The tech companies that are giving us a glimpse into the future
Twenty Northern Ireland firms have competed for a share in the prize fund after showcasing their talents at the annual NISP CONNECT 25k Awards
It's the search for the Next Big Thing. Twenty Northern Ireland companies – which have invented everything from a night vision motorcycle helmet to a glove which can help detect arthritic changes – are aiming to scoop a share of a £25,000 prize fund at a Dragon's Den style event.
The NISP CONNECT 25k Awards, sponsored by Bank of Ireland, is an annual competition designed to showcase the innovative research and intellectual property with the most commercial potential from the publicly-funded institutions in Northern Ireland.
The first stage of the scheme was held last week with the Quickpitch event. Each team was given three minutes to pitch followed by a quick question and answer session.
This took place in front of a panel of 16 experts and entrepreneurs from the worlds of science, law and banking at the W5 centre in Belfast.
Whittled down from 20, each of the 10 finalists in the 25k Award receives £500 and each category award winner receives £2,500.
All the 20 finalists receive continuing mentoring, support or advice even if they do not make it through to the next round.
The prize culminates with an awards ceremony in September where the winner is awarded £10,000.
And the money will certainly be put to good use if previous contestants are anything to go by.
Earlier this year it was revealed that MOF Technologies, the winner of the 2012 NISP CONNECT 25k Awards, had landed its first sale, to a US chemicals company.
Based at Queen's University Belfast, the company is manufacturing a revolutionary new class of highly porous materials – metal organic frameworks – that can store, separate and capture specific gases.
The pitch event was open to spectators for the first time ever this year.
Rather than an intimidating atmosphere and grillings, the atmosphere was actually relaxed, jovial and jokes were flying thick and fast.
From business veterans in expensive suits to PhD students in their jeans and trainers, all received a captive audience.
Patrick Richardson from Eye-See 3D claimed his camera would have the 'wow' factor in an increasingly competitive market while Dr Lorraine Martin from ProAx-SiS said she hoped their cystic fibrosis testing kit could be expanded to help diagnose cancers and infectious diseases and be of use to developing nations.
Philip Mills from Columbus welcomed the panel to 'the future of journey planning' which would make a smartphone a 'personal travel assistant'.
Mark Jenkins, an A&E consultant at Antrim Area Hospital, outlined the benefits of his anaesthetic putty.
"If someone comes in with a laceration, women put up with it and men find it painful," he joked.
"But when you have a child that needs a local anaesthetic, I have to inject it, so you have an upset child, upset parents, and that's before I start to treat the wound. This product is non-invasive."
David Crozier from Liopa introduced the world's first lip authentication processor for mobile devices, which he said will eventually replace the traditional security password.
And Vladimir Moltov from the University of Ulster said that the Onboard Hydrogen Storage device could be marketed to companies like Toyota, Daimler, Ford, Hyundai and BMW as they expand their electric car offerings.
Highlighting some stark road death statistics, Sarah King from Night Rider told how her invention of an in-helmet night vision camera could help bikers to see all approaching traffic, even if other motorists have forgotten or neglected to turn their lights on.
Meanwhile, Quiton Fivelman said that the ADFertech device would help save farmers and fertiliser companies millions by converting waste products and volatile liquid fertiliser into a simple granulated product for ease of storing and spreading.
"It costs money to get rid of waste, whereas we turn it into a value added product." he said.
"In recent bad weather farmers have had to dump or store slurry, which is expensive and time consuming, but with our product even the electric and heating generated from anaerobic digestion can create huge savings."
The top 20 vying to create the next Big Thing
* Jenarron Therapeutics Ltd has developed a proprietary hydrogel-based drug delivery platform – a kind of putty – that can be used to present a wide range of pharmaceutical agents to wound sites, such as local anaesthetics and antibiotics.
* Digitease has developed a data-glove rehab product for rheumatoid arthritis care and treatment for the human hand. Their special glove can also be used by sports people like golfers and musicians like pianists to monitor their performance.
* ProAx-SiS, a spin-out from Queen's University, has developed small molecule, peptide-based inhibitors called Protease-Tags, which serve both as a means to trap active proteases and to provide a visual readout of their presence in biological samples – essentially, mini, inexpensive diagnostic kits for conditions like cystic fibrosis.
* D'Saphire International (right, Sadiq Ali from the company) has developed a wind energy air-conditioning system to extract wind power to compress air which can be converted to thermal energy when gas and oil heating cannot function. The company claims that the system will provide energy to a home even during weather events like the power cuts which knocked out thousands of homes across the UK and Ireland in March.
* Onboard Hydrogen Storage has created a lightweight hydrogen storage tank that can comfortably store gas at pressures up to 10,000 psi and will minimise the risks of fire and accidents with the highly volatile fuel source.
* ADFertech is developing a product whereby nutrients contained within anaerobic digestor liquor are concentrated and processed to form granular fertiliser. This fertiliser is much easier to store and transport than traditional liquid fertiliser and will mean companies do not have to spend millions on waste water treatment.
* Inkintelligent has created inks which provide information on the surfaces they come into contact with, including self-cleaning glass and film.
The first commercial product is a pen with an ink that – in combination with light sufficient to activate the surface – responds to most surfaces that exhibit photocatalytic activity. The company is also working on a sunburn warning marker.
* SEG Renewables has developed an environmentally-friendly, self-propelled electric power generator which uses magnetism to generate electricity.
Digital Media & Software
* MAVIS is a mobile web-based annotation tool which allows users (parents) to select pre-defined behavioural therapy sessions for children, to help with diagnosis, treatment and therapy of behavioural problems. The system will be available to parents and doctors.
* Get Invited is attempting to change the way we organise events by communicating the status of tickets sold and time remaining to purchase in a well organised and designed website. The company says that its rates, ease of use and its integration with social media make it unique.
* Fanclub supports delivery of a mobile augmented reality experience to sports fans while at a stadium event. A fan will be able to hold up their mobile device and view game and player data overlaid on the device's camera feed and track individual players.
* Itergait has developed an easy to use web-based device for patient monitoring, fall prevention, and reducing costs for rehabilitation of patients suffering from chronic low back pain. Using a mobile phone, the information can be transferred to clinicians for diagnosis.
* Columbus, (right, represented by Philip Mills) uses powerful new mathematics and smartphone technology to create a personal travel assistant helping users monitor progress during their journey. The product uses information from both transport companies and commuters using wireless free internet.
* The 'Allergy App' reads the barcode of food products and brings up a list of the ingredients which a user may be allergic to. This prevents buying goods which may harm their health and the firm is planning to team up with big supermarkets and create a large data pool.
* Liopa is a mobile biometric authentication and speaker verification application. The technology can identify people by assessing the unique biometric characteristics of the user's lips and speech. The firm says passwords are 'a busted flush' and the application will help provide high security for those who use their mobile phones for financial transactions.
* Xpress LF is developing a tyre pressure monitoring system for smartphones. All new cars around the world will have to have built-in tyre pressure monitoring equipment by 2020 and all mechanics must have a reader-type device.
The team has developed a device which will read the tyre pressure and plug the information into a smartphone which can read the details.
* MOMO has developed a technology to detect nearby movement of a person close to a mobile device.
This motion detection technology can be used for alarm systems, energy saving or monitoring the elderly.
* Eye-See 3D wants to help optometrists diagnose eye conditions using their 3D camera system for imaging the human eye. The business claims their product is cheaper and more easy to use than existing cameras.
* Nite Rider has developed a night vision visor for motorcycle helmets using thermal imaging. The creator Sarah King said that as a high proportion of road deaths involve motorcyclists and that most accidents occur during the night or early morning, the device could save lives.