Bia Innovator Campus seeks expressions of interest

Bia Innovator Campus has announced that despite the universal challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s on course to open next summer, and is seeking expressions of interest from the food community, to be registered before November 27.

The campus aims to transform the food entrepreneurship landscape in the west of Ireland by addressing the region’s growing need for workspace infrastructure and innovation services among start-up, growing and established food producers.

Over 40 food companies will be welcomed to the campus from January next, 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.

The state-of-the-art campus is co-located at Teagasc, Athenry, Co. Galway, and represents an investment of €7 million and three-and-a-half years of determined effort by the voluntary board of BIA Innovator Campus CLG.

New generation of food entrepreneurs

Peter Feeney, chairperson of the Bia Innovator Board, said that the development was an exciting one.

“With  challenge comes opportunity and Covid-19 has put the spotlight on our food sector and the critical supply chains from farm-to-fork. 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.

“When we shared our vision for this project in 2017, the reaction from the food sector was very encouraging. 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.”

12 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.

Co-working kitchens

Unique to Ireland, BIA Innovator Campus will offer four co-working kitchens, supporting the 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, seafood along with a consumer foods kitchen, all 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 offer 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.

Along with supporting businesses, the campus also has ambitions to become a major promoter of food tourism and events.

‘Growing tribe’

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 story of Irish cultures, foods, 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 and 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.

“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,” Sarah said.

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.