The Rubicon Centre at MTU’s Bishopstown Campus in Cork has supported 500 companies over the past 10 years, with its client businesses raising some €88 million in funding from a mix of public and private equity. Every year, Rubicon delivers a range of programmes, including New Frontiers. Aoife McInerney, Enterprise Programmes Manager, tells us everything we need to know about New Frontiers at Cork.
About Programme Manager Aoife McInerney
After university, Aoife went to work for an entrepreneur, gaining a real appreciation of the drive, commitment, resilience, and flexibility required to make a fledgling business successful. She then moved into an international setting for over a decade, at the heart of a rapidly scaling global tech startup. Following this, she consulted for a wide range of startups and SMEs in sectors such as pharma, hospitality, retail, and medtech. Through this work, Aoife developed a deeper interest in entrepreneurship, which led her to the role of Enterprise Programmes Manager at the Innovation & Enterprise Office, MTU. An experienced project manager, Aoife brings strong analytical thinking and problem-solving skills to the table, supporting entrepreneurs through their journey with a pragmatic, straightforward approach.
A wide range of sectors supported
The latest cohort having recently graduated, Aoife is currently seeking applications for the next New Frontiers programme, which will run from autumn 2023. Her latest 15 graduates had business in the circular economy, high science, engineering, food products, technology, and software and it is noteworthy that half of these projects were led by female entrepreneurs (or promoters, as they are known on the programme). Cork’s most recent alumni were:
- Blade Bridge (engineering and sustainability) – repurposes decommissioned wind turbine blades into cycleway bridges and public structures, thereby helping the wind and public infrastructure sectors to participate in the circular economy. Promoter: Angela Nagle.
- Travella (tourism) – an open-source website to provide tourist attractions to drive visitor engagement and provide data to owners. Promoter: Andy Kinsella.
- Second Street Bakery (food) – creating quintessential US confectionary, toffee brittle, for the Irish market and beyond. Promoter: Claire Keane.
- Lughcent Technology (energy and foodtech) – UV pasteurization significantly decreasing the water and energy requirements of traditional pasteurisation. Promoter: Dave Andrews
- Clisteprobe (medtech) – a handheld biopsy device that will deliver instant results on whether a tumour is malignant or benign. Promoter: Justina Ugwah.
- Everywhere English (edtech) – a business English platform for employees with transparent progress reporting for employers, it promotes social inclusion and workplace progression by enabling learners to feel confident in English specific to their sector. Promoters: Kate and Becky Popova.
- Doctrine (consumer goods) – a skincare brand that blends key trend ingredients with beautiful packaging and biotech ingredients for a modern market. Promoter: Mark O’Sullivan.
- HaPPE Earth (sustainability and healthcare) – a manufacturer of single use compostable aprons made from a bio resin produced and made in Ireland. Promoter: Dr. Mary O’Riordan.
- Hibra Design (sustainable engineering and energy) – offers decarbonization as a service (DasS) by electrifying traditional diesel off-road vehicles, e.g., mining trucks or airport vehicles. Promoter: Mike Keane.
- Sifter Media (tech) – an open-source platform that enables the visual tracking of study and investigation. Promoter: Fintan Meagher.
- Buildzon (construction) – offers construction industry procurement real-time access to prices from multiple vendors for building products in short supply or not available in Ireland. Promoter: Monika Wotjek.
- Eofis (edtech) – an AI summarization and adaptive learning tool to allow the learner to acquire, organize and retain information more easily. Promoter: Tiarnach O’Riada.
- BioEnz (biotech) – a proprietary enzyme discovery platform and unique bio bank, developing novel enzyme solutions from nature to protect the environment, improve nutrition and treat disease. Promoter: Tim Roche.
- Silvermine Studios (gaming) – Chaos Riders is a couch co-op traditional video game. Promoter: William Hulshof.
- CRAOI (tech) – an expertly designed platform which combines a personal approach with interactive tools and on-demand content, backed by science, to empower employees to prioritise their well-being. Focusing on four holistic pillars: movement, mindfulness, nutrition and happiness, CRAOI supports the whole person, not just one aspect of wellbeing. Promoter: Clodagh Ryan
What does the programme at Cork offer?
As with other New Frontiers programmes around the country, you will receive a range of supports to help you develop your startup and your skills as an entrepreneur. You receive nine months of dedicated co-working space and access to knowledge, shared experience, and potential synergies that goes well beyond your sector. Training in market research, sales and marketing, business modelling, and financial management will be beneficial regardless of your background. You’ll also learn concrete, tactical skills (for example, Aoife’s cohort was treated to a video production course so they could learn to create their own promotional videos and learned about lead management and generation).
The whole Rubicon team places a strong emphasis on mentoring. Programme participants can expect lots of one-to-one time with Aoife and her colleagues George Bulman (Operations Manager) and Paul Healy (Rubicon Centre Manager) depending on their needs and startup journeys. They will also have lots of day-to-day contact with Maria Horgan, the programme coordinator. Participant feedback shows that the support and encouragement between participants is a big feature of the programme. Strong and lasting bonds are forged on New Frontiers!
As well as expert trainers, participants get opportunities to learn from previous promoters (such as Pat Lucey of Aspira and Matthew Lawlor of Spearline) during organised events or simply while grabbing a coffee – Keelvar Technologies, Swyft Energy, Aventamed, TisaLabs, and H2 Compliance are all based in the Rubicon. Previous programme alumni include LegitFit, Kuul Play, and Mama Bear Foods. Lunch and learn events bring in experts to talk to all Rubicon clients, not just New Frontiers participants.
For the first three months of Phase 2, promoters will focus more on themselves, including preparing to be an entrepreneur (working on mindset and resilience), sales training and knowing which doors to knock on for support (for example, the BICs, Local Enterprise Office, or Enterprise Ireland). Because startup life is very different to being an employee, there are lots of opportunities to talk to people who’ve been on this journey themselves and understand the challenges.
The second half of New Frontiers is about getting investor-ready, with plenty of time going into mock pitch panels which give promoters invaluable feedback. Aoife organises several sales panels, where promoters pitch to people in the role of prospective customers, as well as investor panels comprised of Irish and overseas investors. The grand finale is the programme showcase – yes, more pitching! – and graduation event.
The business ecosystem in Cork
As Aoife highlights, the business community in Cork is very strong and welcoming. Entrepreneurs can tap a vibrant business ecosystem (both state-funded and private) to help build their networks, find collaborators, and open doors, including Network Ireland (for women in business), the Tech Industry Alliance, CorkBIC, Accelerate Green (Bord na Móna), the Enterprise Europe Network, Cork Chamber and Cork Chamber Skillnet, BNI South, West Cork Business, and of course the Local Enterprise Offices. The Rubicon Centre actively collaborates with these organisations to ensure New Frontiers participants avail of all possible supports.
Research and innovation in Cork
New Frontiers is a programme for entrepreneurs with an innovative business idea. This means that access to world-class research capability is vital. MTU has an impressive research and development offering that participants can leverage. There are four Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateways at MTU. Gateways focus on key technology areas aligned to industry needs, aiding the research and development of innovative products and services through a dedicated team of full-time researchers and engineers. The four Gateways at MTU are:
- Centre For Advanced Photonics & Process Analysis Gateway (CAPPA): with particular expertise in new photonics devices, medtech and pharmaceuticals, food and beverages, manufacturing technologies, devices and sensors.
- Intelligent Mechatronics & RFID Gateway (IMaR): with particular expertise in new embedded systems, intelligent and connected smart sensors and devices, Internet of Things (IoT), automation and robotics, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technologies, process monitoring and analytics.
- Embedded Computing & Software Systems Gateway (Nimbus): with particular expertise in new electronics/hardware, sensor devices and systems, mechanical design, miniaturisation, networks and wireless communications, software, data analytics, systems integration, controls and optimisation tools, UX (user experience) and UI (user interface), virtual and augmented reality.
- Shannon Applied Biotechnology Centre Gateway (Shannon ABC): with particular expertise in new bioprospecting and bioprocessing – screening, extraction, characterisation and testing of bioactive molecules, identifying routes to scale-up, analytical and research services, and food innovation.
In addition, other relevant research groups include:
- BIOEXPLORE research focuses on developing and applying the best platform technologies available to detect and treat both human and animal related diseases.
- Clean Technology research focuses on promoting evidence-based sustainability.
- Halpin research focuses on opportunities in the global maritime domain.
- MeSSO research focuses on mechanical and energy systems and applications.
- NutRI research focuses on food innovation, food microbiology, and public health nutrition.
- The Process Innovation Engineering Research Group (PiERG) research focuses on providing solutions to the pharma engineering sector through its combined expertise in the development of predictive models and industrial pharmaceutical processing.
- Ríomh research focuses on the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help solve some of our most pressing cybersecurity challenges.
- The Enterprise Engagement and Experiential Learning Research Group (E3LRG) focuses on viewing the workplace as a valid and valuable centre for learning.
- The Health Exercise and Sport Research Group (HEx-Spo) research focuses on exercise and sports performance optimisation.
- The Sustainable Infrastructure Research & Innovation Group (SIRIG) research focuses on sustainable infrastructure developments.
The advantages of starting up in Cork
If you aren’t already based in Cork, you may be considering relocation. As Ireland’s second city, Cork has a growing population (the metropolitan area population is around 305,000) and a highly educated workforce and talent pool. It’s attractive demographically and economically, with many global players in the technology and pharmaceutical space (including household names such as Apple, Intel, IBM, Boston Scientific, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, and Janssen).
The south-west region accounts for some 25% – 30% of Ireland’s economic output annually. Cork city was voted the number one small European city for economic potential in the 2022/2023 edition of the Financial Times European Cities of the Future Awards. Connectivity and infrastructure are also good, with Ireland’s second-busiest airport providing access to all major European destinations, train and road links to the rest of the country, and a huge natural harbour which acts as a key international gateway for trade.
Cork also boasts a number of accolades that will entice you for non-work-related reasons. The food capital of Ireland, it’s one of the friendliest cities in the world, culturally vibrant, and sits in stunning scenery with a spectacular coastline – providing an excellent quality of life and access to a wide range of recreational activities. Paradise? The people of Cork certainly think so!
If you’re interested in the New Frontiers programme in Cork, you can check out their location page, visit rubiconcentre.ie, and connect with Aoife on LinkedIn. Applications for the next Phase 2 are closing soon, so register your interest via our online form and Aoife will be in touch to discuss your application.
About the author
Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.