Savings app among student innovations funded at UCD

18 Apr 2014

Ciara O'Brien, executive MBA student at the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School and one of the innovators behind the iSave app

Ciara O’Brien wants to build an app that can help you save online for the luxuries in life. Claire O’Connell found out more.

Have you ever had your eye on a luxury and saved up your spare cash until you could afford it? Whether you’re dreaming of a holiday abroad, a meal in “that” restaurant or walking out of the shop in “that” pair of shoes, the satisfaction of watching those savings grow is almost as good as splashing out when you reach the target.

O’Brien, an executive MBA student at the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, has an idea to deliver that motivation through a different medium: an app called iSave. And she and her fellow innovators have just been awarded their own pot of cash through the UCD Student Innovation Fund to help make it a reality.

Online ‘folders’ for savings

The idea for the iSave app came about when the students were working on their capstone project in the MBA, explains O’Brien.

“For that we were working with the credit union, looking at recommendations to make them more contemporary and relevant to younger customers,” she says. “And one idea that came out of it was to give people the ability to manage multiple savings targets all in the one place online.”

O’Brien was inspired by seeing how her friends manage their extra cash when saving for something.

“A lot of my friends are girls in their late 20s or 30s and they would be saving for a holiday, or a weekend away, or maybe in the run-up to Christmas, and they would put the money aside offline in envelopes,” she says. “So we thought (was) what about an online service where you could create a target of between €100 and €1,000 and then rather than having one lump sum in your balance you could have these smaller ‘folders’ where you could see the money building up, it would be highly motivating.”

High-interest idea

The idea sparked such interest that the students decided to develop it further, and they entered the UCD Student Innovation Fund competition. At the Dragons’ Den-style final in UCD earlier this month, the pitch landed them €5,000 to build a prototype, explains O’Brien.

“We wanted funding to design the front end of an app so we have something more tangible we could share with the credit union and focus groups to get their feedback as we go to final build,” she says. “The back end of the app is very important, but for me how it looks and feels is the key thing that can grab the customers and let us move forward with this, so we are looking at design companies at the moment and hoping to bring it to the next phase as soon as possible.”

From languages to apps

O’Brien originally studied applied languages at the University of Limerick, though she admits maths was her other favourite subject at school. And she gravitated back towards the numbers when she moved to London to train as a chartered accountant with KPMG.

From there she moved back to her native Cork and for more than three years has worked with PepsiCo, where she is a supply chain strategy manager. She decided to take on the MBA as a route to getting broader exposure in business, and that in turn has led to the iSave concept getting up and running with the support from the UCD Student Innovation Fund, a new fund established by the UCD Student Centre in association with the UCD Students’ Union.

Range of innovations

Another female innovator who pitched successfully at the event is Ciara Keane, a UCD physiology undergraduate student. She received €3,000 in funding for her idea to establish a website that will allow women to read and review women’s health products all across the world, to help them find a product that will best suit their needs.

“I want to help women make informed choices about the health products they were buying, saving them both time and money,” she says. “Thanks to the UCD Student Innovation Fund, I can now do this.”

Other awardees include engineering student Andrew Cullen for a muscle rolling product; Shane Keaveney for a method of creating high-quality, dry, energy-dense pelleted material for fuel applications from low-quality, wet biomass or waste; John O’Donnell and Jonathan Gorman for a carpooling service for Irish college students, and Donal Tobin for a “LinkedIn for students” to assist with graduate recruitment. The early stage innovations were awarded a combined €15,500 through the fund.

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Accenture Ireland, Intel, the Irish Research Council, ESB, CoderDojo and Science Foundation Ireland. You can nominate inspiring women in the fields of STEM via email at or on Twitter at @siliconrepublic

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication