Lewis Loane becomes first undergraduate to win top prize at Invent Awards

11 Oct 2019

Torann founder Lewis Loane. Image: TechWatch

Student Lewis Loane won the overall prize for his Signal Optimiser, which aims to improve the sound quality between guitars and amps.

Ahead of this year’s Catalyst Invent Awards, TechWatch’s Emily McDaid has been keeping us up to date with the 12 finalists in the competition.

Among this year’s entrants, there was a team that wants to make the management of asthma easier, a student who designed tools to help kids learn how to write, a founder who developed a Tinder-like site for personal carers, and a pair of young tech entrepreneurs who developed an app to detect crop disease.

Those are just four of the innovative entries from across Northern Ireland that made it to the finals of the 2019 Invent Awards.

Last night (10 October), Catalyst finally announced the winner as Lewis Loane, the creator of Signal Optimiser, a product designed to significantly improve the sound quality between a guitar and amplifier.

Catalyst has awarded the young man from Newtownards a prize of £13,000 from the total prize fund of £33,000. The organisers of the competition said he is “well on his way to having his product recognised as a must-have for serious music aficionados”.

Loane, who is a student of electronics and electrical engineering at Queen’s University Belfast, was one of more than 100 entrants across six categories.

The Catalyst Invent Award winners

While Loane took home the overall prize and the prize for the Electronics category, the winners of the five other categories each took home a prize of £3,000.

The prize for Best Agri Science Product went to CropSafe, an AI and satellite-based farming solution; the prize for Life and Health Science went to Airbrio, a respiratory management system for asthma and COPD; the prize of Best Engineering Product went to Concrete Jungle, which is a manufacturer of bio-receptive facade panels for the outside of buildings.

The winner of the prize for Creative Media and Consumer Internet was Personal Carer, a platform for people with disabilities and the elderly to find experienced carers in their area, while the prize for Enterprise Software went to Obbi Solutions, an app that digitises business processes in HR, operations and health and safety.

Another winner at the event was Denis Murphy, who was named as the 2019 Innovation Founder, an award that recognises success in founding, leading or building a celebrated local innovative business.

Murphy is the co-founder and CEO of cloud service company Anaeko and has more than 20 years’ experience in IT and mobile telecoms, founding and managing a number of locally based tech companies including Apion and Mobile Cohesion.

Signal Optimiser

Ahead of the Invent Awards, Loane told McDaid: “I was in a guitar shop and I played a Gibson guitar and plugged it into a mid-range amplifier – it sounded amazing. But when I brought it home and plugged it into my higher-end amplifier, the sound quality wasn’t good.”

It was then that Loane conceived Signal Optimiser. He said: “I looked into fixing this problem. The signal value at the instrument is constantly changing depending on whether the volume is up or down. I created a signal adjustor that is always providing optimum value when it’s plugged in between the instrument and amplifier.”

Loane’s company Torann – the Irish word for noise – also plans to produce audio effects devices such as distortion pedals, reverb and delay pedals. He began seeking funding in March 2019 and is now building prototypes.

Gavin Kennedy, head of business banking for NI at Bank of Ireland UK, which sponsored the Invent Awards, said: “The Invent competition continues to be an inspiration for all ambitious entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland.

“It is a unique programme, providing a platform for discovery, practical supports and membership to a positive innovative entrepreneurial community that focuses on supporting outstanding talent in Northern Ireland.”

Of Loane’s achievement, Kennedy said: “Lewis’s success with his Signal Optimiser product is a first, becoming Invent’s inaugural undergraduate winner of the overall competition and, alongside many of this year’s entries, highlights the strength and depth of Northern Ireland’s young tech innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.”

Invent programme manager Karen Hall added: “Lewis is a worthy winner who epitomises the spirt of the Invent competition.

“His pitch was on-point, he was cool under pressure and he has picked up so many skills throughout the whole process which make him a force to be reckoned with in business. I’m sure he will inspire the next generation of inventors to follow their dreams and aim big.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic