Archive for the ‘entrepreneurs’ Tag

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 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 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
  • – 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!