Uni teams Woogie Tap and Happy Swap win upStart awards

29 Mar 2012

Pictured at the upStart awards were, from left (back row): Nathan O'Reilly, Citi; Dr Peter Middleton, QUB; Professor Siobhán Clarke, TCD; and Thomas De Souza, Citi. Front row: Conall Laverty from QUB and Zhongtao Chen from TCD

Woogie Tap from Queen’s University Belfast and Happy Swap from Trinity College Dublin are the two teams that have won the first-ever upStart entrepreneurship programme. Their business pitches won over the judges, who hailed from Citi, Cisco, Invest Northern Ireland and Microsoft, at an event held in Belfast.

Citi announced the winners at its Belfast offices.

A cross-border partnership between Citi Belfast and the Citi Innovation Lab Dublin, upStart itself is an entrepreneurship programme that is run in partnership with the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and the School of Computer Science and Statistics at Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

The programme was run over two semesters at QUB and TCD. Teams of students studying for master’s degrees at the universities created their own start-ups for a new technology product or service. There were 30 students on the inaugural programme from the two universities.

The seven finalists presented their business plans to the judging panel this morning. Each business plan had to provide a real market prospect, and teams competed with each other to win the opportunity for virtual funding from Citi for their business. Citi sponsored the overall programme.

The upStart winners

Woogie Tap is an interactive tag for downloading information instantaneously, while Happy Swap is a consumer exchange website for goods.

Other business ideas presented today included a social networking game, an online sports academy for tutors and pupils to connect, a 3D printing access portal for consumers, a social network for smartphones based on location and an app for paying bills.

All of the finalists were mentored by business advisers from Citi Belfast and the Citi Innovation Lab in Dublin. The programme included guest lecturers from the tech sector. In addition, the programme hosted roundtable discussions for the students with Citi Ventures and Citi experts in global locations including New York, Palo Alto, Jersey City, London, Belfast and Dublin.

Technology transfer

Chris Hayward, chief information officer EMEA at Citi, said the upStart programme has really delivered for the students, the universities and for Citi.  

“It has allowed industry and academia to collaborate together and mentor the next generation of technology entrepreneurs. Many of the business ideas presented today have great potential for commercialisation and could become global products,” he said.

Prof Stan Scott, head of the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at QUB, said the programme was an example of how academia and industry can work together to build the skills that are needed in the economy.

Prof Siobhan Clarke, who is course director of the MSc in Networks and Distributed Systems at the School of Computer Science and Statistics at TCD, also spoke about the value the students received from the programme.

“The experience transported the innovation and software engineering modules in the course out of the classroom and into the real economy, engendering a strong entrepreneurial spirit in the class. This perfectly positions the students as the drivers of innovation in the global technology industry,” she said.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic