Dazzling inventions will light up NI science contest
Analysis and Company Report
Northern Ireland is short of bright inventors with ideas that can be commercially exploited against international competition. More are needed. Each year Catalyst Inc, the renamed Northern Ireland Science Park, opens the doors for budding innovators in a formal competition for people who aspire to launch businesses offering new products and services.
The INVENT competition offers both a showcase to link these businesses with local expertise and the incentive for the overall winner of a (modest) prize, together with an invitation to join an NI Tech Mission trip to California.
Entries were invited and during the summer months a team of scientific and technical judges whittled the submissions down to a final 12. The overall winner will be announced on October 5.
The finalists reflect the diverse capabilities of emerging business developers. Given the growing importance of digital techniques and information technology, there should be little surprise that, of the 12 finalists, four are classified as developing enterprise software.
They have varying degrees of technical complexity, including two that venture into cyber security.
Of the 12 finalists, just over half have a woman in a leadership role and two are led by students from Queen's University.
The judges have already chosen the winners, but they will not be revealed until the stage is set for public introductions next week. Obviously, the ranking could differ if the ideas are tested for their likely commercial success, their degree of scientific development, their ability to enhance the competitiveness of a local product in international markets and their degree of popular support. Balancing the differing criteria to choose a winner represents a near-impossible task.
Writing as a simple customer, two entries strike a chord. One of them, Seatview, offers people buying a ticket for the theatre or a sports event the means to see a spectator's view from the seat being sold, eliminating the chance of being sat behind a pillar.
Another entry, Kegomatic, offers bar managers the assurance, using some basic science, that beer supplies will switch from one keg to another, seamlessly, when one keg is empty.
Five other finalists have ideas to help individuals. Hug is an engineering product which gives users a portable source of personal heat more advanced than the old-fashioned hot water bottle.
Evy offers an enterprise software app to help people avoid forgetting things that they need to take with them when leaving home.
Skinny Sauce offers a food supplement on a novel formula, and EDDE is a new water rescue device that can be deployed by drone to prevent someone drowning.
Another engineering app, Ditaca, uses the internet to apply, at a distance, controls affecting water temperature and heating, which has strong relevance for household management.
Three other finalists are closely linked to science and health. FarmFlix is a consumer and creative internet entry which has developed an anti-inflammatory drug for horses. Blinky Company, meanwhile, has an innovative blanket for baby buggies, and Phion Therapeutics is selling a device that offers a delivery vehicle for selected biotechnology therapies. It is entered as a life and health product.
The remaining two finalists, Uleska and Protect Box, both offer specialist knowledge to help people look after their cyber security, supported by the added strength of patent applications.
In a perfect world, all would be deemed winners. But as there can only be one, it is almost too difficult to choose.
Company Report: Mutual Energy Ltd
Mutual Energy Ltd owns the Moyle electricity interconnector from Islandmagee to Scotland, the natural gas pipeline from Scotland to Ballylumford, and the natural gas pipelines to Belfast from Ballylumford.
The published financial results for Mutual Energy have been adjusted and restated for the previous years.
The restatement makes a dramatic change in the overall performance in contrast to a year ago, with an earlier decision to impair the value of the Moyle interconnector by £43.9m reversed. What were trading and pre-tax losses in the year to March 2016 are now shown as significant positive profits. This reversal of a large impairment charge reflects an updated appreciation of the long-term prospects for the Moyle interconnector.
Underpinning the updated assessment is the report on the repair and restoration of the interconnector. Faulty low voltage underwater cables have been replaced. A more recent high-voltage cable fault was discovered in February 2017. A repair plan is in place and restoration of full capacity is imminent.
Additionally, Mutual Energy now has a fully operational natural gas project at Maydown.
Of the total group revenue of £60.8m, £29.3m was earned by the Moyle Interconnector, £23.4m was attributed to the natural gas pipeline to Scotland and £8m was attributed to the Belfast area gas pipelines.
The overall performance of the interconnector was helped by the effect of the support arrangement (the collection agency income requirement) agreed by the regulator, which added more than £12m to the Moyle revenue in 2016-17.
Because the licences to operate the assets give assurance on the continuing flow of revenue and, in part, with certain guarantees of funding to meet any losses by passing on possible extra costs to electricity customers, the subsidiary companies are able to borrow funds at keen modest interest rates.
Mutual Energy points out that these lower finance charges represent a significant benefit to Northern Ireland consumers.