Ailbhe and Izzy Keane win EU’s Rising Innovator award

25 Nov 2021

From left: Izzy and Ailbhe Keane from Izzy Wheels. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

The Irish entrepreneurs have been awarded €50,000 as part of the EU Prize for Women Innovators.

Ireland’s Ailbhe and Izzy Keane are taking home the title of Rising Innovator as part of the European Prize for Women Innovators 2021.

Celebrating its 10th year, the European Prize for Women Innovators is funded by the EU’s Horizon Europe programme for research and innovation and managed by the European Innovation Council (EIC) and SMEs Executive Agency.

Mariya Gabriel, EU commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education and youth, said the prize for women entrepreneurs and innovators is “especially close” to her heart and she’s proud the prize has helped to “change the narrative about women in leadership and encourage more girls to pursue a career in STEM”.

The €50,000 Rising Innovator award recognises women entrepreneurs aged 30 or under. The Keane sisters were the only Irish nominees in contention for the prize.

The Keanes founded Izzy Wheels, which creates fashionable wheelchair accessories. At Inspirefest 2017, design graduate Ailbhe detailed the thoughtful construction behind Izzy Wheels’ bespoke wheel covers, which are more than just a style statement.

Speaking at the EIC Summit in Brussels this morning (25 November), Ailbhe said running a business is about solving real-life problems. “If you can solve real problems that enhance people’s lives, then your work will become so much more enjoyable,” she said.

“All of the women that were recognised today, they’re doing work that is helping people and that’s so inspiring.”

Overall winners

A third of the entrepreneurs nominated overall for this year’s European Prize for Women Innovators were Irish. Nominees in the main category included Beats Medical CEO Ciara Clancy, Nova Leah CEO Anita Finnegan and SoapBox Labs founder Patricia Scanlon.

However, it was Merel Boers from the Netherlands, Mathilde Jakobsen from Denmark and Daphne Haim-Langford from Israel who took home the top prizes. Each of the three winners have been awarded €100,000.

Boers is the co-founder and CEO of Nicolab, a company offering cutting-edge technology to help physicians improve emergency care.

Jakobsen is the co-founder and CEO of Fresh.Land, a digital platform that shortens and digitises the food supply chain, providing easy access to good quality food.

Haim-Langford is the founder and CEO of Tarsier Pharma, a company developing tech to help with the treatment and cure of autoimmune and inflammatory ocular diseases.

EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the winners are all using technologies to bring positive change to the world. “This shows how much innovation is the answer to our future’s most pressing challenges. It also sends a strong signal that we need many more women in the tech sector.”

At the EIC Summit this week, Dublin was also up for the title of European Capital of Innovation. The top award ultimately went to Dortmund, but the Irish capital shared the runner-up title and received a €100,000 prize.

With additional reporting by Blathnaid O’Dea

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

Jenny Darmody is the deputy editor of Silicon Republic