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Ireland’s first National Centre of Excellence dedicated to supporting start up, micro and small food businesses was officially opened by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Athenry, Co. Galway today, Friday, 26th January. BIA Innovator Campus will drive regional and national growth in Ireland’s agri-food sector and is designed to facilitate the launch and development of new and existing food businesses at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey.

The impressive new state of the art campus, which spans 3 buildings over 23,000 square feet, is co-located on the Teagasc, Athenry Campus and is the first of its kind in Ireland. Addressing the food community’s specific need for food grade workspace, the campus offers 4 fully kitted-out pay-per-use production units and 12 independent “own door” production units for lease.

The campus also comprises a 60-seat auditorium with culinary demonstration space, 14 station Culinary Training Centre, 12 hot desks to allow BIA tenants and non-tenants to work, a podcast studio, a showcase room, and a range of meeting rooms available for rent to tenants and non-tenants alike.

In addition to these facilities, the BIA Innovator Campus team also provide a powerful mix of technical, innovation and commercial supports to the food community and benefits from direct links to research, development, and innovation within the Teagasc Food Programme.

Leo Varadkar and campus general manager Elaine Donohue
Leo Varadkar and Teresa Roche, Kylemore Farmhouse Cheese
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Lisa Kleiner and Anne O'Sullivan from Nibbed Cacao
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Lisa Kleiner and Anne O'Sullivan from Nibbed Cacao

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who officially opened the new campus today said: “Congratulations to BIA Innovator on their new state-of-the-art Campus which is unique in bringing food sector incubation and innovation together in one location. This provides considerable benefits to individual companies and entrepreneurs working here in Athenry, in Galway and the West, and will also contribute to the national development of our most important indigenous sector – agri-food. Irish food producers have an enviable reputation for quality at home and around the world. As the country and the sector transitions towards more sustainable production, it is essential that we increase the value of our food in order to maintain rural and regional jobs.”

Speaking at the launch Elaine Donohue, General Manager of the BIA Innovator Campus said “Our focus at BIA is to help facilitate strong business and manufacturing foundations for Ireland’s micro and small food producers. Teaching good standards at an early stage will assist in growing sustainable livelihoods and achieving business goals. We have seen from Bord Bia’s most recent Export Performance and Prospects report that Ireland’s food and drink exports are now valued at €16.3b. It’s an exciting time to be a part of this buoyant sector and we are delighted to now officially open the campus offering affordable access to production spaces, knowledge, and innovation resources’’

More than €8 million has been provided in capital funding from Enterprise Ireland, Department of Rural and Community Development, Galway County Council, Teagasc, Galway Rural Development/LEADER and the Western Development Commission to deliver the project. The BIA Innovator Campus has the highest impact collaboration of public, industry, community, and education backing assembled to date in the Irish food sector.

In addition to the impressive on-site spaces, the BIA Innovator Campus will host a calendar of in-house events as well as facilitating several education and training courses delivered by the Galway Roscommon Education Training Board. Looking to build knowledge, relationships, and opportunities outside of Ireland, the BIA Innovator Campus is currently active in the EU project sphere and working on a number of European food and entrepreneurship-focused Erasmus+ and Interreg projects.

Ian Brannigan, Head of Regional Development and Gillian Buckley, Western Investment Fund Manager at the launch of Bia Innovator Campus

Ian Brannigan, Head of Regional Development at WDC and a founding board member of BIA stated:

Western Development Commission has been an early-stage supporter of BIA Innovator Campus. We believed in the potential and aspirations of the project and matched this by approving €1m loan through our Western Investment Fund. Our regional development team have been instrumental in supporting BIA to secure direct finance and access EU finance with over €200k recently secured with assistance from WDC. We believe in the capacity of the board and staff to become a regional and national anchor for food innovation and develop a global presence. Our focus over the coming months and years will be on assisting them to link with the wider regional economy in sectors like tourism and creative industries.

Enterprise Ireland Chairman Michael Carey said: “BIA Innovator Campus will be a game changer for Galway and the Atlantic Economic corridor. The state-of-the-art incubation and food production facilities, alongside the business and technical supports provided, will enhance the strength, resilience and innovation of new and existing food businesses in Ireland. Enterprise Ireland has been proud to support BIA Innovator with funding of more than €5m, mainly through the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF), to support the growth of the indigenous food sector.”

Representing Galway County Council at the launch, the Chief Executive Liam Conneally spoke of the importance of the facility as a driver for the food industry for the region, the importance of the Galway Local Enterprise Office in supporting clients of BIA and the opportunity it represents for Athenry to be firmly placed as a centre of food innovation for the future.

Speaking at the launch in Athenry, Chief Operations Officer in Teagasc Alan Phelan said: “We are delighted to be working with all the partners in this new BIA Innovator Campus, which will provide food companies and budding entrepreneurs with the facilities and expertise to develop their ideas and new food products and grow their businesses. Strategically located in Athenry in the west of Ireland, it complements the suite of facilities in the Teagasc Food Programme at its other locations.”

BIA Innovator Campus is a not-for-profit CLG company benefiting from a high-profile, voluntary Board of Directors led by chairperson Peter Feeney.