Facilitating the transfer of research knowledge to SMEs is at the heart of what online magazine tasteofscience.com aims to do. Here, Dr Helena McMahon – External Service Manager at Institute of Technology, Tralee, and co-founder of the website – explains the importance of this resource.
There are huge amounts of really valuable technology developments going into literature that food entrepreneurs are either not aware of, or can’t decipher from the knowledge that is presented,” explains Dr Helena McMahon. Collaboration between researchers and industry is key to drive innovation within the food sector. However, as Helena points out, many SMEs cannot access developments in research easily or understand how to apply these findings to their everyday business. With this in mind, Helena and a group of peers who were working on the European project TRADEIT – aimed at protecting Europe’s food heritage – were tasked with addressing this issue and the launch of www.tasteofscience.com followed in 2015.
Helena’s own career began with a keen interest in the human genome and how it worked. “I’ve always been fascinated with science and biology, and how things work,” she says. “I completed a degree in biomedical science in UCD, followed by a Masters in genetics in Trinity, examining why alterations in genetic code lead to particular disorders and how to leverage your genetic code to develop therapeutics in the whole area of personalised medicine.”
Helena went on to do a PhD in gene and cellular therapeutics focused on brittle bone disease before moving into the area of nutrigenomics, examining the impact of diet on the quality of pork at Teagasc. Her career in the area of food and food ingredients progressed at Shannon Applied Biotechnology Centre in Tralee where she spent time extracting polysaccharides from algae to use in functional foods. “The whole area of creating novel ingredients isolated from plants led me to the issue of funding to support technological transfer and innovation into food companies with the TRADEIT project.” The TRADEIT project was developed to support small scale food producers, particularly those that produce traditional or artisan food products. “Working on this project was enlightening in terms of the challenges that food companies encounter when dealing with technology from universities. A lot of the technology produced can be easily applied by large scale food companies however the vast majority of food businesses are SMEs and 80% have less than 10 employees. So, we decided to launch an online open innovation platform for the food industry that would present very technical scientific developments in a way that is more accessible to individuals who run SMEs. It offers the information in a journalistic style, explaining how the research can benefit businesses.” When Helena started working on tasteofscience.com she held the role of principle investigator within Shannon Applied Biotechnology Centre, working in the area of research and securing funding at a national level. Today, Helena is External Services Manager at Institute of Technology, Tralee – a role she explains is primarily around industry liaisons, engaging externally with companies within Tralee and nationally to try to identify opportunities for collaboration, encouraging strategic projects and partnerships. “This can be collaboration between the institute and industry or between academics where we can develop specific education programmes.”
The taste of science website is constantly growing and Helena views it as an important resource for Ireland’s SMEs working within the food sector. “We are growing our network and evolving our content. It started out with just a small group of partners and now we have grown our reach to over 10,000 SMEs across Europe.”
Commenting on the practical success of the website, Helena points to an example of one company that accessed research through the site. “A small Irish ice-cream producer was having trouble with its supply chain and managing the export of ice-cream from Ireland to Europe. The challenge was that the ice-cream was thawing en route and the company could not identify the point at which this was happening. With the research that they accessed on the site they were able to get a sensor that could be placed on their packages and therefore identify the break in their supply chain.”
The website is supported by social media accounts, which is a key part of the communication strategy: “Social media is a really powerful way of delivering short pieces of information to our readers and a lot of our engagement comes through Twitter and Facebook.” Users can also create a profile on tasteofscience.com to ensure they receive more targeted information and they can sign up for summary newsletters with articles that are in line with the company profile.
Looking forward, Helena says that they are keen to develop partnerships with universities: “It’s a tool that universities can use to promote their research output to the industry and also use it as an open science platform. And we would also like to start partnerships with food associations looking to get high quality content to their members.”
For more information visit www.tasteofscience.com
ABOUT DR HELENA MCMAHON
Hobbies: "I've recently taken up golf and there is nothing better than a good podcast and running by the sea with friends."
Favourite foods: "I'm not big on cooking but am really big on eating. Come to my house, bring a dish, and we can sit around chatting for hours."
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