Invent Awards celebrates the cream of Northern Ireland’s start-up crop

6 Oct 2017

Prof Helen McCarthy was crowned the overall winner at Invent 2017. Image: Connect

Once again, Northern Irish innovators shine at the 2017 Invent Awards.

Last night (5 October) saw the 2017 Invent Awards from Connect take place at the Belfast Waterfront. Sponsored by Bank Of Ireland UK, the awards ceremony showcases the variety and entrereneurship in Northern Ireland’s innovation economy.

The Invent competition offers an opportunity for the innovators of Northern Ireland to come forward and be recognised as the ‘next big thing’ and this year attracted a record-breaking 144 entries across six categories.

Invent Awards bursting with innovation

Steve Orr, director of Connect, said, “The competition is continuing to grow each year, proving that Northern Ireland is bursting with innovation. It has been incredible to feel the energy and enthusiasm in the room tonight.”

James Leckey of Leckey Design received the coveted 2017 Innovation Founder Award for his healthcare products for children and adults with disabilities. Leckey founded the company in 1983 from his parent’s garden shed in Lisburn and now has sales of over £15m, exporting to 30 countries worldwide.

Overall winner: Phion Therapeutics

The overall winner of Invent 2017 was Phion Therapeutics developed by Prof Helen McCarthy. McCarthy was awarded a prize package of £13,000 and one of the sought-after spaces on the NI Tech Mission to California in January 2018.

Phion Therapeutics’ new drug delivery technology is the result of 11 years of painstaking research involving protein fragments called peptides, which could have a significant impact on the pharmaceutical industry and revolutionise how drugs are delivered to parts of the human body.

McCarthy, from the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s University, said: “Phion has been able to concentrate various anionic drugs into tumours while preventing delivery to normal or healthy tissue and cells. This is potentially revolutionary for the treatment of cancer.

“The list of potential applications is almost limitless. As Phion engages with more pharmaceutical companies, we expect to discover even more drug classes that could be applied to our technology.”

Gavin Kennedy, Bank of Ireland UK’s head of business banking NI, said: “Many of us dream about making a difference, of having an everlasting positive impact on people whilst making some money along the way. Invent 2017 winner Helen’s innovation has the potential to do just that.”

Phion Therapeutics was also a winner in the Life and Health category on the night. Five more category winners were also awarded, as well as a student project prize.

Agri-Science winner: KegoMatic

Automated beer keg solution KegoMatic is the brainchild of six electrical engineering students from Queen’s University Belfast – Connor McGurk, Connor Carville, Donovan Campbell, Patrick Devlin, Bryan Murphy and Aaron Rath.

Electronics winner: Evy

Evy is a smart tracking bag created by Queen’s University Belfast students Niamh Tohill, Andrew Cunningham, Vincent Kearney, Nathan Steenson and Matthew Whiteside. The Evy team also won the Elevator Pitch award.

Consumer Internet winner: Seatview

Seatview was founded by Graham Little, Andrew Murray and Stuart Ogg and provides customers with a 360-degree virtual reality view from their allocated seats.

Enterprise Software winner: Uleska

Uleska, founded by experienced entrepreneur Gary Robinson, builds cybersecurity into web applications while they are being built, rather than after they begin to be used.

Engineering winner: Hug

A wearable tech offering from product designer Fiona Bennington, the Hug wearable heat pack can provide effective relief from myriad aches and pains.

Student Invent Award: HurtLockers

HurtLockers provides step-by-step audio and visual guides guidance so that anyone – even if they have no training – can be reassured when confronting a first-aid scenario.

Many of the Invent Awards winners and nominees feature in BBC One Northern Ireland’s five-part Made in Northern Ireland series, continuing to air on Monday nights at 7:30pm over the next few weeks.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects