The Monday Interview: Pollination technology creates buzz

In two years, Cork native Fiona Edwards Murphy has gone from winning UCC’s Ignite Business of the Year award to closing a €1.5m financing round with international venture capital investors, writes Pádraig Hoare.

Pollination is a burgeoning billion dollar industry — and Cork native Fiona Edwards Murphy is at the forefront of revolutionary technology aimed at safeguarding a third of the food we eat daily.

UCC graduate Fiona Edwards Murphy spotted a gap in the market, applying IoT technology to monitor honey bee colonies.

ApisProtect, an Irish agtech innovator using the Internet of Things (IoT) to monitor honey bee colonies, last week closed a €1.5m seed round of financing led by top-tier international venture capital investors Finistere Ventures and Atlantic Bridge Capital.

Radicle Growth, the Yield Lab and Enterprise Ireland also participated in the investment round of the firm, which was co-founded by Kanturk native Dr Edwards Murphy, who is also its chief executive.

ApisProtect technology provides real-time hive monitoring, powered by satellite-enabled sensors that are retrofitted to existing beehives.

Ms Edwards Murphy’s work on the topic of hive monitoring has received acclaim across the world.

How big can the industry get?

“There are 91 million beehives in the world, so 91m sensors. Our plan is about 300,000 hives over the next five years.

Our first American office is open in Salinas in California, a real heart of the pollination industry. It’s great to be in the middle of all these growers, with all these crops, that are so dependent on the bees.

“Pollination is a billion-dollar industry, and is growing very rapidly. It’s booming in the US and is growing in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada — any country that grows a significant amount of nuts or soft fruit, things like that,” Ms Edwards Murphy said.

Like many great entrepreneurial minds, the UCC graduate spotted a gap in the market and the idea blossomed.

“My background is in electronic engineering. I did my undergrad in UCC in electronic and electrical engineering. I got involved with the Embedded Systems group, which is the research area that IoT falls under. I knew I wanted to do a PhD on wireless sensor network applications, which is basically IoT, even though it wasn’t called that back then.

At the same time, it was when people were beginning to panic about bees — things like colony collapse disorder; it was all over the news. I was learning about bees and how important they are, and how important they are for our food, and I thought to myself, has anyone tried using IoT technology on it? I checked, nobody had, and I said that is what I am going to do my PhD on

- Ms Edwards Murphy said.

She participated in UCC’s international award-winning business start-up programme Ignite, that supports recent third-level graduates to turn innovative ideas into successful, scalable businesses.

She won the Ignite Business of the Year Award in 2016.

“The Ignite programme was brilliant. I had loads of technical knowledge, after spending eight years studying engineering basically, but I didn’t know anything about accountancy or sales or marketing.

“Ignite was brilliant in basically bringing you up to speed on that — here’s 600 things you need to know if you want to be an entrepreneur.

It basically turned me into a grownup,” she said. With the focus on encouraging more young women into science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers, Dr Edwards Murphy is happy if she can inspire others.

She is adamant that technology should be obligatory in schools, and insists she would be delighted to pass on the lessons she has learned to aspiring entrepreneurs along the way. “I’m doing my thing, and if people find it inspiring, that’s great.

“Passing on what I have learned is very important to me, because it is such a massive part of the entrepreneurial world here in Cork. There is such a focus on helping each other out. It is something I really appreciated, and is something I want to continue to be involved in.

“Technology is now such a fundamental part of our lives, there are no jobs that children will grow up and do that won’t involve apps, computers, software and things like that. I don’t see why everyone can’t do it the way they do geography or history,” she said.

Headed up by Ms Edwards Murphy, Pádraig Whelan and Andrew Wood, it is a team with complementary backgrounds including engineering, scientific, beekeeping, and commercial experience.

“I definitely didn’t realise when I started my PhD that this is where I would end up, and even when I started ApisProtect, it has gone so far so quickly. We’ve already got seven employees and we will go to 25 over the next three years.

“I spent the last six years working on hive monitoring technology, had a lot of installs, but they’ve only been in Ireland, so it’s great to see what the beekeepers and the bees themselves are like all over the world, and how our sensors are responding to the different kinds of climates. It’s very exciting; we’re doing another 50 installs in the US this week. It’s Florida we are going to next, having done 144 hive installs between the US, the UK, and Ireland, and we’ll be going to South Africa before the end of the year. It really is all go.”


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