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Innovation gets a head START

By supporting researchers in entrepreneurship, commercialisation and technology transfer, Engage@Teagasc helps foster innovation, sustainability and economic growth. Here, we look at three new research projects getting a financial boost from Teagasc’s START Fund scheme

Innovations developed at Teagasc can play a key role in fostering sustainability and driving economic growth, by encouraging regional investments and creation of jobs within the agri-food and related sector. Since 2021, Teagasc has been investing in the acceleration of translational research and technologies towards commercialisation through its annual START Fund awards. 

The awards aim to complement Enterprise Ireland commercialisation funding, while nurturing entrepreneurship and increasing commercialisation activity within Teagasc. Funding the strengthening of Intellectual Property (IP) and gaining insights into potential markets and customers helps build commercial pathways for establishing a spin-out company or engaging with potential licensees.

The Engage@Teagasc team, which supports researchers in technology transfer, commercialisation and entrepreneurship, recently announced the three latest START Fund 2023 recipients. The selections followed an external review and each project was funded up to €15,000 over a three-to-six-month period. These three projects join seven other early-stage innovations that have been supported through the START Fund since its launch, effectively bridging the gap between research and commercialisation.


Milkybiotics – Boosting adherence of probiotics

Rita Hickey, Food Research Centre, Moorepark

There are concerns among scientists that probiotic supplements are unable to establish themselves in the gut and fail to exert a lasting effect on the resident community, potentially limiting their effectiveness. Although some studies have shown that the digestive tracts of infants can be colonised by probiotics, the intestinal persistence times of probiotic strains in children and adults are generally much shorter, lasting only a few days. 

The Milkybiotics technology developed by Rita Hickey’s team at Teagasc has proven to significantly increase the attachment of probiotic bacteria in the gut through use of immunoglobulin G from milk sources to modulate the intestinal cell surface. They have since developed a potential Milkybiotics ingredient, based on dairy side streams available at industrial scale, which is being evaluated in a clinical trial. The aim is to boost probiotic establishment for an overweight cohort. “From IP and market analysis, there doesn’t appear to be commercial products that aid or increase the attachment of probiotic bacteria to intestinal cells,” says Rita. “Further development of this technology could address a valuable global market gap and potentially revolutionise the gut health product sector.”

Where will the funding go?  

The START Fund is supporting market feedback through extensive customer discovery interviews, to provide evidence of market need, with a view to identifying niche markets for an initial product. Information gained will support the next steps on the pathway to commercial impact, including spin-out potential, building on Rita’s extensive engagement with industry through collaborative research.


SOLAS – Soil Spectral Libraries

Karen Daly, Environment Research Centre, Johnstown Castle

Karen Daly leads a Teagasc group focussing on developing agri-tech innovation to improve the sustainability of the agri-food sector in Ireland, spanning topics in soil health, water quality, sensing and spectroscopy. Soil testing for multiple properties carried out by commercial laboratories across Ireland and the UK is essential for environmental, quality and regulatory purposes. Such analyses, however, use labour- and time-intensive wet lab techniques, involve hazardous chemicals, and are expensive and slow.

Using their knowledge of soil science and spectroscopy, Karen’s team has established the soil-sensing laboratory to lead the transition in green chemistry by replacing chemical extraction with non-destructive methods for multi-parameter soil analysis using mid-infrared spectral libraries. “Spectroscopy allows users to ‘visualise’ soil,” explains Karen. “And the Teagasc spectral models can predict multiple parameters from a single scan – and at a fraction of the costs of current methods.” Building on research funded by Geological Survey Ireland, the SOLAS unique analysis methodologies have the potential to provide cost and time savings without loss of accuracy for soil analysis. This provides an effective mechanism for technology adoption at a national scale in future soil monitoring as provided for in the draft EU Soil Monitoring Law (EC, 2023).

Where will the funding go?   

The Teagasc START Fund is being used to scope out routes to market for the technology either via a spin-out company that can out-compete existing soil labs, or licensing of the model and national spectral libraries to existing commercial soil testing companies.


ALPACA Bio – Novel antimicrobial peptides

Paul Cotter, Food Research Centre, Moorepark

Miguel Fernandez de Ullivarri, University College Cork

Paul Cotter from Teagasc’s Food Research Centre is a world-renowned leader in microbiome research, focussing on food chain microbiomes, especially fermented foods, and their health impacts. Paul and Miguel Fernandez de Ullivarri, University College Cork senior post-doctoral researcher at APC Microbiome, have developed novel anti-infective therapies, including antimicrobial peptides as safe therapeutics to fight antimicrobial resistance and diverse infectious diseases such as vulvovaginalcandidiasis (VVC). VVC comprises a group of infections affecting 75 per cent of women worldwide at least once in their lifetime. “The current standard treatment – anti-fungal agents – is associated with antimicrobial resistance and other undesirable side effects,” says Paul. “The ALPACA Bio innovation we have developed involves natural antimicrobial peptides capable of providing new high potency therapies to treat VVC and potentially other infectious diseases, effectively and safely.” 

Where will the funding go?  

With the ambition to create a spin-out company, ALPACA Bio, to commercialise these therapies, the START Fund is proving invaluable for such spin-out considerations. Firstly, it’s funding therapeutic validation of the efficacy and safety of the platform technology, and secondly it’s establishing commercial feasibility validation by funding market research and customer discovery activities.


Miriam Walsh, Head of Intellectual Property, Engage@Teagasc, Teagasc Oak Park, Carlow.

Karen Dawson, Technology Transfer Officer, Engage@Teagasc, Teagasc Oak Park, Carlow. 

For correspondence purposes email

This article first appeared in the winter edition of TResearch. 

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