From purple spuds to apps, Northern Ireland inventors compete
Some of Northern Ireland's brightest innovators are vying for the Invent Awards. Yvette Shapiro finds out more about the finalists
A purple potato, an emergency bed and a portable sports ramp are among the innovative products created by a dozen start-up companies vying for the prestigious Invent award this week.
The winner of the annual competition, which has a £33,000 prize fund, will secure a place on the NI Tech Mission to California.
Invent is a showcase for Northern Ireland's rapidly developing knowledge economy. It challenges inventors, entrepreneurs, scientists and start-ups to discover the commercial potential of their ideas.
Among the 100 entrants to make it into the final 12 is Purple Magic, a new breed of Northern Ireland potato with high anthocyanin content, giving the vegetable its distinctive purple hue.
Its inventor, scientist Paul Watts, works at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) in Loughgall.
"In the early 2000s, medical and nutritional research began to show there might be significant health benefits from eating fruit and vegetables with high levels of anthocyanins," Paul explained. "A Canadian potato producer visited AFBI and this led to one of the seedlings being registered in Canada as Purple Magic.
"And, yes, people are buying it and they want more of it. We are now registering the variety in Europe and plan to have it on the market by 2018."
Another agri-tech finalist is Oran Oak, an enclosed sheep dipping unit developed by Aidan, Mark and Patrick Kelly from Omagh.
The uniquely moulded unit - a sort of portable shower for sheep - protects the animal and the environment, and safeguards the operator who won't come in to contact with livestock or chemicals.
International business student Eve McClelland, from Belfast, is the inventor of Em-bed, an emergency foldable bed made of cardboard. Packed with personal essentials like food, hygiene products and medical supplies, the bed is designed to be distributed to people in need by aid agencies working in disaster zones.
Former All-Ireland BMX champion Phil McIntosh, from Downpatrick, hopes to win Invent 2016 with Jumpack, a modular, lightweight and wearable extreme sports launch ramp, designed to be carried 'hands free' whilst riding a bike or skateboard.
Phil said: "I rode for 30 years and never used a skate park. I want to inspire kids to view their environment with new eyes, to see opportunities and challenges that would not exist without Jumpack. This can completely change urban extreme sports."
A non-verbal app for contacting the emergency services has been developed by Becca Hume and her father Les, from Newtownabbey.
E+Press is aimed at hearing-impaired people and is also useful for those with speaking or breathing problems plus, for example, victims of domestic abuse or terrorist attack who need to contact 999 without using their voice. "Sadly, recent events in Paris, Brussels and Orlando show situations where such an app could play a vital role while contacting emergency services without making a verbal call," Becca explained.
Jonathon Clarke's app, Locate a Locum, has proved so successful that the young pharmacist has left his job to concentrate full-time on his tech venture.
It is an online platform connecting pharmacists with employers, a sort of matchmaking service to fill shifts. Jonathon says at least 1,500 of the 14,000 pharmacies in the UK are using his platform to find temporary workers.
"By eliminating the middleman, we allow pharmacies to speak directly to locums, unlike a recruitment agency, whose model involves large overhead costs paying staff to man the phones and monopolise all the communication between parties," said Jonathon. "We eliminate that."
Another pharmacist, Fintan Connolly, has developed TakeTen, a gaming app that monitors stress through real-time biofeedback that helps children and young people to retrain their body to deal more effectively with stress and anxiety. The start-up has already established a strong presence in over 190 UK schools.
The other finalists are:
Kraydel, a device to alert behaviour changes in elderly people in their home.
PayOx, technology to enable drivers to pay for petrol by using their car registration plate.
Point Energy, a novel energy & health monitoring system for polymer processing.
Elemental, cloud-based health software for community health.
The Shield, a centralised security control panel for Wordpress.
The Invent Awards, sponsored by Bank of Ireland, will be held at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast on Thursday night.