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WestTech > How Galway became a buzzing hub for start-ups

by | Oct 11, 2022

PÁDRAIG BELTON connects into the city of the tribes

In the last few years, Galway has emerged as a weirdly buzzing hub for medtech start-ups. Atrian Medical, Lifelet Medical, Neurent Medical and Tympany Medical, to name only four, all are Galway-based and won places in last year’s MedTech Innovator programme, which is the world’s largest accelerator for medical device, digital health and diagnostic companies.

Galway is “absolutely an innovation centre with grants available especially from the public authorities,” says Raphael Jaffrezic from Blackrock Health Galway Clinic. “I think it’s a very exciting town to be working from a digital health point of view,” he adds.

Why the west?

The west of Ireland just happens to be home to 8,000 people working in medical devices, about two-fifths of everyone working in the sector in Ireland. Eight of the world’s 10 largest medtech companies have a physical presence in Galway.

And just as Dublin’s software internationals like Google have spurred a software startup world in the capital, Galway has now seen a start-up sector rise in medtech, out of the heady cocktail of young, educated talent, funding and the presence of large internationals to serve as the anchors of an ecosystem.

At the centre of much of this startup activity also naturally lies the University of Galway – as NUI Galway is now known since the start of September. The university hosts BioInnovate, a medtech training programme whose managers say has always fostered a distinctive approach to innovation that starts with problems needing to be solved, instead of technology in search of a use.

The BioExel Medtech accelerator, which gives start-ups six months of seed funding in a co-working
environment, also lives in the university. Nua Surgical, whose SteriCision device helps retract a mother’s abdominal tissue during a C section, is one alum.

“Women’s health companies secure far less investment than the sector deserves” including just four per cent of healthcare research and development investment, says Nua Surgical’s chief executive Barry McCann.

A decent number of Galway’s medtech start-ups are also spinoffs out of the university, too. Like XTremedy, which took home the ‘One to Watch’ award at Enterprise Ireland’s 2021 showcase with its surgical device that electrically zaps residual infection below a wound.

Not even the rain can dampen the tech spirits of the Neurent Medical team

Coming for Connaught

In terms of recent developments, a global sensor and connector maker, TE Connectivity, announced in August it was opening a €5million medtech prototyping centre in Galway, to reduce the development time for new medical devices.

In May, Galway medtech Versono Medical, founded by Finbar Dolan and Hugh O’Donoghue, raised €6.7million in funding to bring their intravascular medical device to the market, which can break down complex vascular blockages using ultrasonic waves, removing the need for surgery.

Just a few months before, in February, Wayne Allen and Liam Mullins’s Medtech Perfuze raised a whopping €22.5million in funding for its catheter technology to remove clots quickly during acute stroke.

Though there are about 11million strokes a year globally, leading to 4.5million deaths, there were only 150,000 clot removal procedures performed last year, says Allen.

Out and about with team Tympany

The buzzing magnetic field of Galway

And in terms of the ecosystem, Signify Health, a US health tech company, announced in spring it was starting a new tech hub in Galway – poaching to head it Elaine Murphy, a Galway native who had been senior vice president at software company LiveTiles.

Meanwhile, one highlight of last year was a Galway diabetes tech start-up, Bluedrop Medical, winning the Roche Diabetes Care Innovation Challenge. Bluedrop’s device uses AI-powered visual and thermal assessments to detect diabetic foot ulcers. Foot ulcers are a frequent complication of diabetes that can lead in extreme cases to amputation, including 520 amputations on Irish diabetes patients each year, and death says Bluedrop chief executive Chris Murphy.

Winning the top prize has now given Murphy’s startup $20,000 and the chance to pilot their device in clinical settings. There is a buzz about Galway, which hangs in the air, walks its cobblestone streets and stands in the doorways of its grey stone university buildings.

From making c-section deliveries safer for mothers to rescuing diabetes patients from unnecessary amputations, to quickly removing blood clots causing strokes, Galway’s medtech start-ups are not just buzzing but saving lives too.

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