Inventive engineering takes top prize at Northern Ireland start-up showcase

12 Oct 2018

Julie and David Gray of Gray’s Clip with Gavin Kennedy (left) from headline sponsor Bank of Ireland UK. Image: Brian Morrison

This year’s Invent Awards spotlighted 12 innovative early-stage start-ups in a celebration of Northern Ireland’s STEM solutions.

At Invent 2018, 12 early-stage start-ups took to the stage with a dozen promising ideas. There were prizes for six category winners along with an audience vote on their impressively concise 60-second pitches, but only one could take the night’s overall top prize.

Gray’s Clip, from husband-and-wife team David and Julie Gray, now joins Phion Therapeutics, Jumpack and more on the growing list of top Invent winners. This clever plastic clip for electrical cables has been engineered for use with a battery-powered stapler, enabling electricians to secure cables to wooden joists and structures with no hammering required. It offers speed, simplicity and efficiency but, most importantly, safety.

“Julie and David demonstrated outstanding commitment, passion and belief towards realising their ambition in bringing their idea, Gray’s Clip, to market,” said Gavin Kennedy, representing event sponsor Bank of Ireland UK. “Witnessing such determination and vision from them and all of the participants highlights what an inspiration our local entrepreneurs are for Northern Ireland in business and the wider community.”

Everyone’s a winner

The top Invent prize, along with the category win in Engineering, gives Gray’s Clip a further £13,000 for its coffers, as well as a bespoke trip to the US in 2019.

The other category winners on the night, all taking a share of the total £33,000 prize fund, were Crafted Equestrian (Agri Science), Machine Eye (Electronics), SonoTarg (Life and Health Science), Importwise (Enterprise Software) and GoFyt (Creative Media). GoFyt also won over the crowd with a memorable one-minute elevator pitch delivered in costume.

But while these were the crowned winners of the event, all 12 companies partaking in the night’s celebrations could walk away knowing they had been selected as the best among a record-breaking 131 entrants to the Invent programme overall.

Lifelong innovators

The annual Invent competition gives early-stage entrepreneurs the chance to present their ideas to an audience of 700 gathered from Northern Ireland’s sci-tech scene. The event is hosted by Connect, a not-for-profit network that supports an ambitious vision for Northern Ireland’s knowledge economy. Underwritten by Catalyst Inc, Connect runs an intensive development programme to nurture new entrepreneurs joining the scene.

The 10th anniversary event came with a fond farewell to Catalyst Inc CEO Dr Norman Apsley, who will be handing over the reins to Steve Orr, currently the director of Connect, on 1 November 2018.

As well as honouring their outgoing CEO and promising young start-ups, Invent 2018 paid tribute to a lifelong innovator, Dr John Rainey of Denroy Group. Presented with the 2018 Innovation Founder award, he recounted his time at the helm of Denroy Group since 1972. A key point in this story was the acquisition of Denman and the production of an iconic hairbrush still popular to this day, while Denroy Group has expanded its diverse range of plastic products to include medical devices and aircraft components.

“The Invent competition is continuing to grow each year, proving that Northern Ireland is bursting with innovation. Tonight, we see a culmination of several months of hard work and, as always, we are overwhelmed with the energy and enthusiasm from everyone involved,” said Invent programme manager Kerry McGarvey after what was a successful night in Belfast.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.