Social search engine HeyStaks wins €20k European entrepreneur prize

9 Nov 2009

UCD spin-out company HeyStaks, which has developed a revolutionary social web-search platform, has won the inaugural Europe-wide, UNICA Entrepreneurship Competition for Students and Young Researchers and a prize of €20,000.

NovaUCD-based HeyStaks has developed a revolutionary social web-search platform which enables searchers to better organise and easily share the resources they find while searching and browsing the web.

European network

UNICA, a network of 42 universities from European capital cities, invited each university, including UCD, to nominate one entry for this competition, sponsored by the Cyprus Research Promotion Foundation.

The winner was announced, following Dragons’ Den-style presentations by three short-listed finalists, to a five-person judging panel, during UNICA’s 2009 General Assembly, held on 6 November, in the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris.

The web-search market is driven by the need to find relevant information quickly and efficiently. The problem with today’s search engines, such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing is that they offer a one-size-fits-all approach to search-result selection and ranking, without regard for the differing needs of individual users.

Search engines now

Current search engines do not also take into account the context of a user’s search. They fail to recognise that a friend or colleague of the searcher may have already done all the hard work by finding the required information. Until now, there has been no effective solution which allows users who are searching on a common goal or shared interest to search in a collaborative fashion.

HeyStaks’ technology enables key collaboration and organisational features to be added as a layer on top of existing mainstream search engines so that users may benefit from social search enhancements without having to leave their favourite engine.

“It is a great honour and it will be of enormous benefit to us in raising the international profile of HeyStaks,” Dr Maurice Coyle, co-founder, HeyStaks, explained.

“The prize money will be used to drive the company to the next level in its development.

“Being the co-founder of an Irish start-up company, I hope that our success will further raise the profile of UCD in particular and Ireland in general as being at the forefront in the commercialisation of world-class university research.”

The masterminds

HeyStaks’ patented, social re-ranking core technology was developed by company co-founders Dr Peter Briggs and Dr Maurice Coyle during their PhD research at UCD’s School of Computer Science and Informatics.

Prof Barry Smyth, a leading UCD researcher in recommender systems, was their PhD supervisor and is the company’s third co-founder. Smyth is an experienced entrepreneur who was chief scientific officer and co-founder of the UCD spin-out ChangingWorlds Ltd, acquired last year by Amdocs for $60 million.

Briggs and Coyle are UCD post-docs in CLARITY, the Science Foundation Ireland-funded Centre for Sensor Web Technologies, a joint initiative between DCU, Tyndall National Institute and UCD.

HeyStaks is currently in beta release mode and the company intends to launch Version 1 of its technology before the end of the year.

HeyStaks was selected as UCD’s nominee for the UNICA competition following its success in winning SUSSED!, UCD’s €10,000 Entrepreneurship Competition organised and run earlier this year by NovaUCD.

UNIKI, an intelligent media-development company, representing the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, was the competition runner-up and received a €10,000 prize. Parelectrics, which has developed a non-invasive device for the diagnosis of skin cancer, representing Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, was the third finalist.

By John Kennedy

Photo: HeyStak’s home page.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years