UCC founders bag €3.27m to commercialise their innovations

13 Mar 2023

Image: © Sophie/Stock.adobe.com

Sarusha Pillay, Dr Justina Ugwah, Dr Alison O’Shea and Prof Ciara Heavin are four women innovators who have bagged Enterprise Ireland commercialisation funding.

Four women founders of research-focused start-ups based in University College Cork (UCC) have been awarded more than €3m in grants to scale and commercialise their innovations across maternal and neonatal care, breast cancer diagnosis and palliative care.

The Enterprise Ireland investment comes through its Commercialisation Fund Programme, which has been supporting third level researchers with financial and other help for a decade. A total of €3.27m granted to the founders will help them launch their companies from UCC.

According to TechIreland, women-founded tech start-ups and scale-ups in Ireland raised a record €230m last year – more than double the €105m raised in 2020.

Dr Sally Cudmore, director of UCC Innovation, said that while entrepreneurship has a crucial role to play in Ireland’s economic growth, women entrepreneurs often face gendered challenges such as unconscious biases, lack of investment funding and lack of women role models.

“But things are changing and in Ireland the rate of women entrepreneurs is steadily increasing, with women entrepreneurship levels now above the EU average. At UCC, we believe that promoting and supporting women’s entrepreneurship will accelerate economic growth and societal benefit for all,” she said.

“We are delighted to celebrate the success of these four women trailblazers, who are developing technology that will make a meaningful impact on patients’ lives and who will be role models to budding entrepreneurs.”

The four founders to win the latest grants are Sarusha Pillay of PhetalSafe, Dr Justina Ugwah of CLISTEProbe, Dr Alison O’Shea of Neurobell and Prof Ciara Heavin of CommPAL.

PhetalSafe is designed to improve foetal monitoring during labour for safer childbirth. It aims to reduce or remove the need for unnecessary caesarean sections by providing better information on the signs of foetal distress.

Pillay will take over as CEO while co-founders Dr Fergus McCarthy and Ray Burke will take up the clinical lead and technical lead roles.

CLISTEProbe, on the other hand, provides real-time diagnostic data to clinicians to make informed decisions during biopsy sampling by identifying benign and cancerous tissue. Ugwah, who is the commercial lead on the project, is establishing a spin-out company to commercialise the tech.

Neurobell, led by O’Shea and Dr Mark O’Sullivan, is developing an AI-powered neonatal brain monitor to detect brain seizures in babies after birth. Its tech will allow for routine monitoring of babies across all hospital settings without needing specialised expertise.

Heavin is developing software platform CommPAL that will use AI to support efficient and fair allocation of specialist palliative care to an ageing population. The project is partnered with the Marymount Hospice in Cork, which will be one of the first centres to pilot the new technology.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic