Life Sciences and Energy

Kernel Capital announces investment in AltraTech

By Business & Finance
17 April 2014
Kernel Capital investment

Kernel Capital is pleased to announce a €900,000 investment in Clare-based AltraTech Ltd, a food diagnostics company.

The investment comprises of a €650,000 investment by Kernel Capital through the Bank of Ireland Seed and Early Stage Equity Fund with the remainder of the funds provided by Enterprise Ireland and Company Founders.

Founded in 2013 by Tim Cummins and Dr Brian O’Farrell following Cummins’ participation in Kernel Capital’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence Programme, AltraTech is developing a single-use portable semiconductor test kit for use in the food and agri-sector, for high sensitivity species-specific identification of food content and contaminants.

With the horse meat scandal of 2013 showing that major gaps still exist in ensuring that the food we consume is safe and authentic there is an ever increasing focus on food traceability. AltraTech aims to be first to market with an on-site, in-line disposable DNA diagnostics kit which will reduce the wait time for DNA testing to thirty minutes from today’s two-to-five days. Variants of the technology will be applied in environmental, industrial, and retail settings for screening of hundreds of samples daily.

AltraTech will use this round of funding to develop and trial its BeadCAP food-DNA test technology and plans significant recruitment over the next twelve months to support these plans.

The agri-food sector within Europe is estimated to be worth in excess of €750bn annually. In Ireland alone, the total agri-food sector collectively employs some 150,000 people and is worth €24bn to our national economy.

Commenting on the announcement, Tim Cummins, CEO, AltraTech said: “Food-testing is a $3bn market today, dominated by older protein based assays which typically take three to five days in a central lab. Newer emerging DNA tests are more accurate and specific, but still take two or three days in a central lab. Our BeadCAP technology directly addresses problems such as the recent ‘horse-burger’ and pig-animal-protein food adulteration crises which saw food producers and retailers being faced with quarantine or re-call decisions, risk of reputational damage and loss of sales. It will enable food producers to do real-time testing and make instant production and dispositioning decisions. We are delighted with this funding which will enable us to add up to seven new employees over the next year to begin field-trials of the technology.”

Serial entrepreneur Cummins previously founded Kernel Capital portfolio company ChipSensors in 2006 which was acquired by Nasdaq-quoted Silicon Labs in 2010.

Ger Goold, partner, Kernel Capital added: “There is a huge un-met need for timely, accurate on-site DNA food diagnostics. AltraTech is addressing this challenge and Kernel Capital is delighted to support them as a founding investor. The promoters have a strong track record of generating and commercialising world-class IP across both semiconductors and life-sciences and AltraTech’s solution promises to be highly disruptive to this growth sector.”

Donal Duffy, head of Enterprise Ireland Relations at Bank of Ireland added: “Since Kernel Capital started to make investments through the Bank of Ireland Seed and Early Stage Equity Fund, we have been continually impressed by the ingenuity and valuable social implications of so many of the investees’ products as AltraTech’s research is leading to a food diagnostic device which is both portable and able to produce rapid results. Our support for AltraTech at this stage is one of the ways in which we are supporting the wider agri-food sector, so central to Ireland’s economy.”

Welcoming the announcement Dr Brian O’Neill, head of Lifesciences High Potential Start Ups at Enterprise Ireland said: “AltraTech represents an excellent example of the type of innovative company Enterprise Ireland is keen to support. They are developing an exciting new platform technology with multiple potential market applications that is truly disruptive.”