The Innovation Arena, which is held in conjunction with the National Ploughing Association, is now Enterprise Ireland’s flagship event in the agtech calendar.
Last year, 55 finalists showcased their innovations to over 300,000 people who attended the Ploughing and to 113 international buyers from across the globe.
Since 2010, over 500 innovations have been exhibited at the Innovation Arena, with many of these innovations moving on to be a real success at home and abroad.
For first-time applicants and early stage companies, participating in the Innovation Arena is like a whirlwind of activity with an onslaught of hordes of eager visitor’s keen to examine the latest innovations.
The Innovation Arena at the Ploughing was set up by Alfie Cox and Liam Murphy from Unique Inventions, who had the original idea. Alfie was drafted in by Kilkenny Local Enterprise Office as a mentor initially to develop the event along with the NPA.
Alfie recalls that, at the start, the Innovation Arena was a simple gazebo with a handful of innovations displayed at the front.
While the scale of the Innovation Arena has grown over the years, the ethos of the event has always remained the same – how can innovation improve efficiency in farming and across the industry in general.
After the first year, the Irish Farmers Journal came on board, with Michael Moroney growing the event further. In 2014, Enterprise Ireland entered the partnership, which was a pivotal moment for the Innovation Arena.
The Government agency has the mandate to develop indigenous industry in order to help it reach global markets. And fostering innovation in businesses has always been a key element to help differentiate Irish companies with potential buyers from overseas markets.
Every year, international buyers attend the Innovation Arena and the National Ploughing Championships to engage with Enterprise Ireland’s client companies.
The number of overseas buyers attending the event has trebled from 37 buyers in 2016 to a record 113 last year, which are delivered by a team of 18 international market advisers as part of their International buyer programme.
Along with the visit to the Innovation Arena, potential buyers from overseas also enjoy visiting many of Ireland’s established agricultural machinery manufacturers as well as our many research facilities and farms.
The aim of this type of programme is to enhance Ireland’s global reputation in the agtech and agri-food sector and create new market opportunities around the world for Irish businesses.
Since it first started out, the Innovation Arena has grown as a competition, attracting entries from both entrepreneurs and established companies.
Throughout the 10 years of the competition, the evolution of the technology is clearly identifiable. Looking at the list of entries for this year, the integration of technologies like AI sensors and smart machines, along with traditional manufacturing, is clearly evident.
Also noticeable in this year’s entries is the growing move towards alternative forms of agriculture, with alternative proteins and new technologies for renewable energy really coming to the fore. It is remarkable how the innovations have continued to evolve over the last decade.
For example, many traditional engineering companies are now evolving into smart technology companies for farmers. Co Kerry-based Dairymaster is an established company that is a good example of this type of evolution.
HerdWatch, which won in the Innovation Arena in 2014, has seen its technology platform adopted on over 16,000 farms since it first entered the event. It is a company that has been continuously adding value and innovation to its product right from the start.
As a country that is synonymous with grass-based pasture farming, it is no surprise to see that Ireland is excelling at developing new technologies to help with grass management and harvesting.
Many innovations like David Doran’s Acres Super Crop machine have gone on to sell in Spain, Italy and Germany.
Emerging young talent like brothers James and Charles Drum from Fresh Graze are on a mission to reduce labour and increase efficiency with their innovative robotic fence. Equally, the Cotter Crate, which was developed by brothers Jack and Nick Cotter and won the 2019 Alfie Cox startup award, has garnered huge interest from the public.
The innovation that won for Jack and Nick, is a unique piece of sheep handling equipment that allows the lamb to be comfortably and safely controlled while administering treatment.
“It has been great, from winning at the Innovation Arena and then taking on the challenge of developing the product further,” said Jack Cotter when speaking about the experience of winning at the innovation arena.
This year has seen the progress in the sector remain on course despite the challenges presented by COVID-19. With the Ploughing cancelled, this year’s Innovation Arena went virtual with judging carried out over two days via teleconference calls with each entrant.
The 2020 Virtual Innovation Arena has unearthed further talents that have come through NovaUCD, with Iamus Technologies winning the Alfie Cox Overall Startup Award.
The overall winner of this year’s Innovation Arena was the new round bale chaser with capacity to carry 16 bales at a time. This worthy winner was developed by Co Mayo company Malone Farm Machinery. This is a new product that will go on to achieve success for Malone in Ireland and international markets.
Since it first started back in 2011, the Innovation Arena has helped deliver growth in Ireland’s agricultural manufacturing sector to the tune of €530m in additional revenues and created additional employment for 2,500 people, predominately in regional areas of Ireland.
Looking at the top 30 companies in the sector, Enterprise Ireland’s strategy has delivered a 40% growth in revenues to the engineering sector over the last five years from €355m to just under €500m.
The future looks bright for Ireland’s agtech sector. We continue to develop an ecosystem of agricultural innovation on the island that has underpinned by our reputation in research and development, and quality food production.