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How tech transfer offices all over Ireland drive business innovation from classroom to company

Ireland’s third level institutions incubate some great ideas that can deliver real return for business

Ireland’s third-level institutions house world-class expertise, technology and specialised equipment that can be tapped into by business to help them innovate, drive competitiveness, and grow. This process of engagement and research commercialisation, known as knowledge transfer, continues to develop year on year, with more and more Irish and multinational businesses partnering with publicly funded researchers.

Research performing organisations - comprising universities, institutes of technology and other publicly funded research institutions in Ireland - are currently spending upwards of half a billion euro on research, according to Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI).

For business, these figures present an opportunity too good to miss and something which was celebrated at the recent KTI Impact Awards where the best examples of industry and academic collaboration were on show.

The results of some academic research conducted in these seats of learning move beyond the campus to become what are known as spin-out companies. These fledgling companies usually operate at the cutting edge of their field, often helping to address everyday problems. Many go on to become top performing Irish companies whilst some others go on to become multi-million-euro acquisitions delivering financial return to their institution and the State by retaining and creating jobs.


Supporting third level to empower business

Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI) is the national office that helps connect business, entrepreneurs, investors, and others with third-level research. It also helps to simplify the route from academic research to commercialisation.

“KTI’s remit is to make it simple and straightforward for companies to tap into the research undertaken at our universities and technological universities,” says Imelda Lambkin, manager at Knowledge Transfer Ireland.

The company went on to build a unique team of researchers and entrepreneurs and raise US$26.2 million in finance.

The boots on the ground are Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs) situated in places of learning across the country. These TTOs, supported by KTI through an Enterprise Ireland funding programme worth €34.5m, act as a bridge between academic third-level research and potential commercial legs.

The KTI website is the central resource for businesses looking to engage with the third level researchers. It provides various tools and resources to help companies of all sizes across all sectors These include links to the TTOs across the country, an interactive research map and directory, and an overview of the significant level of funding available through the State.

Innovation in action

“Ireland’s technology transfer teams are doing a great job. KTI’s annual Impact Awards which we held recently are a chance for us to celebrate the great work they do,” says Lambkin.

KTI set up its annual Impact Awards about nine years ago. Amongst this year’s winners were SilverCloud Health and Trinity College Dublin, who won the research commercialisation award.

The prize comes after the company spun out from TCD in 2012, having developed a system that helps patients suffering with mental health conditions.

The TTO at Trinity had supported the tech company since 2009, from inception through formation and onto acquisition. It provided guidance on areas such as the protection and management of intellectual property and advice on contract drafting and shareholder agreements.

The company went on to build a unique team of researchers and entrepreneurs and raise US$26.2 million in finance.

In 2021, the firm was acquired by a US telehealth firm in a deal valued at US$320 million. SilverCloud now employs more than 175 people worldwide, almost half of whom are based in Ireland. The company is positioned for significant further growth.

The industry engagement award which recognises examples of collaborative research that deliver real economic or societal impact, went to Teagasc for work it had undertaken with Kerry Group, Independent Milk Laboratories and FBA Laboratories.

The winners were selected for a research partnership through which industry parties consulted with Teagasc in relation to specialist expertise and testing for chlorate residues in the dairy industry.

These residues, left after the disinfecting of milking machines and bulk tanks in processing plants, present potential health concerns for infants.

As the sole Irish provider of accredited chlorate testing, Teagasc worked with the companies to establish new analytical laboratories and provided bespoke training to staff in the operation of equipment, test methods and data analysis.

This resulted in significant increased testing capacity for Kerry Group, FBA and IML.

The TTO at Teagasc supported the capture and management of IP relating to the project. It also ensured that licensing and consultancy negotiations were built on clear communication and trust amongst all partners which led to the smooth running of the project

PlasmaBound and UCD won KTI’s Future Forward award which recognises early-stage initiatives with strong, evidence-based, potential for future impact.

By developing a ground-breaking composite bonding technology which has the potential to be a key solution in advanced manufacturing PlasmaBound helps companies reduce their CO2 footprint. It reduces waste and energy consumption and eliminates the need for manual interventions.

Since spinning out from University College Dublin in 2017, the company has raised nearly €3.5 million in investment funds, has become an approved supplier for the European Space Agency and is currently undertaking validation trials with 30 top tier global companies across different sectors.

UCD’s TTO worked closely with researchers to secure access to Enterprise Ireland’s commercialisation fund that helped position them to start the company. The office supported the identification and protection of IP by developing a patent strategy and provided negotiation and licensing support throughout the spin-out process.

The people’s choice award went to ProVerum and TCD, another nominee in the Future Forward category. The Irish prostate medtech and TCD spin-out ProVerum is developing ProVee, a first-in-class medical device to a common bladder condition in men over 50.

The ProVee device is a stent-like expander designed to gently open an obstructed urethra. In the last two years, the company has made exceptional progress, completing a first-in-man trial, receiving US FDA approval to initiate a 225 subject pivotal study and enrolled the first patient in July 2022.

Trinity’s TTO provided support and expertise around IP protection, licensing negotiations and the spinout process, and continues to work with the company.

Speaking of the awards Lambkin says: “There is a real impact resulting from academic research in Ireland and TTOs are a hugely important piece.”

The KTI website provides a wealth of support, including links to TTOs across the country. For more visit knowledgetransferireland.com