Making it Work

Irish start-up Akara lands deal with UK hospital for its virus killing robots

The pandemic proved to be a blessing in disguise for the robotics start-up which has secured a contract with a UK hospital for its disinfection robots

Conor McGinn and Niamh Donnelly of Akara, at Royal Hosptial Donnybrook. Picture: Fergal Phillips

Irish healthcare automation start-up Akara has secured the first order for its ultraviolet light-based disinfection robots.

The robot is designed to clean rooms autonomously by learning the room structure of a hospital, for instance, and disinfecting where it can reach with the UV light.

Conor McGinn, co-founder of Akara, said: “Our technology helps to reduce the downtime of a hospital bedroom by a factor of seven. The staff only needs to clean those parts of the rooms manually that the robot marked on the map.”

The manual cleaning process could then be measured in seconds rather than minutes, McGinn said.

Akara was founded in 2019 as a spin-off from Trinity College Dublin. The founding team members are Niamh Donnelly, Conor McGinn, Cian Donovan and Eamonn Burke.

“We were already working on deploying robots in healthcare and we decided to face the problem [of] infections in hospitals and nursing homes,” said McGinn.

Fact File

Company: Akara

Founded by: Niamh Donnelly, Conor McGinn, Cian Donovan and Eamonn Burke

Staff: 10

Funding raised: €3 million in grants and equity funds

Thanks to the team’s expertise in robotics, the first prototype was built within weeks of the initial idea coming to them.

“It has been known for over a century that UV light can be used for disinfecting, but there was no technology that could effectively disinfect a whole room,” said McGinn.

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 came as a blessing in disguise for the start-up.

“It created the perfect storm for us, because the interest in disinfecting rose rapidly and we were able to deploy our prototypes in test-runs at hospitals,” said McGinn.

The company ran its first UK trial in June 2022. In April of this year, Akara was granted a CE label for its product, which confirms that it is deemed to meet EU safety, health and environmental protection requirements. Akara landed a UK hospital as its first commercial customer soon afterwards.

From the start, Akara set out to establish partnerships with healthcare experts, scientists and hospitals for development and research.

“Our goal is to integrate our robot into the workflow of hospitals so it will take work off of the staff rather than add further responsibilities,” said McGinn.

As Akara worked on operationalising its concept for hospitals, the team had to adapt its initial business model.

“Our plan was to offer a service model with a monthly fee, as you can find it with software. But then we learned that most hospitals have capital budgets and prefer buying the machinery,” said McGinn.

For an average-sized hospital, Akara estimates a need of 10 to 20 of its cleaning robots.

“We calculate with two robots per department,” added McGinn.

Akara employs a team of ten and raised a total of €3 million in grants and equity funding. In the initial funding phase, the team resorted to bootstrapping.

Funding was then raised through the European Innovation Council’s Accelerator programme in 2021, and through a partnership with chip giant Intel.

In April 2022, Akara took part in an angel funding round.

“We were also part of the Enterprise Ireland high potential start-up seed funding and we expect to work with Enterprise Ireland for the upcoming future,” McGinn added.

For the further development of its product, Akara, sees itself in a strong position compared to its competitors. “What sets us apart is that our robot does not need the amount of assistance from staff,” said McGinn.

“Our robot works more autonomously, so I would say that we offer a second to third generation product while our competition only produces on first generation level.”

The future development of Akara will broaden the focus on overall room-management, added McGinn. “We want to collect more data which can help the hospital to optimise the turnover times for rooms and beds.”

This Making it Work article is produced in partnership with Enterprise Ireland