Sean Mitchell and David Moloney were honoured with the Provost’s Innovation Award at the annual event in Trinity.
The third annual Trinity Innovation Awards were celebrated last night (5 December) in Trinity College Dublin at an intimate ceremony in Regent House. In his opening address, university provost Dr Patrick Prendergast, welcomed the event as an opportunity for Trinity to both emphasise innovation and evaluate its impact. He praised the university’s multidisciplined work and attention to all aspects of innovation with structures to enable it at all levels, crediting this for its success in innovation.
Considered Trinity’s highest accolade, the Provost Innovation Award predates the growing Innovation Awards ceremony and has been presented over the years to those determined to have made an outstanding contribution to innovation. Former recipients range from companies such as Intel (2009) and Havok (2007) to individuals such as Prof Luke O’Neill (2017) and Prof Vincent Wade (2018).
This year’s joint awardees were Sean Mitchell and David Moloney, founders of Movidius, the company that advanced computer vision and deep learning technology and was snapped up by Intel in 2016.
‘Persistence or resilience, in my experience, plays a very core role in innovation’
– SEAN MITCHELL
Closing the event with a speech, Mitchell noted that it was “very special that this award comes from Trinity” having first graduated from the university 30 years ago, and then again 15 years ago when Moloney was also there doing a PhD.
Speaking to his experience in building what became a model of Irish innovation success in Movidius, Mitchell said: “Persistence or resilience, in my experience, plays a very core role in innovation … Once we have ideas, the challenge now falls to us to turn those ideas into reality, and that plan is rarely a straight line.”
He challenged the oft-touted notion of failing fast in order to innovate as something “promoted by investors maybe more so than entrepreneurs”, as investors can afford to swing and miss while the individual behind a project may be banking on a home run to be successful. With that mentality, Mitchell said, Movidius would have failed, fast, and over and over again.
“You will get knocked down but you have to persist,” he advised his fellow innovators present at the event. “We can’t focus on trying to do something incrementally better when we innovate. We have to do something that’s fundamentally difficult.”
Innovation across disciplines
The Innovation Awards also saw Prof J Michael D Coey presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award, recognising his decades of innovative research as well as his contributions to the Irish science community as the founder of CRANN, the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices, and his idea to include a gallery space in the Naughton Institute, which led to the founding of the Science Gallery Dublin.
Led by Trinity Research & Innovation, with director Leonard Hobbs at the helm, the awards ceremony aims to celebrate the university’s prowess in research and innovation solutions with both social and economic impact.
In 2019, the university saw five new campus companies emerge alongside 13 patent applications, 19 licenses and 53 inventions disclosed. Trinity Research & Innovation also secured 58 collaboration agreements with industry and €5.1m in industry cash awards.
Each of the five new campus companies were recognised on the night: OneProjects, which aims to revolutionise the treatment of cardiac arrhythmias with a connected platform technology; Azadyne, a biotech spin-out seeking to disrupt the therapeutic options for autoimmune diseases; Exhaura, an ophthalmology gene therapy company focused on glaucoma treatment; Nexalus, which has developed products that increase the efficiency of cooling electronics, from gaming systems to data centres; and Head Diagnostics, the company behind the iTremor device for quick sports concussion diagnostics.
Campus spin-outs were also recognised with the Campus Company Founder Award, which was this year presented to Prof John Gilmer of Solvotrin Therapeutics. Headquartered in Cork, Solvotrin was founded in 2009 and works closely with Trinity scientists in the research and development of its products, such as the ActiveIron supplement. Gilmer leads this activity as VP of research and development.
Inventor of the Year was presented to Dr Tony Robinson, who is also a director at Nexalus, as well as Prof John Donegan from the School of Physics, who has been granted eight patents and is in licensing discussions for two other pieces of intellectual property.
The Ones-2-Watch Award was also presented to two winners: Dr Stephen Dooley, who was recently awarded more than €120,000 in funding from Science Foundation Ireland for his research into creating fuel from household and plant waste; and Dr David McCloskey from the School of Physics, whose nanothermal research has led to active collaborations with companies such as Nokia Bell Labs, Western Digital and Analog Devices.
Another double award was presented to the two Societal Impact winners. Dr Joan Cahill, a senior researcher and principal investigator with the Centre for Innovative Human Systems, was recognised for her multidisciplinary work on how humans interact with machines. Dr Carmel O’Sullivan was awarded for her research in the School of Education, particularly in the areas of arts-based pedagogy and autism.
Finally, the Industry Engagement Award was presented to Prof Michael Morris and Dr Lorraine Byrne, recognising the collaborative industry relationship they cultivated between the AMBER research centre and Merck in Ireland, the UK and the US.