£25K awards open for Northern Ireland’s scientific researchers

12 Mar 2012

At the launch of the 2012 NISP Connect €25K Awards are (from left) Neil Buchanan, from last year's winner Flish; Judith Scott, senior business manager, Bank of Ireland UK; and Roisin Clancy, programme manager, NISP Connect

NISP Connect and Bank of Ireland UK have launched the 2012 £25K awards programme which reaches out to Northern Ireland’s research base involved in pioneering innovations around the clean-tech, biotech, high-tech and digital media and software sectors.

Bank of Ireland UK sponsors the NISP Connect Awards, which seek out the most innovative scientific talent in Northern Ireland’s research community and to help such researchers commercialise their ideas.

Last year’s winner of the awards programme was Flish. Hailing from Queen’s University Belfast, the researchers behind Flish developed a low-cost, low-power antenna they say has the capacity to pick up satellite signals automatically. The team is now commercialising its idea, by setting its sights on the global antenna market, especially around the commercial satellite broadband area.

NISP Connect itself is a non-profit organisation that aims to foster entrepreneurship in Northern Ireland by accelerating the growth of promising technologies and early stage companies. It’s a collaboration between Northern Ireland Science Park (NISP), the University of Ulster, Queen’s University Belfast and the Agri-Food Bioscience Institute.

Knowledge economy

Steve Orr, the director of NISP Connect, said this morning that the aim of the stg£25k awards is to find the best IP or knowledge-based ideas from the high-tech, biotech, clean tech and digital media and software sectors within Northern Ireland’s research community.

“If we are to transform Northern Ireland into an entrepreneurial knowledge economy it is vital that we encourage local innovation by connecting those with the best ideas to experienced industry mentors and investors who can help commercialise them,” he said.

Commercially viable research

Neil Buchanan, a team member from Flish, said that winning the £25K award last year helped the team to transit from just undertaking lab research and publishing papers to looking at commercial potential, surveying markets and engaging with industry.

“We have always aspired to have real-life applications with this research and from the start we have been convinced of the benefits and the global market potential,” he said.

Buchanan said Flish’s compact antenna innovation has the ability to point to a signal in milliseconds. He said it has further applications in the military and disaster relief market when a team may only have minutes to set up a life-saving video link.  

Since winning the 2011 awards, Buchanan said the researchers have been engaging with a number of major international satellite communications companies, as well as working with Queen’s to spin out Flish.

“We have been successful in obtaining almost £250,000 of development funding that will allow us to recruit engineering resources and take our proof-of-concept demonstrator into two different application prototypes,” he explained.

Those entering this year’s awards must submit a two-page concept plan within one of four categories – high tech, biotech, clean tech or digital media and software – by 20 April.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic