Rising tech firm scoops prestigious annual prize
HANDS UP who has ever heard of MOF Technologies? No takers? Well you are not alone. At the moment, not that many people have heard of the fledgling spin-out from Queen’s University in Belfast. But watch this space because MOF Technologies has just been named as the company with the “greatest commercial potential” in the North’s latest 25k awards.This is an annual competition, with a £25,000 (€31,000) prize fund, designed to shine a spotlight on rising technology stars.
MOF Technologies beat 40 rivals to claim the title and take home the £10,000 cheque.
So who are they?
MOF is a team of five brilliant academics and entrepreneurs who have built a spin-out from initial research undertaken by Prof Stuart James, now the company’s chief technology officer, at Queen’s University.
The MOF team has developed a revolutionary technique to take advantage of a class of nanomaterials known as Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs).
According to MOF Technologies, these are the “most exciting, high profile developments in nanotechnology to emerge over the past decade”.
MOFs are crystalline, sponge- like materials composed of two components – metal ions and organic molecules known as linkers. They are highly porous materials that can store, separate and capture specific gases and can be used in a whole range of pioneering applications from natural gas storage in vehicles to drug delivery devices.
Historically, it has been difficult to manufacture these materials on an industrial scale in a cost- effective, environmentally friendly way.
What makes MOF Technology special is that the Belfast spin-out’s patented technique is not only environmentally friendly, it is fast and highly scalable. This is why it beat the other three short-listed category winners in the 25k awards organised by the Northern Ireland Science Park’s NISP Connect.
These rivals included two start-ups from the University of Ulster: I-Innovations, which won the digital media category; and FireSERT Technologies, which won the high-tech category.
Another Queen’s spin-out, Expelliere International, won the biotech category.
According to Tom Robinson, chief executive of MOF Technologies, its win could not have come at a better time for the ambitious young Belfast company, formally established in August.
“This award is extremely important to us because it brings a lot of public awareness to our company at this time. We are a very young company and we are looking for investment, which can take up a lot of valuable time but what we have found now is that investors are coming to talk to us,” said Robinson.
MOF Technologies is looking for seed investment in the region of £1 million to £2 million. It believes that the North offers a good environment for ambitious entrepreneurs because there is a good support network in place.
“In our experience, the Northern Ireland Science Park has been fantastic in helping us . . . put our business plan together and creating an interest from investors,” said Robinson.
Although the award represents a fantastic start for MOF Technologies, it is just the beginning of its ambitions according to its chief executive.
“We want to be a global company . . . which will manufacture in Northern Ireland, but sell mostly outside of Northern Ireland. It is absolutely our plan to grow MOF Technologies . . . in three to five years’ time, we can begin to think about a listing. That is where we want to be,” said Robinson.
It may seem incredibly aspirational these days to take a university spin-out to a stock market flotation. But MOF Technologies is in good company with at least one of its Queen’s University alumni – Andor Technology.
The west Belfast company, which develops and manufactures high performance digital cameras, floated on the London stock exchange’s Alternative Investment Market in 2004. Last week it announced that it intends to start paying dividends.
Andor’s founders – Hugh Cormican, Mike Pringle and Donal Denvir – may have had no idea what they would achieve when they started the spin-out in 1989.
However, they have given other aspiring entrepreneurs like the team at MOF Technologies an admirable template to follow.