Meet the 12 Invent finalists set to battle for £33,000 prize fund in Northern Ireland

19 May 2017

The selected finalists for Invent 2017. Image: Connect

The judges have spoken and 12 finalists have been announced for the Invent 2017 gala ceremony in October.

Invent 2017, the annual competition run by Connect at Catalyst Inc and sponsored by Bank of Ireland UK, returns this October, with 12 finalists competing for a slice of the £33,000 prize fund and the chance to attend a Northern Ireland tech mission to California.

This week, 24 semi-finalists pitched for their place in the final in front of a packed audience at the Belfast Waterfront.

Invent is a showcase competition for the rapidly developing knowledge economy of Northern Ireland. Running for nine months of the year, the competition challenges innovators across Northern Ireland to further develop their ideas, proofs of concept and prototypes.

“I was amazed to see the number of local product innovations that came through Invent this year,” said Invent programme manager Kerry McGarvey, citing a record number of entries to this year’s contest.

Entrants range from entrepreneurs to inventors and scientists, and the aim of the process is to help these ideas reach their commercial potential and reduce go-to-market risk.

The judging panel was made of up of investors from firms such as Draper Esprit, as well as Bank of Ireland UK’s head of business banking NI, Gavin Kennedy. “Bank of Ireland is very proud of its partnership with Invent in supporting these innovators because what they are doing is not only incredibly exciting, but also extremely important to the NI economy as they become the SMEs of the future,” said Kennedy.

These 12 finalists will return to the Belfast Waterfront pitching stage at the gala Invent Awards on 5 October 2017. Connect expects 600 investors, entrepreneurs, executives and top research scientists in the audience, and early bird tickets are on sale now.


First up, in the Electronics category, is Evy and its smart tracking bag. Evy comes from the team of Niamh Tohill, Vincent Kearney, Andrew Cunningham, Nathan Steenson, Matthew Whiteside and Marc Nevin.


The second finalist in Electronics is Ditaca, from the Queen’s University Belfast trio: Rafiullah Khan, BooJoong Kang and Matthew Hagan. The Ditaca team is developing a method of securing distributed critical systems via the cloud.

Seat View

Graham Little’s Seat View secured its place in the final in the Creative Media and Consumer Internet category for its 360-degree virtual reality seat views from stadia and entertainment venues.


The second Creative Media and Consumer Internet candidate is FarmTV, John McClean’s agricultural video content platform. The company claims to be the world’s first video platform of its kind, with dedicated content for the farming community.

The Skinny Sauce Company

The Skinny Sauce Company and its sugar-free, gluten-free, all-natural sauces will compete in the Agri Science category at the Invent 2017 final. Founder Maria Doran believes healthy and light alternatives don’t have to compromise on taste, and has created a bold, bright and fun brand aimed to attract her target market.


Kegomatic is an automated beer keg solution from the team of Bryan Murphy, Conor McGurk, Connor Carville, Donavan Cambell, Patrick Devlin and Aaron Rath, which will also be competing as an Agri Science finalist.


In Engineering, Hug is a discreet wearable heat pack from Belfast-based product design engineer Fiona Bennington. She has been working on Hug outside of her day job at James Leckey Design, where she designs products to improve the quality of life and wellbeing of disabled children.


EDDE is an inflatable water rescue device by IRIS (Island Remote Imaging Solutions), a remote imaging company utilising drones, UAVs and remotely operated tracked vehicles to gain entry to difficult to reach areas. Kevin Howlette and James Baller will be pitching this device in the Engineering category.

The Blinky Company

The first Life and Health combatant is The Blinky Company from Olivia Farnan. The titular Blinky is a go-anywhere baby buggy blanket designed for outdoorsy parents and their kids, offering protection from wind, rain or shine.

Phion Therapeutics

Phion Therapeutics is also battling for the Life and Health prize, for its targeted and controlled drug delivery technology. Phion has developed a peptide nanoparticle that can deliver nucleic acids and other anionic compounds into tumours anywhere in the body. At Invent 2017, the company will be represented by founder Prof Helen McCarthy and MD David Tabaczynski.


ProtectBox’s all-in-one cybersecurity package is set to compete in the Enterprise Software category after a wave of recent recognition. Founded by cybersecurity star Kiran Bhagotra, ProtectBox was a finalist in TechWeek LA’s Launch and WiSTEM’s pitch competitions, as well as a finalist for the ‘Human Factor’ award in the Computing Security Awards 2016. Most recently, it was selected for the StartPlanetNI accelerator.


The final competitor – also in the Enterprise Software category – is Uleska, a start-up helping software development companies to easily and completely add application security into their software. Led by CEO and founder Gary Robinson, Uleska aims to make software security accessible to every software team.

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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.