6 new Northern Ireland start-ups inventing the future

30 Sep 2016

Jumpack founders Phil McIntosh (left) and Mike Crowe celebrate coming out on top at the Invent Awards 2016 with Julie-Ann O’Hare, Bank of Ireland UK. Image: Connect

Winners of the 2016 Invent Awards represent the latest promising innovations coming out of Northern Ireland.

Connect’s much-anticipated annual Invent Awards took place on Thursday 29 September in the Belfast Waterfront, celebrating early-stage innovation and entrepreneurs with more than 600 guests.

The Invent Awards shine a spotlight on Northern Ireland’s fast-growing knowledge economy, rewarding and recognising innovations still at the proof-of-concept stage from up-and-coming entrepreneurs across Northern Ireland.

Future Human

The road to Invent Awards acclaim is hard fought over the course of nine months, with 100 entrants eventually whittled down to 12 finalists following a tense semi-final pitch fest supported by Deloitte Digital. Each of the category winners on the night is awarded £2,500 plus a spot on the Northern Ireland Tech Mission to California in January 2017, while the overall winner receives an additional £10,000.

Inspirefest 2017

Life-changing inventions

“Everyone has a life-changing invention inside them. The common trait amongst tonight’s inventors is that they had a problem bothering them and they solved it with a new invention. Everyone can do that. It’s all about taking action. We are here to encourage people to take the first step. Let’s change the world together!” said Steve Orr, director of Connect at Catalyst Inc.

Shining a spotlight on the possible future for these young businesses was the 2016 Innovation Founder Award, presented to Glen Dimplex founder Dr Martin Naughton. Glen Dimplex is one of Ireland’s greatest business success stories; growing from small electrical manufacturing operation Glen Electric founded in 1973 to become Glen Dimplex Group, employing 10,000 staff across 22 international manufacturing facilities with annual sales of around €1.5bn.

In an on-stage interview with MC William Crawley, Naughton said the biggest challenge for engineers of an entrepreneurial bent is knowing how and when to commercialise. He reminded those in the audience that the temptation to continue iterating, improving, refining and tweaking a product is in the nature of engineers, but it doesn’t make for a good business model. His advice: release the product, go back and improve it, and then release those changes with the next generation.

‘Everyone has a life-changing invention inside them’

Guests arriving at the Invent Awards were invited to snack on purple potato crisps, explore a mobile sheep dip and have a go on a stunt bike as the 2016 finalists showcased their start-ups. Five category winners were awarded on the night, but there could be only one overall winner.

Overall winner: Jumpack

Taking home a total prize fund of £13,000 was Jumpack, a foldable, wearable ramp for BMXers, skateboarders and other extreme sports enthusiasts. Also winning the Engineering category award, Jumpack’s extreme engineering has been hailed as a new era in ramp technology, enabling users to ‘get air anywhere’.

“This year’s winner shows that invention knows no heights – the sky is the limit for Northern Irish ingenuity,” said Peter Edgar, Invent programme manager.

Jumpack, Invent Awards 2016

Jumpack was named Overall Winner at the Invent Awards 2016. Image: Connect

Agri-Science winner: Oran Oak Engineering

Oran Oak’s DipFast comes from the Kelly family of Beragh, Co Tyrone. Sheep dipping is a necessary, but time-consuming and labour-intensive process, and DipFast’s moulded sheep-showering unit improves efficiency while reducing health and safety risks.

Oran Oak plans to sell this unique mobile facility directly to farmers in NI and the Republic of Ireland, and the family team are already in talks with a major manufacturing company about distribution into England, Scotland and Wales.

Creative Media and Consumer Internet winner: Locate a Locum

Locate a Locum, founded by Jonathon Clarke and Michael Budden from Belfast, helps pharmacies source locums online who are available and eligible to work. As there’s legislation dictating that pharmacies need a registered pharmacist on the premises at all times, connecting to this locum market is a vital service, with Locate a Locum offering a lower-cost option for employers.

Electronics winner: Point Energy

Point Energy was founded in 2016 by Prof Kang Li, Dr Joe Devlin and Dr Jing Deng. Based in Queen’s University Belfast, the start-up provides an energy-saving service to the manufacturing industry.

Going beyond just monitoring big machines, Point Energy’s novel, non-intrusive hardware tracks the energy use of each and every component in a factory. This high granularity data is sent securely to the cloud to be analysed by the customer to understand their energy usage in great detail and make data-driven decisions on where savings can be made.

Enterprise Software winner: Elemental

Elemental, founded by Leeann Monk (Derry) and Jennifer Neff (Dubai), is cloud software that enables social prescribing. This involves connecting patients and clinicians with community healthcare.

Health professionals using the software can connect patients with chronic conditions and health risks to local, quality-assured lifestyle interventions in their community. The software will then track and support the patient’s progress, levering additional support and motivation when needed.

Life and Health winner: TakeTen

TakeTen, founded by Fintan Connolly, is an app that monitors stress levels with real-time biofeedback and gamifies the regulation and management of stress and anxiety.

TakeTen’s games respond to the user’s physiology and will only progress so long as the user is calm. With a presence in over 190 schools in the UK, positive benefits have been recorded, particularly for children with special needs and learning difficulties. The visual interface has also proved especially appealing to children with autistic spectrum disorders.

Student winner: EmBed

Though EmBed founder Eve McLelland missed out on the Engineering category prize, she was well rewarded on the night for her unique cardboard design for bedding and storage in times of crisis.

McLelland took home the Student category prize, coming out on top among a selection of 10 undergraduate entrepreneurs selected to receive training during the summer as entrepreneurs in residence. Putting her pitch lessons to great use, McLelland also won over the Invent Awards crowd with her less-than-60-seconds contribution to the PwC Elevator Pitch competition. Opened up to an audience vote, EmBed took the £1,000 prize.

Second place for the Student Award went to David Hatton, who previously won £5,000 funding from Catalyst for his dementia and Alzheimer’s digital platform at the Connect Young Founders competition.

Past and present participants of the Invent Awards feature in BBC One Northern Ireland’s Made in Northern Ireland, airing on Monday nights at 7:30pm over the next four weeks.

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Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic