to receive funding, as “the only people who really understand drug development are people who’ve done drug development”, for example.

So it is important for events to bring stakeholders together to give spin-outs a greater access to the global capital pool. Collins also wants to see experienced entrepreneurs come back to show others “how it’s done”.

“I’ve seen this happen before where entrepreneurs exited, came back and invested, it really helps,” Collins said. “It starts out small, but it’s like a snowball, few iterations down, it grows exponentially.”

Improved communication channels

Fitzgerald told that it came across “quite strongly” from panel discussions at the event that better communication is needed across these groups.

“So if you’re a researcher, if you’re an entrepreneur, if you’re a tech-transfer professional, if you’re in a university, if you’re an investor, we need to communicate more effectively with each other in order to generate benefits for everyone, essentially,” Fitzgerald said.

Collins added that the event has already exceeded the founders’ expectations, as they anticipated between 100 to 150 attendees, but had to stop taking in new people as they surpassed a capacity of around 300.

The event finishes today (8 September) and features 23 spin-outs making pitches to an investor panel. Collins said these spin-outs are from various institutions across Ireland and Northern Ireland. He is confident that figure can be doubled in future.

“This thing has been put together by staff from UCC Innovation and the Tyndall National Institute, but by bringing in a team of people from all over Ireland who believe in this,” Collins said. “The next iteration must be at least twice that again, it’s blown us all away.”

The Irish Government has a goal to increase the number of start-ups emerging from the Irish public research system by 25pc by 2024. This is part of the Impact 2030 strategy that was revealed in May, which aims to build a more inclusive and engaged research and innovation system in Ireland.

Collins said the country has the potential to surpass this target.

“I would say that we actually have a latent treasure chest of spin-outs,” Collins said. “What’s needed to get there is just better thinking, more joined up thinking and more support where it matters.

“I don’t mean throw money at it. I mean let the processes suit the formation of spin-outs and that 25pc will be blown out of the water.”

The LFDT Summit was sponsored by various groups including Taylor Wessing, Cork County Council and MaREI, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for energy, climate and marine,

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic