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It's down to last dozen in race for annual Invent Awards

By John Mulgrew

Some of Northern Ireland's top innovators have made the shortlist for a top awards programme. Twelve of Northern Ireland's best and brightest creators are in the running for this year's Invent Awards 2017.

The annual competition is run by Connect at Catalyst Inc, formerly the Northern Ireland Science Park, and sponsored by Bank of Ireland UK.

A packed audience came together at Belfast's Waterfront Hall to watch this year's 24 semi-finalists pitch for a place in the final.

That list is now down to 12, and if successful, they will be competing to win their share of the £33,000 prize fund and a place on the NI Tech Mission to California.

Invent invites individuals and firms to develop their ideas over the course of nine months.

"The aim is to discover and maximise the commercial potential of their ideas further and reduce go-to-market risk," those behind the awards have said.

The judging panel includes Andrew Sloane, investment lead at Accelerated Digital Ventures; Julia Groves, partner and head of crowdfunding at Downing LLP, and Conor Clarke, investment associate at Eli Global.

The businesses short-listed include Farm TV, an agricultural video content platform; the Skinny Sauce Company, which produces sugar and gluten free sauces, and KegoMatic, which is an "automated beer keg solution".

Invent programme manager Kerry McGarvey said: "I was amazed to see the number of local product innovations that came through Invent this year. We had a record number of entries and the quality was phenomenal.

"At the semi-final each team had just three minutes to convince the judges that their solution for the problem they identified had the potential to succeed - all 24 semi-finalists did an outstanding job and the 12 selected for the final are brilliant examples of NI's booming knowledge economy."

And Gavin Kennedy, head of business banking NI, Bank of Ireland UK, said: "We understand the importance of what entrepreneurs are building and the valuable contribution they make.

"Bank of Ireland is very proud of its partnership with Invent in supporting these innovators, because what they are doing is not only incredibly exciting but also extremely important to the Northern Ireland economy as they become the SMEs of the future."

The winners of the Invent awards will be unveiled during a ceremony at the Waterfront Hall on October 5.

SkunkWorks Surf Company, which makes surfboards, said its business had thrived since winning a category at the 2015 awards.

Its business development manager Ricky Martin said: "Winning our category in the Invent competition was a watershed moment for SkunkWorks.

"It definitely helped to speed up our success."

Philip McIntosh of Jumpack won the award last year for his portable skateboard jump.

He said: "Invent was such an amazing experience for us and the entire journey has proved to be so valuable.

"We're just home from the Tech Mission trip to California and the reaction to Jumpack was incredible.

"The process helped us to identify, understand and advance our business.

"I would encourage anyone with an idea in development to enter Invent, as it will accelerate your chances of success."

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