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Off the START line

Group photo of recipients of the START fund

START programme recipients with Teagasc Director Frank O’Mara: Back row (L-R): Maria Hayes, John Leech, Susanne Barth, Peadar Lawlor and Emer Shannon. Front row (L-R): John Spink, Siobhán Jordan, Ruth Rattigan (SETU Waterford), Frank O’Mara, Paula O’Connor, Miriam Walsh and Mark Fenelon. Photography: Finbarr O’Rourke

Teagasc’s START Fund proactively supports researchers in proving early-stage concepts, deepening connections and cooperation with companies during concept development and determining market potential.

The Teagasc START Fund is an annual internal research fund, offering researchers the opportunity to avail up to €15,000 for a six-month project to aid early-stage assessment of concepts and ground-breaking innovations with commercial potential. Launched in 2021, the Fund aims to support the development of early-stage commercialisation projects that may in time form new spin-out companies. 

The ripple effects from the Teagasc START Fund are varied for all of the teams that take part. Participating in the process has unlocked significant support and opportunities for our researchers, including engagement from Enterprise Ireland and Local Enterprise Office specialists, and participation in the UCC SPRINT Accelerator Programme.   

For a better insight into the impact of the Fund, we spoke to three award winners.


Shivani Pathania

Job role: Research Officer

Location: Teagasc Food Research Centre, Ashtown

START Fund project: Clean Green Packaging

What is the focus of your commercialisation project?

My project aims to fill a gap in the market regarding cost effective and sustainability-focused packaging solutions, identified during extensive industry engagements that I undertook through Teagasc’s National Prepared Consumer Foods Centre.

Why is this area of work important? 

For small companies, the existing packaging machines are very costly and limited in scale. With a more compact design and a small production output specifically designed for smaller food manufacturers, my solution will offer convenience and efficiency in enhanced throughput while facilitating reduced food loss and plastics waste. 

What opportunities has the START Fund opened up for you?

The financial support provided by the START Fund has resulted in the freedom to operate, generate data and validate concepts. It has also given me knowledge about future funding applications such as commercialisation grants. 

Why is it so beneficial for you?

Receiving this award is an affirmation of the commercial significance of Clean Green Packaging. Furthermore, I have received invaluable advice and support from the Technology Transfer Office regarding managing the IP rights and meeting ambitious project deliverables.   


John Leech

Job role: Research Officer

Location: Teagasc Food Research Centre, Moorepark

START Fund project: Bespoke Fermented Foods

What is the focus of your commercialisation project?

Along with Paul Cotter, Head of Food Biosciences Department, I am testing the feasibility of establishing a company that would design and create food products with scientifically validated health benefits, for which there is market and consumer demand. 

What is important about this area of work? 

Fermented foods such as kombucha and kefir are gaining in popularity, as customers become more aware, adventurous and curious about live foods that have proven health benefits. Consumers are looking for ways to improve their own gut-microbiome health, and fermented foods are seen as a powerful tool to this end. We would like to exploit this growing interest and lead the market with innovative live fermented foods.

What opportunities has the START Fund opened up for you?

The funding was the tipping point between tentatively approaching commercialisation and really going for it. Both the commercial project and our own entrepreneurial knowledge has developed immensely in the year since our START grant. We have experienced pitching to a variety of stakeholders, undertaken mentorship courses and begun efforts to fundraise the next step. 

Why is it so beneficial for you?

Before the START Fund, commercialisation was primarily an intention. Since the Fund, commercialisation has become the focus and reality. It is an essential first step to moving towards an entrepreneurial career with my research. 


Peadar Lawlor

Job role: Principal Research Officer - Pig Management & Nutrition

Location: Teagasc Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Moorepark

START Fund project: ProSwine

What is the focus of your commercialisation project?

ProSwine is a technology that reduces the need for antibiotic interventions for pigs. I have developed the technology in collaboration with Post-doctoral Researcher Ruth Rattigan and Lecturer Gillian Gardiner from South East Technological University (SETU) in Waterford. 

What is important about this area of work? 

Increased restrictions on the use of in-feed antibiotics and a ban on supplementation with pharmacological levels of zinc oxide in pigs come into effect in the EU this year. This has necessitated the development of alternative sustainable strategies for cost-effective pig production.

What opportunities has the START fund opened up for you?

The ProSwine project is at a critical stage. In the next 12 months we will fine tune our business plan and identify a strong commercial lead to drive the ProSwine spin-out. The START Fund has enabled our team to attract one of the leading Irish agri-entrepreneurs and investors as a commercial consultant to guide us through these next steps. 

Why is it so beneficial for you?

We have been able to fund tasks that will be key to our decision-making and further develop some outstanding aspects of our quality control processes. 

Seven teams in total have received funding through the START Fund since it was launched:

Susanne Barth, Sergei Kushnir and Ewen Mullins Ryegrass Hybrid Breeding Service
Maria Hayes and Emer Shannon BioHealth Products
Maria Hayes and Paula O’Connor Pet Aging and Wellness (PAW) Products
Peadar Lawlor, Gillian Gardiner (SETU, Waterford)
and Ruth Rattigan (SETU, Waterford)
ProSwine – mapping a path to market for a novel probiotic feed additive for pigs
John Leech and Paul Cotter Bespoke Fermented Foods (BFFs)
Norah O’Shea VisioBot – robotic and vision system platform technology
Shivani Pathania Clean Green Packaging