Growth June 9, 2012 Last updated September 19th, 2018 2,470 Reads share

An SME Exterminating The Big Bug Competition. It’s SuperNemos!

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I interviewed

What is the difference between Chemical Pesticides and Bio-pesticides?

Insecticides fall into two camps; chemical or non-chemical biological controls (which is basically nature controlling nature). More than 99% of insects on the planet are beneficial, less than 1% of insect pests cause damage to food crops or garden plants. And this ratio of 1:99 explains most differences.

Some chemical sprays can be diluted to the extent that they cost only one percent of a comparative bio-control product. However most chemical sprays will contaminate 99% of the soil where no pests are present, and often misses the 1% where pests are hiding (inside the plant root systems).  Most of the 99% of beneficial insects cannot survive chemical attacks, whereas most of the 1% pests have evolved resistance to the point where more toxic chemicals must be introduced year after year. Such a chemical tread mill soon kills most microscopic soil life and stunts plant growth thereafter.

A biological control like SuperNemos only targets the specific insect pest, and when the pest population is decimated, the nematodes simply perish owing to a lack of food sources (specific insect pests) in the soil. While initially more expensive, suitable biological control products will allow for sustainable and healthy soil. Experts have reported that after a three year period, there is a much lesser pest presence and thus dosage requirements diminish significantly.

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How long has SuperNemos been in the making and how did you find out about the invention?

Testing the product for commercial use began in late 2006, with home garden trials commencing in 2009.  I knew the inventor Dr. Abdul Al-Amidi several years before he came up with the invention. In 2001 we worked together on a Nursery project in Monaghan, and during a conversation, over a cup of tea, Abdul talked about his previous inventions that were making fortunes for other people, but nothing for him!  I told Abdul to give me a call next time he came up with something useful. In 2006, Abdul called. He “had something useful.”

What is your business background, what made you invest and what did you bring to the table for the business?

By profession I am a Financial Advisor with several degrees in Commercial Law and Applied Finance. Work experience includes serving as a regulatory compliance officer for financial institutions and – previous to SuperNemos – a few years managing an Irish horticultural Nursery. Interesting worlds, not just penance.

When Abdul said he had “something useful”, I instinctively knew there was an opportunity to invest in ‘something great.’

To take an idea – regardless of its merits – from concept to the export market, an understanding of resources (both personnel and capital), structure, legalities and time lines are essential. Both the chemical and bio-insecticide industries have many tales of despair when ventures similar to SuperNemos ran up costs in the hundreds of millions, and took over 10-years to reach failure in the market. Thus our financial discipline and rigorous approach eventually took the invention from the garden shed to the export market. Also keeping the enterprise debt free and returning a moderate surplus is a point of fiscal management about which our bankers are frequently reminded.

SuperNemos was developed in the “garden shed” and is now a product to compare with Multi-Nationals. Who would be your competitors and what is the difference with your product?

Our direct competitors include the two large European corporations which produce most of the world’s bio-control products, including nematode products. Other competitors include ALL chemical pesticide producers. Nematode products have been available for over thirty years, while synthetic chemical pesticides have been in use since just after the Second World War.

Prior to SuperNemos chemical sprays were the preferred option for both commercial growers and hobby gardeners. Industrial commentators and commercial growers say that no more than 40% to 60% crop protection was obtained using traditional nematodes. Often growers suffered large scale losses despite heavy doses of commercial nematodes. And because nematode products have been strictly pest specific, in that for every garden pest family a different nematode product was needed, the cost doubled with every pest in the garden.

However our biggest initial obstacle was overcoming the professional and public perception of the dreadful reputation that all nematode products had prior to SuperNemos.

A few years later, SuperNemos has changed commercial growers’ opinion of biological control, reducing losses close to zero. And for hobby gardeners there is no longer a need to be an expert in pest identification; one packet of SuperNemos targets all soil born insect pests. And with just two applications per year (spring and autumn) required it soon becomes as economical as chemical sprays. For the public SuperNemos has allowed several public parks in Ireland to completely switch away from chemical sprays, making the environment safer for visiting pets and children.  

I spoke to some users of SuperNemos to get their opinion too.

Noel Kearns of Kearns Fruit Farm, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford says, “we have been producing soft fruit since the 1950’s for a variety of retails throughout the country, and vine weevil has been a constant and ever present danger, often causing serious damage to field crops, resulting in large loss of yield.  Since the arrival of SuperNemos we have enjoyed an astounding 95% crop protection rate for the past three years. We have never seen anything like this before.  In our opinion SuperNemos is the best and the only product we could ever recommend for protection against vine weevil.”

Bernard Seal is the Technical Manager at O’Connor Nurseries, Gorey, Co. Wexford and he explains, “We used SuperNemos for our Xmas crop of Poinsettas. If we hadn’t used SuperNemos then we would have had to use a harsh chemical which isn’t good for the plant or the environment. We find it saves at least 10-15% more of the crop and it’s cheaper to use thus saving us money.”

Jimmy Kearns is the National Chairman of Ireland’s Soft Fruit Growers Association and he told me “prior to this product they were using others which weren’t working, sometimes losing between 50 – 100% of crops, so SuperNemos has increased yields and therefore increased employment too. For us it is the only answer.”

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This is an Irish invention – please tell me about the local and national help you have received and the Awards you have achieved?

SuperNemos is the first broad spectrum bio-insecticide to have been researched and developed in Ireland. After initial ‘garden shed’ trials we sought assistance from the horticultural industry. Professional horticulture in Ireland is more like a large extended family rather than a ‘dispassionate industry.’ From day one we were ‘adopted’ into the large family and at every turn, assistance has always been just one phone call away.  Getting the invention to the market depended on such enormous generosity from Irish opinion leaders such as Pat Fitzgerald who provided lab facilities, materials and staff to conduct the first nursery trials; Chelsea Gold Medal Winners Paul and Orla Woods monitored trials in their nursery; Jim Clarke of the five star Johnstown Garden Centre has been a staunch advocate for the invention.

Recent success at being a short listed company for the prestigious All Ireland Times/InterTradeIreland Awards and 2012 Green Awards, winning Green Product and Green Innovation categories, is solely a reflection of the above generosity and assistance. As these accolades were awarded by renowned business leaders and an independent international judging panel, they gave deep satisfaction that SuperNemos had become the first ever nematode product to win major industrial awards.

On a personal level, I saw a humorous irony that most of the corporations reaching these finals had a larger annual budget for tea and biscuits than SuperNemos had for Research and Development.

This Irish invention will obviously create positive results for the Irish economy; can you explain how?

Beyond immediate cost savings and the employment stability SuperNemos has brought to the commercial sector, there is a more positive message to be found.  As a newly bankrupt economy, Ireland is busy searching for new home grown business and new innovations. Major changes are underway in gardening, horticulture and agriculture. For example in any garden centre in Ireland more than 90% of the accessory products on the shelves are imported; horticultural advisors lack comprehensive knowledge on working the soil in a chemical free era; and despite rocketing fuel prices our supermarket shelves are still stocked with food imports which could be grown in Ireland.

The SuperNemos success story is part of the positive buzz. It proves that all segments of the horticultural industry from fruit growers, nurseries, garden centres and even home gardeners are more than willing to support Irish micro inventions. The missing piece of the jigsaw however is the absence of a Green Technology Enterprise Fund and a Green Seed Capital facility to assist the new breed of Irish horticultural.

What is next for Nemos Horticultural?

The patent for SuperNemos has been granted in several jurisdictions. The success of SuperNemos depended on Dr. Al-Amidi’s inventive talents which have revolutionised horticulture. We have several other inventions seeking investment. There is no logical reason why Ireland cannot have its own bio-control industry, and be a global leader in horticultural exports.

This interview has definitely been one of the best “good news” stories I’ve done so far. Not only that but Ciaran Walsh was fascinating to talk to – just listening to his energy, excitement and belief in SuperNemos was really lovely to hear. If you have read this far I’m sure you will have some comments for Ciaran and Dr Al-Amidi.

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Sian Phillips

Sian Phillips

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