14 Dec 2017 | 11.01 am
Interview: John Browne, Kastus
John Browne is spinning out DIT research in the form of Kastus
14 Dec 2017 | 11.01 am
Every year, taxpayers pay for hundreds of millions of euros worth of science research in third-level institutions. For this investment to be worthwhile, business people have to run with some of the scientific output, which is what John Browne is doing with Kastus.
A new antimicrobial technology was developed in the Centre for Research in Engineering Surface Technology (CREST) of the Dublin Institute of Technology. The aim is to help reduce the spread of infections caused by bacteria and fungus surviving on touch surfaces, especially in healthcare facilities. Manufacturers of glass, plastics, ceramics and paints will be able to include the technology on surfaces that people touch every day.
Browne, who was previously managing director of SmartGlass International, met with the DIT research team ten years ago. “I instantly understood the importance and the commercial opportunity, and I became involved in funding the research,” he recalls. “Getting to the point of having a patented and commercially available product took some time.”
In 2015, with the assistance of Dick Blake in Pembroke Consultants, Browne rustled up €150,000 from private investors and matched funding from Enterprise Ireland. “That allowed Kastus to fund an aggressive IP strategy and a development programme with CREST that gave us full access to their scientific and testing expertise,” Browne explains.
The coating, branded as Log4+, is unique in that it is indoor-light-activated. It is spray applied to a ceramic or glass surface during the manufacturing process and is then fired at high temperatures, forming a super-hard thin film that also provides easy clean functionality.
The product has been well received by ceramics manufacturers, says Browne. “We have recently performed scaling trials with several international sanitary ceramic and tile manufacturers with fantastic results. We expect the first customers to roll out production in Q3, with their toilets, sinks and tiles having Kastus technology as a standard finish.
“We are also receiving strong interest from smartphone manufacturers. A typical screen contains 20 times more harmful bacterial than a toilet seat and that they are a strong contributing factor to the spread of harmful bacteria and super bugs. This market will involve a long sales cycle but one that will present a very significant commercial opportunity.”
Investors believe the Kastus product has real potential. Last December, the company raised €1.5m in a funding round led by VC company Atlantic Bridge. Browne credits a strong business plan for convincing investors. “I also feel that we have an easy story to tell, a strong network, commercial experience, robust IP and a well-managed financial model.”
The Atlantic Bridge investment saw Chris Horn, the former boss of Iona Technologies, joining the Kastus board of directors. “Chris is a fantastic source of experience and advice and is very generous with his time,” Browne remarks.
Kastus recently won a Spin-Out Company Award from Knowledge Transfer Ireland, the body that encourages closer linkages between academia and business. “Academics can work at a different speed and sometimes without a hard commercial focus,” says Browne. “It took time but we managed to find a balance that worked to our mutual advantage.”
Six people are employed by Kastus and Browne says that finding skilled staff has not been a problem yet. “However, we do see this as being an issue in the mid-term as we expand the team, particularly in the area of sales and business development. Staying positive and really enjoying and believing in the company is key to success. Feck the begrudgers.”
Photo: John Browne (left) and Chris Horn