Belfast engineering graduate scoops top prize at Invent 2022

2 Sep 2022

George Higginson, Bank of Ireland; Peter Gilleece, winner of Invent 2022; Meg Magill, Invent programme manager; and Steve Orr, CEO of Catalyst. Image: Catalyst

Peter Gilleece said the £26,000 prize funding would help Vikela Armour to expand into industries such as automative and aerospace.

Vikela Armour has been named the winner of Invent 2022, the competition for innovative start-ups in Northern Ireland.

The start-up was established by Belfast-based engineering graduate Peter Gilleece, who is taking home £26,000 in prize money.

Gilleece set up the business to develop a new type of body armour that provides better protection and comfort than conventional flak jackets.

“Existing body armour leaves the head, arms and legs completely exposed and is built on an outdated concept. It is also too heavy, reducing the flexibility of movement and causes the wearer to become exhausted,” he explained.

“I wanted to address these issues, leading to the creation of Vikela Armour. Paramedics, motorcyclists, mine clearance charities, the military and many more industries can benefit from our lightweight, full-coverage products.”

Vikela Armour was one of 10 finalists picked to compete for the top prize at an event at the ICC Belfast last night (1 September).

Each start-up had to give a live one-minute elevator pitch to win £1,000. The audience attending the awards ceremony voted Vikela Armour as the winner of the best pitch.

The start-up also came top in the product category, which came with a £5,000 prize, before being named the overall winner and receiving another £20,000.

Gilleece said the prize money would enable his business to expand into more industries, including aerospace and automotive.

“We hope that in five years from now we will be growing our manufacturing base further within Northern Ireland and will be starting to design the next evolution of armour,” he said.

Other winners

Vikela Armour was not the only start-up to be awarded from the total prize fund of £50,000.

Queen’s University sensor spin-out Phasora was named the winner in the green-tech category; artificial intelligence software start-up Pulse AI came top in health and wellbeing; workplace platform Thunder was the business software category winner; and jewellery-sizing tech company Linc won for consumer software.

A newly introduced Inclusive Innovation award was also presented to Field of Vision, a start-up that uses AI to make live sport accessible to people with visual impairments. Field of Vision is a former winner of Trinity’s LaunchBox accelerator, as well as Engineers Ireland’s Innovative Student Engineer of the Year award.

Atlas Smart Technologies was named the winner of the Student Invent competition. The start-up has developed an adjustable dumbbell that uses a patent-eligible mechanism to allow users to change its weight from 4kg up to 30kg.

Invent is run annually by Northern Ireland science and tech hub Catalyst, with sponsorship from Bank of Ireland.

Last year’s Invent was won by Coleraine-based StimOxyGen, which focuses on technology that enhances the effects of cancer treatment by overcoming hypoxia in solid tumours.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Blathnaid O’Dea is Careers reporter at Silicon Republic