Belfast Telegraph

Cream of Northern Ireland knowledge economy will be on show


Dr Helen McCarthy was the overall winner at last year’s INVENT Awards
Dr Helen McCarthy was the overall winner at last year’s INVENT Awards
John Simpson

By John Simpson

Catalyst Inc, the successor to the Science Park, will announce the winners of the competition to find new products with the greatest potential to showcase Northern Ireland's expanding knowledge economy. At an awards ceremony on Thursday, 12 finalists will present their ideas to an inquisitive audience.

All the finalists have developed products new to the market place. The judges have considered the different degrees of uniqueness, commercial promise and scientific progress in each product to merit winning an award.


Mark Elliott has tested a carefully modulated devise to act as a slurry gas detector and alert system which has the capacity to reduce the number of accidents, which can be fatal, from breathing in hydrogen sulphide fumes.

A proposal from Jenny Gregg for an improved design for girth galls to use with saddles on horses which will reduce the problem of sores, or blisters, which horses get from the friction of saddle, through an innovative pressure release system.

Creative media:

Brendan Digney and four post-graduate colleagues have used AI algorithms to develop equipment that can take control of some farm machines and make them safer for users. It combines sensors, including cameras, a central control unit (black box) and electronic control systems.

SeaBeacom is the product of six budding business developers, led by Gavin Nichol, to create an emergency beacon for watersports users. It has an SOS button to alert the coastguard with information on their GPS location.


No food waste in black bins. Steven Beck turns the challenge into an opportunity. Building bespoke aerobic digesters he can convert food and organic waste more quickly into a source of energy which can displace fossil fuels saving on the costs to get rid of waste as well as selling electricity.

David and Julie Gray have invested in a device for electricians to use plastic staples that are safer and faster in coping with electrical work.

A proof of concept battery powered model has been made. Next test is to develop on a commercial scale.

Software for enterprises:

Importwise is a cloud-based platform that helps businesses get access to international shipping, pay international suppliers and get access to trade finance. Building on some of his own experience Barry Rollins is trying an MVP using top software developers. The platform is aimed at helping SMEs.

Generating efficient ways in which to collect research data, especially for clinical purposes, can shorten the time and reduce the cost of proving new scientific research ideas. Chris Armstrong, with co-founders Graham and Paul Wilsdon, has created Overwatch Research with the analytical ability to track early evidence to improve results from extended research programmes.

Life and health:

Sono Targ is a device from John Callan aiming to allow doctors to target tumours by using microbubbles and ultrasonic energy to reduce pancreatic and breast tumours minimising any adverse effects from chemotheraphy.

Antenatal care can be improved by modern communications which link patients to their doctors, no matter where they are. Nirmala Bhogal and two medical colleagues have developed a system to remotely monitor blood glucose, blood pressure and other factors, saving the need for frequent visits to clinics during pregnancy.

Consumer internet usage:

GoFyt is the message being developed by Andy McCracken. Where a potential customerb can find a convenient physiotherapist, a trainer or fitness professional from a convenient reference (or app). Andy and two colleagues are now raising funds for a budget to launch their business.

Justin Thompson, of MVPx, is using computer vision to track movements of the ball (in basketball) to develop machine learning of how the shot has performed.

Running on a mobile device, this uses an image-processing library to apply data analytics to different sports.

On Thursday evening, the winners will be announced. The judges certainly do face a difficult choice.

Company Report: Roe Park Holdings

Roe Park Holdings is the now well-established owner of the suite of leisure facilities in Limavady.

Its activities are described as a golf resort, hotel and spa. The business was initiated by a small group of five local investors who now are the continuing shareholders and directors.

It was rebranded from Radisson Blu Roe Park Resort to Roe Park Resort six years ago after a major investment programme. It had been a Radisson for 16 years.

Roe Park has now been trading profitably for over 10 years.

The balance sheet value of the shareholders' funds has steadily increased and by the end of 2017 had doubled to over the stated value eight years earlier. Annual turnover has been increasing and is now over £6.4m. Operating profits in 2017 at £774,000 were lower than the unusually high figures a year earlier but represented a return of 12% on turnover.

The annual accounts reflect a business which is trading successfully and, in parallel, has been able to reduce the level of financial borrowing.

During 2017 the value of outstanding borrowing reduced by £1.3m and this followed a reduction of £0.9m the previous year.

Financing the business has been helped by the availability of convertible unsecured loans which have also been reducing as they are repaid.

Employment in the business has been stable and reached a new high level of 205 people last year.

Capital spending at £399,000 in 2017 varies from year to year but has usually been similar to the assessed allowed level of depreciation of the assets.

Belfast Telegraph