CORK has become a key location for start-ups and innovation in Ireland, thanks to serious support from a range of initiatives.
That is the view of the manager of one such initiative, which has seen millions of euro worth of investment in Cork.
Gateway UCC is a business incubator that is part of the University College Cork Innovation Department, which is a chain for supporting technology-based companies from the university.
The Gateway brings the expertise of the various research centres at UCC to start-ups involved in the Sprint Accelerator programme, with the aim of allowing these fledgling businesses to thrive.
“Gateway UCC supports the UCC Innovation Team in its job to make sure this happens,” explained Myriam Cronin, Gateway manager.
“Cork has become a hive of start-ups, working with our strategic partners in Enterprise Ireland, Local Enterprise Offices, and CorkBic.
“There is a strong support network to encourage start-ups from the region to succeed.”
Gateway UCC Business Hub is UCC’s flagship business incubator, with 24 high-quality business units supporting spin-out start-up companies from the university.
These start-ups collaborate with UCC’s globally-recognised research institutes such as Infant, APC Microbiome, ERI, MaREI, Insight, and Tyndall.
Gateway works with clients from the idea stage of development right through to the eventual commercialisation of their product or service.
It is about getting the company from having a viable opportunity it can exploit, all the way to getting that product into the global marketplace.
The facility actively supports start-ups and entrepreneurs through the development of spin-out and spin-in companies, utilising university intellectual property, and provides a uniquely supportive ecosystem for start-up through its programme of business supports.
Such supports include mentoring and business coaching, access to financial advice and start-up funding, specialist seminars, workshops, introduction to venture- capital opportunities, business angel networks, and access to UCC’s network of researchers, together with excellent support through linkages into academic departments.
Gateway UCC also provides hot desk co-working spaces for entrepreneurs and emerging start-ups at the pre-start-up stage, providing a stimulating environment to nurture and explore the feasibility of their business opportunity.
It is fast becoming a hub for a number of specialist industries, including IT, ICT, medtech, food, pharma, bio, wearable technologies, and renewable energy.
Gateway also strives for close collaboration with its strategic partners in the business community in the region, including Enterprise Ireland, Local Enterprise Offices, CorkBIC, Cork Chamber, Business Angel, and VC networks, and Cork City and County Councils, to work towards creating an ecosystem to benefit its client companies.
“First opening its doors in 2011, our aim is to support the spin-out IP- based start-ups from UCC, being the gateway, as the name suggests, between academic research right through to commercially successful companies,” explained Ms Cronin.
“Gateway UCC has supported 60 start-ups, primarily led by researchers developing businesses from the intellectual property knowledge they have discovered during the course of their work, like medical devices or new ways of doing things which will have impact in society. Those companies now employ 370 people and have raised in excess of €40m in investment, both public and private,” she added.
Ms Cronin said Gateway is particularly proud of its work with companies with intellectual property generated at UCC.
“Companies such as Alimentary Health Ltd, which produces Aflorx, a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, that was voted the best new pharmacy product on the market in 2018-19; and Atlantia Food Trials Ltd, which started in Gateway UCC Hub and now employs over 50 people in Blackpool,” she said.
“Gateway primarily supports spinouts companies from the university started by PhDs and post-doc researchers working on technologies they have discovered as part of their work. Gateway UCC’s Sprint Accelerator was developed especially as the first structured learning programme, tailored specifically for researchers to start their own companies, covering the A to Z of business start-up and scale-up, assisting these PhDs and post-docs to think entrepreneurially, and giving them the networks and supports to be successful and raise investment to fund their enterprises.”
Ms Cronin said Gateway has evolved since it was established, and she highlighted plans for expansion.
“We started up in 2011 with just two companies. At present we have 20 companies, including some such as Metabolomic Diagnostics Ltd, Luxcel Biosciences Ltd, and Solvotron Ltd, that have scaled and outgrown our hub,” she said.
“But it is safe to say they are continuing to create employment in the region. Our Sprint Accelerator is ensuring that there is a steady pipeline of new technology start-ups from the research centres which are hosted in the university and facilitated through UCC’s Innovation Division.”
Ms Cronin said many of the start-ups supported by Gateway established themselves in Cork and have stayed in the region.
“The majority are here in the region, creating jobs and paying an estimated €22m-plus per annum in salaries into the local economy,” she said. “These are primarily high tech jobs for our post-grads.”
A few of the startups have been sold to multinational companies for profit, said Ms Cronin.
“One or two have been acquired,” she added, “for instance ‘Think-smart’, a start-up from Insight research centre, which was acquired by Cisco, the US multinational, which now uses Thinksmart’s technology globally.”
The Gateway Sprint programme is designed to assist researchers who may be interested in commercialising their work, giving them the tools to start a business from their research activity.
The programme, which started in January 2016, is designed as a pre- start-up accelerator covering all the pillars of starting and growing a spin-out campus company.
The Sprint accelerator brings the researcher right through the start-up journey and is tailored specifically for intellectual property start- up companies. Each participating company is assigned a dedicated mentor and at the end of the accelerator, participants have a business plan and road map strategy for their first year, combined with a network of entrepreneurial supports.
Sprint 2020 was launched earlier this month. Participants will benefit from support and knowledge on leading technology start-ups, made available through the next phase of Gateway UCC’s Sprint Accelerator Programme.
Launching the programme, UCC president, Professor Patrick O’Shea, said: “At UCC, our mission is threefold. We create knowledge; we call that research. We pass that knowledge on to the students; we call that learning. But the most important thing is to combine all of that knowledge from that research and the learning into practice.
“That is where the Sprint programme comes in, because it helps entrepreneurs develop their businesses into great successes by building on the creative research and learning, all of the knowledge we have here in this great city and great university. We want to bring that knowledge to the surface, and that is what we do in the Sprint programme, by helping these entrepreneurs develop successful businesses, so they can go on and do great things for society.”
The Sprint programme is sponsored by Enterprise Ireland, Bank of Ireland, and Cork City LEO.
Ms Cronin added: “The programme, now in its fourth year, has proved to be a huge success for UCC and we are looking forward to building and growing the next wave.”