Kastus, an Irish company responsible for the creation of a ground-breaking technology to prevent the spread of superbugs, has announced the closure of a €3 million venture funding round, and significant new developments in the commercialisation of its innovation.
“We should have the funding in place next month, and it will enable us to hire a significant number of new people to work with us on the scaling of the company and the technology,” says chief executive John Browne.
“Scaling is really about people. We are hiring a mix of technical, sales, marketing, development and back-office staff. We already have a very good R&D team, and we are expanding our sales and marketing team at the moment and have just appointed Alan Crean as vice-president sales and marketing to lead that.”
Crean will play a key role in realising the company’s growth ambitions in the coming years, according to Browne. “It’s a very exciting time for us. Alan has very deep experience in scaling life sciences businesses, and he will help us realise our lofty ambition of achieving a €100 million valuation for the company within the next three years.”
The Kastus product is an antimicrobial spray coating which can be applied to glass and ceramics during or after manufacture or added to plastics and paint. It can be used to protect a range of high-touch everyday surfaces – including ceramic and glass tiles, smartphones, glass, door handles and metals – from harmful bacteria and micro-organisms such as MRSA and e-coli.
The coating has a proven 99.99 per cent kill rate against harmful bacteria, fungi and antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which makes it particularly useful for products such as ceramic tiles and glass which will be used in hospital or other settings where hygiene is at a premium
It is also the first product of its kind that can be factory applied on everyday hard surfaces using no toxic bi-products. Previous antimicrobial solutions needed UV light or biocide chemical leaching to be activated, but Kastus’s products are activated by indoor light and environmental moisture.
The 2017 Irish Times Innovation Awards Winner has identified a number of growth paths. “Our whole commercial focus is international,” says Browne. “We are not looking for any sales on the domestic market. Our whole focus in on original equipment manufacturers in Europe, the Middle East and the US. We are targeting the international glass and ceramics industries in the first instance, and will grow from there. Our technology adds value to their products – it gives them anti-microbial properties, makes them easier to clean, and makes them longer lasting.”
The company also recently announced a collaboration with Amber, the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)-funded materials science centre at Trinity College Dublin, which will involve specialised research work on the further development of antimicrobial coatings. The €280,000 research programme will see two academic experts in science and engineering join Kastus from Amber under the SFI Industry Fellowship Programme.
The collaboration has the potential to significantly impact how MRSA and other superbugs are controlled and prevented in hospital and community settings, according to Amber director Prof Michael Morris.
“This is an exciting move for Kastus, and demonstrates the links that we are continuing to forge with academia,” adds Kastus’s director of innovation and operations Dr James Kennedy. “We are already working with Crest [Centre for Research in Engineering Surface Technology] at the Dublin Institute of Technology, and believe that collaboration between academic research and industry is key to major breakthroughs in technology.”
Browne believes those collaborations offer a potentially rich seam of new technologies for the company to commercialise.
“We are starting to cast our net out to the third-level institutions to see if they have complementary technologies to ours which we can help bring to market. There are a lot of technologies and bright ideas in the third-level institutions which tend to stay in the lab because the people involved are not commercial animals.
“We know from experience that it’s a long, hard and expensive road to commercialise a technology, and we want to collaborate with them on this. We have already identified two technologies that we are working on.”
In terms of the core product, he says the intention is to become more selective in the sales effort.
“When you’re a start-up you can be a bit like an excited labrador chasing leaves around the garden. We have to guard against that, and refine our sales process to become a bit more choosy. We want to work with people who understand and appreciate the commercial advantages and the value-add that our product offers.”