Author Archives: TBR Network

How an Irish Med-Tech Company Could Change the World

By Evan Henry

When it became obvious that COVID-19 was to utterly change how we live, few would have predicted that a company from Galway could play an instrumental role in returning life across the world to normality. Aerogen, an Irish medtech company, produces a drug distribution system that delivers medicine through aerosols in acute hospital settings. John Power, Aerogen’s CEO, formed Cerus Medical in 1997 when he recognised a major gap in the technologies used to deliver drugs in hospitals. While life-support machines were among the most advanced medical technology used in hospitals, the drug-delivery systems that assisted these machines were developed over fifty-years ago. Power believed there were better ways to target the delivery of drugs, and it was common knowledge that drugs are efficiently administered by ingestion through the lungs. Cerus Medical merged with Aerogen Inc. in 2000 and launched its first nebulisation product, the Aerogen Pro shortly afterwards. Twenty years on and the company exports to more than 70 countries and their products are used in 60 of the top one-hundred hospitals in the world, benefitting over ten million patients. Its clients include Medtronic, GE Healthcare and Philips Healthcare.

Aerogen and COVID-19 So Far

Aerogen was overrun when COVID-19 broke out, given the huge demand created for ventilators by the respiratory illness. In fact, Aerogen’s products were in greater demand  than those of competitors because they are the largest producer of closed-circuit nebulisation system devices on the market. A closed-circuit nebulisation system is one that delivers gaseous drugs to patients while leaving ventilation uninterrupted (Medical-aerosols), ensuring that healthcare workers are not exposed to any gases exhaled by the patient (patient-generated Bio-aerosols). Closed-circuit nebulisation devices are far safer and more efficient than conventional nebulisation devices. Aerogen is also working with various hospitals and research groups to adapt ventilators unsuitable for COVID-19 patients. Along with this, the company is involved with more than 20 drug companies and research institutions that deliver antivirals and drugs to patients in ICUs. Power has predicted that Aerogen will move around four million units this year, up from two million in 2019. But despite the outstanding role played by Aerogen in the treatment of COVID-19, the delivery of its cure could be the company’s true magnum opus. 

An Emerging Alternative to Liquid Vaccines

The race for a COVID-19 vaccine has left the pharmaceutical industry in a frenzy, with dozens of companies and research groups competing to produce the immunisation treatment. While a vaccine could potentially be produced by the end of 2021, the timeline is still unclear. The only certainty surrounding the vaccine is that demand for it will exceed supply, likely by a substantial margin. However, Aerogen claims to have the solution to this problem. On RTÉ’s The Business programme, Power revealed that Aerogen is also working with “a leading [unnamed] pharmaceutical company” to produce and distribute an aersolised vaccine. If successful, this will reduce the quantity of dosage required per patient, because drugs ingested through the lungs are generally absorbed more efficiently by the body.

How would aerosolisation address the supply-demand inequity that will occur when a vaccine is finally approved? The inequity will be caused by two things: an insufficient number of doses and an inability to accommodate massive numbers of people gathering to seek vaccination. Should Aerogen’s efforts bear fruit, they will provide meaningful solutions to the issues facing both sides of the market. The first piece of the mass vaccination puzzle Aerogen hopes to solve involves providing enough doses to meet demand. The company predicts that their partners will produce around 500 million liquid doses by the end of 2021, which is a far cry from the amount required to eradicate the virus. However, if a liquid vaccination can be aerosolised, Aerogen predicts that only a fifth of the amount of medicine will be required to treat the patient. If their estimates are accurate, the result would be two and a half billion doses available by the end of 2021. This number will not result in universal immunisation, but it would nonetheless reduce the virus’ rate of spread. The outcome would be fewer new cases, fewer deaths and reduced pressure on healthcare systems worldwide. However, from the initial solution to vaccine shortages springs another challenge: distribution. How can two and a half billion people be vaccinated in a safe, timely and cost-effective manner? Speed of delivery is imperative the alleviation of not only suffering, but also of pressure on healthcare systems. Aerogen claims to have found the answer to this inevitable complication.  The company has developed a station for the aerosolisation of a vaccine which will allow patients to be vaccinated in a quick and orderly fashion. If the station is employed, their estimates, based on data collected from Chinese COVID-19 treatment procedures, predict that 2.5 billion people could be vaccinated in 39 days if ten-hour shifts are worked at 55,000 centres. Such rapid and systematic delivery of a COVID-19 vaccination is as much as anyone could hope for.

Can It Be Done?

The size and scale of Aerogen’s ambitions are clear. They hope to have roughly one-third of the world’s population vaccinated by the end of 2021. Of course, any discussion of a COVID-19 vaccine and its distribution is a mother lode of suspicion and further questions. Will a vaccine even be produced at all, never mind by the end of 2021? If so, can it be aerosolised? Will aerosolisation really require only a fifth of a liquid dose’s quantity? Will aerosolisation prove to be more or less effective than liquid vaccinations? Can other countries work as efficiently as the Chinese in their administration of a vaccine? Will the vaccine be affordable? All of these questions raise valid points and will undoubtedly be the subject of future debate. The honest answer to most of them for now is that we simply do not know. What we do know is Aerogen is one company making substantive strides towards returning life to something like its pre-COVID configuration. Time will tell us whether or not it succeeds.

Landing in Trouble: Ryanair's Position Amid Coronavirus Meltdown

By Robert Tolan

Friday saw Ryanair CEO, Michael O’Leary, announce a temporary 50% pay cut for all employees, including executives, in an effort to bolster its balance sheet amidst the uncertainty of the situation sweeping the world. Given the trajectory of its share price, now €8.81, a sobering 50% decline compared to its January price, the terrain ahead may be looking worse for shareholders.

O’Leary’s decision was merely an attempt to slow down the bleeding that started last week as deaths from Corona virus soared. International travel has now been brought into question which brings problems of its own for air travel within Europe’s Schengen area, the largest revenue maker for Ryanair, and indeed uncharted territory for free movement. As the European economy is stuck in gear for the foreseeable future, O’Leary has hinted at the possibility of future redundancies.

    The threat of heads rolling within the company probably could have come a little sooner. The current debacle is not a cause but rather a symptom of deeper issues within the company. Consider the following facts; it traded at a high of €18.41 almost two years ago, the price has been down trending since, Ryanair has undergone a major re brand, profits have stagnated despite increasing passenger numbers and industrial relations issues have become a mainstay of the company.

 With €4bn in cash equivalents the company will not be able to weather the most adverse pandemic scenario, the European economy stalling well into the summer or even later, and so some sort of guillotine must be brought to the stage. The maverick O’Leary must return for his company’s fortunes to reverse.

    The more liberal of observers will say Ryanair ought to wait out for government support of some sort. This is entirely unreasonable. The government assistance Ireland could afford is not enough to keep a pan-European airline afloat and the EU’s bureaucracy and failure to codify an approach to assisting businesses in ‘black swan’ events such as pandemics mean neither fig leaf will come in time. Ryanair could find itself occupying the grave beside Flybe, which was offered government support that proved fruitless, if it is not careful.

    This would cost thousands of direct jobs and tens of thousands of indirect jobs. The cuts required in the short-term would amount to a few hundred job losses and indeed those people affected would be entitled to redundancy payments. Certainly this act could ease industrial relations woes for the time being as the seriousness of the situation facing the company strikes employees. Only then will investors change their minds on Ryanair and see value in the €8-10 range which will recapitalise the company.

    It is also advisable that O’Leary reduce the number of subsidiaries, now 11, to fortify the company’s financials. As significant amounts have been ploughed into the recently acquired Laudamotion and the 1-year old Malta Air, merging these, for instance, offers the most sensible way of achieving economies of scale. There appears to be far too many duplicate processes concerning HR and marketing across the group which must be eliminated for the company to once again become an investor favourite.

    Regardless of the action taken by Ryanair, it is becoming increasingly apparent the Irish economy needs activist investors for its most prominent companies to flourish. If it were US-based, it is unlikely it would have escaped the clutches of value hungry investors like Carl Icahn or David Einhorn. There is certainly plenty of value to be found in Ryanair, there is still a need for a low-cost airline, but the execution of the business model has deteriorated over the years. The best antidote to this is somebody willing to force the necessary, and in this case obvious changes, who is willing to take the decision O’Leary has in recent years shied away from. Failing this, thousands of jobs rather than a few hundred may be lost.

Striking the Balance: Will Hindsight Lead the Way?

By Sinéad Flynn

Overview

Innovation and technology are the most prominent buzz words for firms and corporations around the world. The next big idea, next invention, and next discovery are waiting to emerge. Society has evolved from the 1880s, where it was once thought by Commissioner of US Patent Office Charles Duell that “everything that can be invented has been invented” to new advances exploding at our fingertips without limits. FinTech has received a great deal of attention, and it’s only in its infant stages.  Marc Andressen notes that ‘internet companies might end up in 180 countries before they have 180 employees.’ Globalisation and technology have had a huge impact on markets, and the role of Fintech is just a new stimulation.

What is Fintech?

Fintech is a financial technology that aims to compete with traditional financial methods. Fintech can take the shape of crowdfunding, cryptocurrencies, or blockchain, and notably is expanding into new markets rapidly. While online banking has been prevalent for years, fintech adds a new dimension to the payment’s services. Within seconds, users are sending and receiving money faster than ever before. Fintech has begun to dominate our everyday lives where it is commonly seen with those who use Apple Pay or Samsung Pay or those that have sent funds via GoFundMe. The limits to what may be considered Fintech can be unlimited, where most start-ups are embracing technology to create innovative products and services. FinTech is emerging throughout trading, insurance, and risk management as well, which has appeared quite disruptive to these industries that haven’t changed for quite some time.

Opportunity or Threat?

While business may be booming, and the financial crash seems to be forgotten, how does commercial law interact with this fast-paced business environment? It is argued that fintech firms receive a competitive advantage and create an attractive space for investors when they comply with regulations. Cryptocurrency companies and those that are an unregistered seller of securities have been hit hard in the US by the Security and Exchange Commission. These fines have diminished confidence in these certain start-ups and created financial loss through settlements and fines. There are concerns that fintech firms are utilising their institutions to harbour illegal assets utilised for criminal activity. While fintech firms have been embraced for their revolutionary growth and modern methods to business in this age of technology, it must be approached with caution due to poor ethical choices being made at times.

Striking the Balance

Countries such as Ireland that rely on a great deal of foreign direct investment must adequately strike the right balance between attracting new business, but also ensuring the system is not abused. Research shows that there is no specific legislation designed to regulate certain services that fall under this broad FinTech category, besides those concerning the Central Bank of Ireland and minimal EU Regulations. Ireland is a lucrative location for start-ups and businesses looking to set up a European hub, as they have more freedom to do so while then receiving this passport into the European market. Diversity in our financial markets reflects this growing desire to explore alternative mechanisms to enhance society. While research is ongoing for the limitations and effects FinTech firms bring to the table, these initiatives are looking primarily to law firms to structure and protect their interests.

A Closer Look

If one narrows the analysis of Fintech into electronic payment companies, the Payment Services Regulation 2018 will apply. This Regulation has effectively created a more level playing field for fintech start-ups to enter the market and develop their technology services further with an overall aim to increase competition for the benefit of consumers. At the moment, it is argued here that the EU is fully embracing these innovative and competitive practices. If one assumes that the market will regulate itself and that the legislature should be more laissez-faire, then more relaxed regulations should be welcomed. While this may be worrisome to those that appreciate the traditional style of banking and finance, this is ultimately a positive step, as time and time again, traditional banking models and financial institutions of the past have failed multiple sectors leading to dire losses.

Has the Balance Been Struck?

The right balance must be struck in order to protect investors, but also to facilitate this necessary development. The Central Bank of Ireland is conscious that there is a lack of legislation specific to Fintech entities, and that it has assumed the role as the main regulator where able. This leaves investors and innovators in a precarious spot. In one regard, there is little law guiding their activities, but in turn, this allows them to receive the freedom necessary to develop and surpass imaginable limits on their ventures. While the Payments Services Regulation may increase accountability and reporting, this may not be enough to accurately analyse how these institutions are operating.

What Next?

The embrace of the change in the financial markets may be a positive step, and a mechanism that may prevent future economic crashes and downturns as new perspectives and ways of managing the financial sector are introduced. Consumers must be wary for that this partially unregulated ecosystem may produce detrimental effects that hindsight may prove useful.

EVE: Making it Easier to Own an Electric Vehicle

EVE is an e-mobility solution project in the process of being founded by two postgrad students in Entrepreneurship at Trinity Business School, Sarah Rust and Oana Rosca. 

When Sarah’s father wanted to buy an electric car in Germany, he soon became very discouraged because of range anxiety: there aren’t enough charging points in Germany and switching to an EV would have seriously affected his family’s freedom of movement. 

The start-up aims to provide a ​P2P network of private charging stations for electric cars​. Customers can charge their car anywhere and make a passive income from their unused charging station at home.

 The Team

The founders have a combined business experience of 12 years. Sarah has worked in the automotive industry and the startup industry for the past three years and brings energy and connections with both the automotive and startup sector. Oana has 9 years of experience in tech management roles in different industries and has a network of software developers that she will leverage to build the product. 

Where We Are Now

The founders have analysed the idea from different perspectives during their studies of Entrepreneurship and have applied the concepts taught in the programme. They have participated in the LaunchPad Sprints Incubator November 2019 and won 2nd place on the Sprints Final Pitch competition. This secured them a place on the TES Incubator. 

Plans for the Future

While they are working on fine-tuning their concept and assembling the puzzle pieces of their idea, Sarah and Oana are ambitious about the future. 

In the short term, they are eager to join LaunchBox 2020 and are busy preparing their application to the programme. By the end of the year, they plan on launching an MVP in Germany and other European markets in the upcoming years. 

In the long term, they want to explore and pursue new ways of increasing sustainability in day to day life through the sharing economy. 

Get in Touch

If somebody has an electric vehicle or knows an EV owner, we would appreciate if they could reach out to us so we can ask them a few questions, at roscao@tcd.ie​ or ​rusts@tcd.ie​     .​ 

Divorshe – The Trinity Smart-Tech Legal Start-up Empowering Women

The Divorshe team was brought together in Trinity’s MSc in Entrepreneurship last September, with the idea emerging from our “Business Model Innovation” module. Having bonded as a team and having delivered the module’s winning pitch, we decided to pursue the concept further.

Divorshe aims to empower women going through a marriage break-up by making the process of obtaining a divorce easier to understand and more time and cost efficient. Using smart legal tech, clients complete the paperwork at a time convenient to them, from the comfort of their own home. Client-solicitor meetings are conducted online and can be held outside traditional 9-5 office hours, minimising disruption to these busy women’s lives.

Unlike traditional law firms whose services are very costly, or low-cost DIY divorce services who lack legal expertise, we take the best of both worlds – family law solicitors and online documentation – to provide a quicker and easier to understand service.

The Team

Our team was brought together in Trinity’s MSc in Entrepreneurship in September this year and went on to win that program’s “Business Model Innovation” pitch.

Our team varies in experience and background but has a common overarching entrepreneurial passion. Avice studied humanities and communication in college in America. Fernanda studied Hospitality Management in Brazil, worked in hospitality for a few years developing new hotels, and started her own businesses shortly thereafter. Neil graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Management Science and Information Systems Studies from Trinity in 2009. He has spent his career to date working in a variety of product development roles, primarily in the online gambling industry.

Where We Are Now

Since September, we have created links with solicitors in Brazil and Ireland for guidance on the legal process, and have the commitment of a software engineer to explore the technology solution. We have already purchased the divorshe.com domain.

Over the coming weeks we plan to conduct further market research and begin a proof of concept for the technology platform, as well as launching our online landing page to begin to collect expressions of interest. At present, we are also working on connecting with solicitors to help advise Divorshe through Launchbox.

Our Plans for the Future

In the near future (within the year) we see Divorshe being a working product (approved by Irish Law Society), fit to serve our test market of Ireland. We will be seeking seed investments in order to get our product up and running, and serving the public.

Potential challenges that face Divorshe on this journey consist of the legal regulations, the lack of publicly available market research, and the expense incurred from recruitment.

In order to overcome these challenges, we have committed to continually seeking expert advice as we move forward with our MVP. As it is a sensitive and confidential service, which is heavily regulated by the Law Society. It is crucial that we validate each milestone with the corresponding expert to avoid any roadblocks and keep Divorshe on track.

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