Archive for the ‘NISP CONNECT’ Category

We Do Need More Heroes

I beg to differ with the sentiment of the Tina Turner classic – We Don’t Need Another Hero – especially when it comes to the Northern Ireland innovation scene. The problem is we don’t have enough of them, and believe me it is not because we don’t produce enough innovation entrepreneurs who deserve hero status.

The reality is for too long we have not celebrated the success of local innovators who have trailblazed the way, established industry and created wealth here, based on their enterprising and innovative spirit and talents. I accept that this is partly to do with the inbred Northern Ireland modesty and the tendency to hide our light under a bushel, but that is not the whole story. As a society we have not done enough to recognise these people and to celebrate their achievements and contributions.

At this year’s NISP CONNECT 25K Awards we are setting out to change this, with the inaugural Innovation Founder Awards designed to honour Northern Ireland’s most successful science and technology entrepreneurs who have founded successful companies here and helped put NI innovation on the map.

We are currently looking for nominations of people who have acted on their innovations, taken the calculated risk to set up companies and succeeded. People who can become heroes to the next generation. People like Professor John Anderson. At last year’s awards we decided to honour this leading local medical engineering entrepreneur for his contribution and dedication to the promotion of entrepreneurship and innovation in Northern Ireland and he delivered an inspiring keynote address at the awards. Professor Anderson was a key member of the team at the Royal Victoria Hospital that created the world’s first defibrillators and recognising the commercial potential he took this life saving technology to market. Today, John is best known as founder and Chief Technology Officer of HeartSine® Technologies Inc., a world leader in life-saving defibrillation therapy. He is also a founder of Intelesens, the manufacturer of world-leading body-worn vital sign monitoring devices based here in Belfast.

The positive feedback we received about this award showed us the value of recognizing and celebrating such innovation founders and we decided to launch a more formal award to do just that. As well as receiving the award this year’s recipient will be a keynote speaker at the 25k Awards gala dinner in September where he or she will address a gathering of over 250 members of the local business and research communities. We also intend to promote them via our website and use them in our various programmes to encourage and inspire. We know there are plenty of worthy recipients out there and we are keen to encourage nominations through http://www.nisp.co.uk/innovationfounders before the end of July.
Interestingly when you look at the Top 10 shortlist for this year’s 25K awards, which is designed to identify, qualify, prepare and present the best knowledge-based ideas with the most commercial potential from the publicly funded research base in Northern Ireland, we have a strong leaning towards the life-sciences and bio-technology in particular. There are range of companies featured which are involved in biomedical industries including animal vaccines, cancer diagnostics and heart disease treatment, as well as a number of other health related innovations . See http://www.nisp.co.uk/Connect/25k-award_174.aspx Perhaps we can attribute this surge in life-sciences innovation in some way to the recognition given to John Anderson last year, proving the importance of celebrating our unsung heroes. What we do know is that it is critical that we inspire the next generation of innovators to step forward and realise their dreams and what better way than to showcase those who have gone before…or to borrow another Tina Turner classic – to recognise Simply the Best !

Pitch Perfect Entrepreneurs

One of the highlights of my job is the regular contact I have with the next batch of exciting entrepreneurs coming out of Northern Ireland. It never fails to amaze me and my colleagues about the steady flow of innovative and creative ideas that we produce here. For someone of my generation, it is comforting to know that we clearly have not lost those innovative and entrepreneurial genes that we had when Northern Ireland engineering and technology stood proudly on the world stage. For too long we have not developed their commercial potential and we aim to change that.

At the inaugural Pitchfest event held at the NI Science Park last week we saw a veritable feast of entrepreneurial talent representing a variety of sectors including biotechnology, software and green technology. 12 local companies were given three minutes to make their business pitch to a prestigious panel of judges and an audience of over 150 business leaders from within the entrepreneurial community. This was a unique opportunity to get in front of a very influential audience and to test their business model using the wisdom of the crowd.

All twelve offered very strong business proposals at different degrees of maturity and they all grasped the unique opportunity that Pitchfest offered. The prize for such bravery was that each received valuable feedback on their business model and were able to network with experienced and seasoned professionals who had been there and done that. The overall winner on the night, deemed by the judges to offer the most commercial potential, was Jenarron Therapeutics, an early-stage therapeutics company, which is seeking to exploit the novel properties of a patented putty-hydrogel material that can be used to deliver a range of drug substances, such as anaesthetic to wounds, particularly those that pose a significant challenge to modern healthcare.

Theirs is a product that has worldwide application in the medical and veterinary fields and could revolutionise the way wounds are treated. Combining the considerable expertise of its founders, Paul McCarron, Professor of pharmaceutics at the University of Ulster and Head of the Department of Pharmacy and Mark Jenkins Consultant in Emergency Medicine at Antrim Area Hospital Emergency Department they have recognised the potential of their invention. Equally important is the fact that they realise that the current company structure lacks the commercial and business expertise required to manage the company on a full-time basis and they are focused on addressing this as a priority.

In an entirely different field, but nonetheless offering huge potential, was Unitygrids which is developing an innovative smart meter with a suite of supporting software products which will empower customers and allow energy suppliers to deploy, monitor and control the smart meters and offer value-added products and services permitting them to earn additional income from their investment in the smart meter infrastructure. Energy management and efficiency is a key feature of many countries future energy strategies and this type of product and service not only empowers consumers but works equally well for energy suppliers.

These types of platforms are an important staging post for these hungry entrepreneurs who are trying to bridge what is often called the ‘Valley of Death’ – the gap between the ready acceptance of an aspirational research or innovation concept, and the cynical reluctance to accept a difficult business case and the risk needed to make the dream become reality. The good news is they no longer have to stare into this abyss on their own. There is the start of strong innovation eco-system building here in NI where these entrepreneurs can receive invaluable support, advice and guidance on taking their ideas forward. I have no doubt that we will see more of them successful navigate the dreaded valley and come out the other side.

The full shortlist of Pitchfest companies was:

  •  Annagh ltd – Delivering diabetes monitoring and alarm solutions
  •   Deep Clean Infection Control – An advance hand sanitiser station for use in healthcare environments to counter the incidence of Hospital Acquired Infection
  •   Extremogen – Biotech company developing new Biocatalysts using advanced molecular biology and bioprospecting methods
  •   GenSaf – Offering the next generation of veterinary vaccine delivery systems.
  •   JamPot Technologies – Mobile application development company
  •   Jenarron Theraputics – A therapeutics company offering patented putty material for treatment of wounds
  •   Laser Spoke Project – Cycling technology based on power meters
  •   Lettucebid.com – Online auction platform for hospitality & leisure industry for excess inventory
  •   Okotech Ltd – An intelligent heating control system
  •   RegenaGraft – Offering tissue engineered solutions for heart valve replacement
  •   RepKnight- Social media reputation monitoring company
  •   Unitygrids – Energy smart metering and software company

Do check them out via our website!

Boxing Clever on the World’s Stock Markets

Last week’s ‘NASDAQ vs AIM: Smackdown’ event hosted by NISP CONNECT and the Chartered Accountants Ireland Ulster Society was declared a credible draw in the end following a fascinating bout between two heavyweight teams representing both the New York and London investment markets. Neither team delivered a knock-out blow on the night as it became clear that both markets offered excellent opportunities to Northern Ireland entrepreneurs and high growth companies to float their companies through an Initial Public Offering (IPO).  The challenge was also thrown down to more local companies and entrepreneurs to raise the scale of their ambitions and to consider this route as a means of growing their companies to a £100M+ value rather than selling them at £20M.

Over three debating rounds held in the Europa Hotel, over 200 attendees heard the different perspectives of the investment banker/financier, the bourse and the entrepreneur – all with experience of both markets. In one corner representing NASDAQ there was Tom O’Neill, NASDAQ Board member and Chairman of Ranieri Partners; Isabella Schidrich, Senior Managing Director, NASDAQ and Chris Horn, Founder and former CEO of Iona Technologies which achieved the fifth-biggest initial public offering (IPO) in NASDAQ history. Team AIM was represented by Hugh McCutcheon, Davy Corporate Finance, Marcus Stuttard, Head of AIM, London Stock Exchange and Hugh Cormican, CEO of Cirdan Imaging and Co-founder of Andor Technology, one of only three NI companies to have been floated successfully on AIM to date.

The debate centred on the pros and cons of both these markets but also addressed many of the myths and misconceptions that exist about the process of floating.  To date, Northern Ireland has only a handful of companies which have gone down this route and compared with other regions in the UK we have still a long way to go to realise the full benefits of IPOs. If we are to develop a stronger local economy the message was heard loud and clear – we must aim higher and try to grow more £100M+ companies here which in turn will bring with it increased wealth and investment in Northern Ireland.

There are some encouraging indications that more NI companies are now showing an interest in this route and as a result we hope to see some more public flotations of local companies in the months ahead. We at the NI Science Park and our various business advisory partners involved in NISP CONNECT are working hard to provide whatever support and guidance we can to help companies to successfully approach and navigate the IPO process.  Continuing the boxing analogy… if Northern Ireland wishes to compete for world titles our local technology firms need to box clever on the world’s stock markets. I for one am confident they will. Seconds out…

If You’re Not in You Can’t Win

You will have all heard the phrase   “If you’re not in you can’t win,” which stands to basic logic.  I can point to the NISP Connect 25K Awards which goes one step further. Here simply participating means you will win or at the very least gain something extremely valuable in the process. Just ask any of the previous participants and finalists about their experiences and  typically they will talk as much about the value of the rigorous assessment process itself, as they do about who won the category or overall awards.

In a nutshell these awards, sponsored by Bank of Ireland, QUB, University of Ulster and AFBI,  are designed to unearth ‘The Next Big thing’ – or the best innovations emerging from NI’s research base which have the most commercial potential on a global stage. That could mean they have the potential to be spun out into a full blown company, be licensed or used to form strategic business partnerships.

Year after year, these awards bring forward technology from across all categories – Hitech, CleanTech, Biotech and Digital Media/Software –  and their potential commercial application is very often as good as anywhere else in the world.  Winners have included Sophia Search www.sophiasearch.com  which has developed revolutionary search engine technology which makes it easier to find information within organisations – providing a more efficient means of organisational information to be accessed especially where unstructured in nature across word, pdf, email etc.   Four years on from winning the 25K Awards this company has chalked up Northern Ireland’s largest ever business angel investment of £800,000 through Halo, the NI Business Angel network, opened an office in Silicon Valley and are now partnering with a number of technology companies across the US to integrate their software.

Last year’s winner Lenis Aer has since formed a company and is moving steadily forward on its innovative patent protected process for the manufacture of lip skins, the leading edge of an aeroplane engine surround structure.  In a market estimated to be worth £115million per annum Lenis Aer’s unique forming method achieves considerable operational savings through improved efficiency and reduced emissions, both key drivers for the airline industry. Even at this early stage they have attracted interest from a number of the world’s largest airplane manufacturers.

Just two examples of the possibilities when good ideas are given a helpful start. The good news is there are plenty more where these came from and we now just need more local innovators to step forward before the deadline of 22nd April. The £25K’s process offers an invaluable experience to all participants where they will more fully understand the complexities inherent in successful transition from technological development to commercial realisation. Throughout the Awards process applicants have the unique opportunity to connect and engage with established science and technology corporations, entrepreneurs, service providers and investors who are interested in promising technology. The programme connects the inventors with relevant stakeholders to increase the propensity of commercialisation and turning breakthrough ideas into reality.

In this context it would seem almost criminal for researchers who are developing innovative ideas here to miss out on this fantastic opportunity to test their ideas. With the deadline of 22nd April looming, all it takes is the completion of a simple initial 2 page application form available on www.nispconnect.org/25k to start the ball rolling. Those that do can be assured that this is one of the rare occasions when everyone who enters this competition truly is a winner.