Bia Innovator Campus (CLG ) has confirmed this week that it is on course to start welcoming food companies to the campus in January, and is calling on businesses to register their interest in the facility by November 27. The campus will hold its official opening in summer 2021.
The state-of-the-art food innovation campus, located at Teagasc in Athenry, will transform the food entrepreneurship landscape in the west of Ireland by addressing the growing need for workspace infrastructure and innovation services among start-up, growing, and established food producers in the region.
More than 40 food companies will be welcomed to the campus from January 2021, ahead of its official opening in the summer. Producers will also have the opportunity to connect with advisory teams and educators under the themes of production, collaboration, education and innovation, creating 360 jobs for the region.
“With challenge comes opportunity, and Covid-19 has put the spotlight on our food sector and the critical supply chains from farm to fork,” said Peter Feeney, chairperson of the Bia Innovator board. “If anything, the demand for local, high-quality, food produce has increased. BIA Innovator Campus is ready to provide the infrastructure, the programmes, and the community to help a new generation of food entrepreneurs with the potential to grow but lack the space to do so.
The campus represents an investment of €7 million and three and a half years of determined effort by the voluntary board of BIA Innovator Campus CLG.
“When we shared our vision for this project in 2017, the reaction from the food sector was very encouraging,” Mr Feeney added. “They told us they needed food-grade space to produce and grow their businesses. They needed food-specific technical support and business guidance in a more accessible way. Already, over 50 expressions of interest have been received.”
Twelve food units, appropriately called BIA Obair, will be made available for independent lease for companies in both starter and growth sizes, giving them unlimited access to work on the campus.
BIA Innovator Campus will also offer four co-working kitchens, the only facilities of their kind in the country, offering a vital first step for aspiring food entrepreneurs who want to research and develop food products without the financial risk of taking on a full-time kitchen. With dedicated units for meat, dairy, and seafood along with a consumer foods kitchen, each will be equipped with the latest industry processing equipment. Producers will only need to supply their ingredients and their packaging.
BIA Innovator Campus will also provide three on-site food innovation technology specialists who will work with food entrepreneurs to solve technical and production challenges and help them to discover innovative, competitive, advantages.
The campus also has ambitions to become a major promoter of food tourism and events. As part of the current call for expressions of interest, acting general manager of the BIA Innovation Campus, Sarah Hanley, is also calling on chefs and artisan producers to come forward with food tourism and food ‘performance’ ideas that capture the rich story of Irish culture in foods and flavours, and food producers for locals and visitors to discover as part of BIA Blas, a food tourism programme which will be rolled out at its 60-seat theatre.
“We’re delighted to be on track for our summer 2021 opening,” Ms Hanley said this week. “Today is a significant milestone in the project as we encourage expressions of interest across the campus. We intend to connect a community of food champions in Ireland West by hosting food tourism events and more, and so I would encourage anyone with a passion for food to get in touch to become part of our growing tribe.
“This is an opportunity for food businesses that perhaps already have a great product but need the expert guidance and space to grow,” she added. “It’s important to note, particularly in light of the effects of Covid-19 on unemployment, that the BIA Innovator Campus offers the opportunity to reshape careers through upskilling in the food and hospitality sector.”
Expressions of interest can be submitted until November 27 and are open to those who wish to find out more about BIA Innovator Campus, along with producers in need of business support and those in the food community with food tourism ideas.
To submit an expression of interest and to be kept up to date on all news from BIA Innovator Campus, visit www.biainnovatorcampus.ie and register your interest.