Ideas hit the pitch at Aviva Stadium

Enterprise Ireland’s Big Ideas showcase gave early stage start-ups the chance to pitch their ideas to potential investors

From left: Smart Wall Paint’s Ronan Clarke and Denise Doran with Minister for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock at last week’s Big Ideas event at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin

From left: Smart Wall Paint’s Ronan Clarke and Denise Doran with Minister for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock at last week’s Big Ideas event at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin

Mon, Sep 30, 2013, 01:00

Forget the soccer and the rugby balls, it was ideas and inventions being bounced around last week at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin when 21 new technologies and products lined out at Enterprise Ireland’s Big Ideas showcase.

The presenters were there to pitch their ideas to potential investors and business partners, and some of the inventions themselves were about getting the communication going.

Writing on the wall
One product is already putting the writing on the wall – and quite possibly the table, door and filing cabinet too. Smart Wall Paint lets you turn a smooth surface into a whiteboard for sharing ideas, explains managing director and founder Ronan Clarke.

“It’s about changing the dynamic of a room,” he says.

“The way people work together now is all about collaboration, teamwork, and this turns all the walls in a meeting room into a surface that you can write on and draw on and share ideas. Once you get people started they don’t stop.”

The Dublin-based company sells the kits online and through stationers, and while the product sounds perfect for budding Michelangelos at home who like to scribble on walls, its main customers are businesses and educational institutions.

“We are in the scaling process now,” says Clarke, who adds that the vast majority of their sales go to customers overseas.

But it seems there’s more to come: through an Enterprise Ireland innovation partnership, the company is working with Crest (that’s the Centre for Research in Engineering Surface Technology) at Dublin Institute of Technology on further developments.

“What will come out of this will be huge for us,” says Clarke. “And for a small Irish company to be able to do that kind of R&D, without that innovation partnership scheme it just wouldn’t happen.”

Flowing memories and conversation
Another idea to get the communication flowing is REMPAD, which speech and language therapist Julia O’Rourke has been developing to help care workers in nursing homes offer “reminiscence activity” to elderly people with dementia. The approach uses historical artefacts such as photos and broadcast footage to stimulate memories from the past and help individuals or groups to communicate.

“When people have watched JFK’s first trip to Ireland or the Pope’s visit to Ireland in the Phoenix Park it is bringing back memories,” explains O’Rourke, who is now REMPAD’s lead business promoter. “They start talking about where they were at that time and then bringing it into the current day – it gives people a reference point.”

Sometimes carers collect physical items for group reminiscence sessions, or they use CDs or DVDs. But REMPAD can offer an easier way to collate and tailor material and present it on a web-enabled device such as a laptop, TV or tablet, according to O’Rourke, who has been working with researchers at Clarity in Dublin City University on the initiative.

“What REMPAD allows you to do is put in the life profile of the person, the time and places they have lived in, their hobbies and interests,” she says.

“Then you form a group of six to eight people and the REMPAD system profiles the people within the group and recommends content from our digital archive that matches.”

As the participants watch and talk about the clips from the past, the care worker can feed back to the system how much they like the material, and the system can “tune into the preferences” of the group, she adds.

O’Rourke has already trialled the technology in care homes in Ireland and she is now looking to get the memories flowing more widely. “We are looking for investment so we can scale the system and be able to deploy it out to the market,” she says.

Click to talk
Meanwhile, just seven lines of code are at the heart of another idea to get the communication going. Miguel Ponce de Leon from Open Real-Time Media Communications (openRMC) was at Big Ideas to promote a platform that allows people to easily connect by voice on the web. “It’s about adding voice communication to web application and linking it to any landline, phone, business or another browser – we make it really simple to do,” he says.

So how would it work in practice? Suppose you see something interesting on a classified ad website and you want to contact a seller.

“If you see an ad online, most of them have phone numbers on them but you can’t click on it, you have to get your phone out,” says de Leon. With this technology though, you would only have to click on the phone number and you would be connected and talking to them.

Similarly, if you needed a hand filling out a form online, having this option could connect you to someone who can help in real time. “If you just had a button to click to call someone, then they can see your screen at the same time and can talk you through it,” says de Leon. “It’s for those times when you need an immediate helping hand, when you need the voice.”

The technology was developed at the Telecommunications Software and Systems Group in Waterford Institute of Technology, where de Leon is chief technologist. “We take away the complexity, give the business a programme – seven lines of code – and make it as minimal as possible for them to integrate it in,” he says. Nor have they forgotten to look after call quality: “. . . [the] back end is connected into the operators directly, and we try and host the call as close to the end users as possible.”

Talking to the
right people
Other technologies on show included treatments for high-blood pressure and varicose veins, an “effortless” clothes hanger and motion sensors to monitor and improve sports performance. There was even talk of a non-stick, biodegradable chewing gum to help reduce the litter burden.

Last week’s event was about “making introductions, identifying market opportunities and building relationships”, says Gearóid Mooney, Enterprise Ireland’s research and innovation manager.

“Our job is to go out to the higher education institutes, work with the research teams to identify what technologies have market potential and then use our business contacts to turn those technologies into new products and services and create new companies and jobs,” he explains. “This gives the inventors access to the business world and helps them to secure investment to build new companies [and] see their technology solutions put to use, which is great news for you and me.”

More than 30 per cent of presenters from last year’s Big Ideas event have since raised a seed investment round, and one of the presenting start-ups – Forkstream – has already sold, adds Mooney.

Minister for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock, who spoke at Big Ideas, said it was important to ensure that research funded by the taxpayer has to deliver for the economy and society, and that the showcase offered a “perfect platform” for researchers to meet potential investors and business partners.

You can see all presenters explaining their pitches at