Prolego Scientific claims first prize as UCD Start-up of the Year

30 Nov 2017

From left: Andrew Parnell, Belinda Hernández and Mahdi Amina, the founders of Prolego Scientific. Image: Nick Bradshaw

Prolego Scientific emerges victorious following fierce competition for UCD prize.

Prolego Scientific, an early-stage enterprise offering proprietary artificial intelligence solutions to improve the accuracy of genetic testing, has walked away with University College Dublin’s (UCD) Start-up of the Year Award and a €20,000 prize, as well as winning the overall UCD VentureLaunch Accelerator Programme.

The founders of Prolego Scientific, a UCD School of Mathematics and Statistics start-up, are associate professor Andrew Parnell and Dr Mahdi Amina, both of the UCD School of Mathematics and Statistics, and Dr Belinda Hernández of Trinity College Dublin.

Fierce competition

The VentureLaunch Programme was highly competitive with a multitude of UCD-based start-ups vying for the prize, as well as taking part in the three-month accelerator, but Prolego Scientific’s innovation won out. The company uses AI solutions to improve the accuracy of genetic tests in areas such as improving animal health and performance metrics, which in turn improves the quality of the food chain and breeding values.

In recent years, the global animal genetic testing market has seen rapid growth, and Prolego Scientific’s proprietary algorithms make use of genetic data and pedigree information to predict phenotypic traits of commercial value within the agri-food and biotech sectors.

The algorithms can be applied to areas like the poultry and aquaculture markets, where this information can be used to predict metrics such as meat tenderness, resistance to antibiotics and protein yields.

The Irish equine industry has benefited from using the algorithms to predict race performance metrics of elite thoroughbred horses in terms of optimum race distance, race surface and performance potential.

Currently, results have yielded accuracy increases of between 5 to 30pc over industry gold standard tests used in the genetic testing industry.

Big plans for Prolego Scientific

Hernández said: “We are delighted to have come away with the accolade of UCD Start-up of the Year 2017. This award is an honour for Prolego Scientific to receive and is a great acknowledgement of our work, success and progress to date.”

She added that the start-up has big plans: “We are currently seeking to raise €500,000 in seed funding to enable the expansion of our services into high-volume, high-turnover industries such as poultry and aquaculture, piloting first in the Irish and UK broiler chicken breeding market before progressing into areas such as egg-laying chickens, salmon, mussel and oyster breeding.”

Hernández also thanked Enterprise Ireland for its help in terms of funding the collaborative research behind Prolego.

The 2017 UCD VentureLaunch Accelerator Programme evaluation panel, which selected the overall winner, was chaired by Dr Helen McBreen, investment director, Atlantic Bridge. The other members of the panel were Dr Sharon O’Kane, NovaUCD entrepreneur-in-residence in life sciences; Eddie Buckley, head of AIB Dublin South; and Dr Edward McDonnell, centre director, CeADAR.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects